Tuesday, January 12, 2010

On Markets and Democracy: Harper is Dangerous

Yesterday on BNN, Stephen Harper said that financial markets don’t like the “kind of instability” that goes with confidence votes on such matters as the Speech from the Throne and the budget that could bring down his minority government.

The prime minister’s decision to prorogue parliament actually created the necessity for a Speech from the Throne when the House returns. That’s what automatically follows a period of prorogation. His very action is setting up the kind of confidence vote that he said creates instability.

But that is not what is most important about what Stephen Harper said. In his brief remarks, he showed that he believes that the normal operations of our parliamentary democracy promote financial instability. Sessions of parliament always involve votes of confidence. That is true whether there is a majority or a minority government in office. Canadians chose to elect a minority government. In doing so, they were instructing the parties in the House to work with one another to govern the country. They were saying that they did not have confidence in any single political party to govern on its own.

To serve as prime minister a political leader must respect and defend our system of government. He or she must begin from the premise that to remain in office a government must enjoy the confidence of the majority of the members of the House of Commons. That is the essence of our system.

Stephen Harper was not directly elected by Canadians to serve as prime minister. He is not our president. He and the members of his government are in office solely when they enjoy the confidence of the House.

This is not an academic point. It goes to the very heart of our democracy. It was what Canadians fought for, and some died for, in the 19th century. Before that, the struggle to make parliament supreme went on for centuries in Britain.

Stephen Harper poses a threat to our democracy. If he understands it, he doesn’t respect it.

He would be much more dangerous as the leader of a majority government.

The classic justification for undemocratic rule has always been that it promotes stability. Autocrats have always complained that democracy is messy and unpredictable. Markets can suffer when votes of confidence are held----THAT’S WHAT THE MAN SAID.

Harper’s got to go. The members of the opposition parties should see to that at the first opportunity.


Filostrato said...

Harper and his not-so-veiled threats make me very angry. Dare - just dare! - to defy him and he will bring the shaky economy down on your head. If he cannot control it, he will destroy it. This guy is dangerous.

I felt sick when he was elected the first time and even sicker the second time. Sometimes you have to pay attention to a gut reaction. Everything he has done since tells me my reaction was right.

Yesterday, Tony Clement, looking like an overstuffed caramel-coloured sofa in his camel hair coat, told an interviewer that the torture of Afghan detainees was just a small blip on the Richter scale of Canadian concerns, or words to that effect.

He wasn't really worried about what the "chattering classes" - read people with consciences, brains and concern for the country and its people - were worried about. My contempt for the man just grew.

I may not have seen eye to eye with some governments in the past, but I can't remember being as disgusted and appalled by any as I am with the Harper Cons. They are, as my mother used to say, "wreckers".

Northern PoV said...

Canada is in a very precarious position ... akin to Germany in the early thirties when another minority-leader successfully manipulated his way into ultimate power.

Harper will re-introduce de-funding of political parties in the March budget, packaged of course as a austerity post-recession necessity. This will sound plausible to many voters.

He will use the fact of the united opposition to revive the coalition bogey man and very likely win (based on 40% of the less than 60% that vote) his majority.

This prorogation is the polite 21st century version of burning the Reichstag.

Bill Bell said...

"[Canadians] were instructing the parties in the House to work with one another to govern the country." Dr Laxer, I know that you are proceeding using what Bourbaki would call "an abuse of language" in order to avoid being long-winded or pedantic. However, the problem with arguments like this is that groups (like the entire collection of Canadians) do not have intentions or voices; only individuals do. _We_ didn't instruct Parliament to do anything.

Of course I am disgusted by Harper's contempt for the country's institutions and its people. At the same time, however, I cannot understand how it can be that none of hundreds of lavishly funded parliamentarians could negotiate something better than they have given us.

James Laxer said...

Bill Bell: Thanks for pointing out the sloppy formulation in my post. Your are right, of course. When Canadians vote, they do so individually. The result of their individual votes in 2008 was that the Conservatives did not win a majority of seats in the House of Commons. They were thus denied any claim to governing without the full participation and consent of the opposition parties.