I am an empty vessel. I have no ideas and no intiatives of my own to enact. My only actions are in reaction to whatever my opponents have done. My only stance is to stand against my opponents’ positions. I will say whatever is necessary to attack my opponents at every opportunity without regard to what I would do in their stead; indeed, I will argue to the ends of the Earth that they are and have always been wrong, even as I maintain their policies throughout my own turn at government. I will decry their every decision as cruel and inhumane even as the outcomes of their policies improve the lot of people I would profess to help by my opposition to them; in turn I will trumpet my own feckless indecision as proof of my moral virtue. I will insist upon my own disinterested secularity and attack my opponents’ religious faith with maximum prejudice while out of the leadership; and I will support blasphemy laws in my own term, and attend religious services to demonstrate my theological bona fides as required, without irony. Amen.
(This is my own writing, inspired by the first two paragraphs at the link. Intended to be a reminder for when the Democrats lose power and immediately decry every Republican initiative as “partisan politics” as they always do, because it needs to be pointed out that the Dems and Canada’s own Liberals are themselves are THE MOST PARTISAN HACKS IN THE GAME, PERIOD.)
Update: my friend DeLonghi Johnson writes:
Mart2011, a beautiful piece, of course, but tell me again: why don’t you have the same passion for the politics of the country in which you live?
Well, like I said above, I feel about the same way about the Liberals in Canada as I do about the Dems in the US, and both groups were called to mind when I read VDH’s post. I’ll try to make this short but no guarantees.
American politics and the American system of government are pretty much unique in the world, in that they were developed from scratch by 18th century liberal philosophers. The Founders built a system from the ground up that was designed to be pluralistic and give citizens with a vested interest* in the future of the country a real say in how the country should be governed. At the same time, they divided the various powers of the Federal government up among different branches and subgroupings in an effort to keep them at each others’ throats and prevent them from colluding with each other and disenfrachising the public.
The result is a citizenry with an active interest in how their public policies are decided and plenty of opportunities to express their wishes through voting. A side effect of that result is a vibrant collection of pundits with an unlimited number of political topics to comment on.
In Canada we have an unelected head of state, an unelected second chamber for our bicameral Legislature, a House of Commons utterly in thrall to a rigid hierarchy system topped by unelected advisors within the Prime Minister’s Office, and a Supreme Court appointed by an unelected representative of our hereditary head of state according to the unvetted suggestions of the same PMO. Except for the fact that we hold elections on an irregluar schedule (also decided in the PMO) we live in a quasi-dictatorship with all policy decisions being made de facto by a single politician and his advisors. True, there are Ministers in government with assorted portfolios and policy making powers, but they are also appointed without vetting and serve at the Prime Minister’s pleasure; their terms of office within the Cabinet begin and end on the PMO’s say so, literally from one day to the next.
There are only two saving graces for us. The first is that Canadians have a mythological self-regard that insists we’re uber-polite, easy-going and sensible; Canadian politicians including the Prime Minister buy this as much as anyone, and are loathe to do anything that would upset any special interest group; for the most part they don’t do anything until a plurality of the rest of Western civilization has already done the same thing. (Hence, pot is still illegal in Canada despite the fact that the majority of Canadians either don’t care about it or openly support legalization; as long as the Federal government in the US opposes it, it will remain illegal in Canada, but it will become a front page issue as soon as Obama gets around to decriminilization.)
The other saving grace is that Parliament has it’s own internal recall capability, where a Prime Minister can be replaced by his own party. The Prime Minister obtains his position in Parliament simply by being the leader of the largest party, and serves as leader for however long his party will have him. (Paul Martin took the Prime Minister job away from Jean Chretien without a general election in this manner.) Usually PMs are careful to keep internal groups either happy or fighting each other to prevent this. So a Prime Minister can be replaced at any time, but only by an internal vote among his closest supporters, and only by another member of his party sitting in Parliament. Which isn’t really much of a saving grace, come to think of it.
The Provinces actually have more authority to make policy under the British North America Act (1867) and The Charter of Rights and Freedoms (1982) (together they are the Canadian equivalent of the US Constitution, sort of), but they typically take the whole “polite Canadian” myth to an even more ridiculous extreme, with similar results. The fact that mavericks like former Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams are immensely popular for standing up for their consituents doesn’t appear to sink in with most of our reps.
From my perspective Canadian politics is super boring and mostly predictable. America is where the action is and, really, where all of our own future policies are currently being decided.
*Originally the Constitution extended the voting franchise only to white male landowners with citizenship, because the Founders wanted to limit political activity to people who had a vested long-term interest in the betterment of themselves and their families, which in the liberal democratic ideal translates to the best interests of the country generally. It goes without saying that the franchise has been further (and correctly) extended since then, giving political pundits even more to talk about.
Update 2: DeLonghi Johnson writes again:
I guess, then, based on what I have just learned from you, that Harper is largely responsible for his untimely demise…again. I don’t find this interesting, just infuriating. These fucking Ontario Liberal idiots will make us go through this all again, and the net result will be YET ANOTHER minority government. Ballwash.
Okay, I wasn’t sure how to fit this aspect of the Westminster system into my last update, so I just left it out, and now it’s biting me in the ass.
A minority Federal government works exactly as stated previously, except the opposition parties can gang together and vote down government bills. If a particular bill is declared to be a measure of “confidence” and is voted down the government falls more or less automatically*. This is what just happened, and it eventually happens to all Westminster minorities. It’s basically the only way to stop the PMO from the outside, and can only happen during times of minority rule, or in those exceedingly rare instances where a majority rule Prime Minister’s own party votes against him on a confidence measure (as in, I don’t think that has ever actually happened).
Needless to say, the vast majority of Canadians prefer a majority government that actually leaves them more disempowered, for about the same reasons that they allow all the other dubious aspects to continue without examination or concern: Canadian schools barely bother with modern Canadian history don’t teach civics at all, so most Canadians aren’t even aware of how this stuff actually works and wrongly believe that our system is approximately the same as what they see on the American news channels every night.
So it’s technically not Harper’s fault any more than it was Paul Martin’s fault before him, but it’s definitely our fault.
My two cents: I think we should hold elections every two years. But I also think Parliament should be prorogued on a regularly scheduled basis and Parliamentarians should only be paid a stipend to cover travel, food and housing costs**, so your mileage may vary.
*The Governor General still has to officially disolve Parliament and apparently has the authority to refuse to do so, though I’m not sure this has ever happened, and certainly hasn’t happened since WWII.
**I’m pretty sure that in an afternoon of canvassing the wealthiest neighbourhoods of Edmonton I could find 3 people who’d be willing to travel to the roughest areas in the city to volunteer their time serving soup to people who smell like a zoo after it’s been flattened by a daisy cutter. What are the odds a country of 30 million people can’t produce 300 volunteers to swan around in the swankiest parts of Ottawa? Zero over infinity. You might retort that “you get what you pay for”. To which I reply, “We’re paying a lot now, and what’s that getting us?” Short answer: a dictatorial PMO, 307/2 rubber stamps and a (completely ineffectual but) Loyal Opposition.
Update 3: The conversation is ongoing. Further updates are coming, in a thread to follow tomorrow or thereabouts.