A blog to give a voice to our concern about the continued erosion of our democratic processes not only within the House of Commons and within our electoral system but also throughout our society. Here you will find articles about the current problems within our parliamentary democracy, about actions both good and bad by our elected representatives, about possible solutions, opinions and debate about the state of democracy in Canada, and about our roles/responsibilities as democratic citizens. We invite your thoughtful and polite comments upon our posts and ask those who wish to post longer articles or share ideas on this subject to submit them for inclusion as a guest post.
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Sunday, November 11, 2012

A Western Point of View

A guest post by Jared Milne.
When the federal Liberals governed Canada, Albertans were often frustrated by what they saw as pork-barrelling, a lack of transparency in government, few checks on the prime minister’s powers, and the demonizing of people with dissenting views. That’s why many Albertans were so thrilled in 2006 when the federal Conservatives took power under Stephen Harper. It was an opportunity to clean up Ottawa, to introduce long-overdue changes, and run things transparently.

Since taking office, the Harper Conservatives have done very good work in a number of areas ranging from immigration to the justice system to the military. However, in many areas the Harper Conservatives have done many of the same things they, and Albertans in general, criticized about the Liberal governments.

In 1994, the Chretien Liberals introduced an omnibus bill that not only implemented that year’s budget, but changed several other laws at once. A young Harper protested this, saying it prevented MPs from being able to vote on the different elements of the bills and determine which ones were worth supporting. In 2012, Harper’s government has already introduced one huge omnibus bill that made many drastic changes, even when many MPs admitted they hadn’t fully read it. Now, the fall session of Parliament is set to introduce another big omnibus bill. How are our MPs supposed to decide whether they can support all these changes? Harper quite rightly pointed out the problems with omnibus bills, so why is he doing the same thing now?

Another problem people had with the Liberals was the way power tended to be centralized in the prime minister’s office, taking it away from the MPs whose job it is to keep the government on its toes. Since taking office, Harper has only made the problem worse, refusing to tell MPs how much money various projects are costing taxpayers, prevented parliamentary committees from getting their work done, and unilaterally closed parliament for no good reason. Cabinet ministers now have sweeping powers they never did before, and they usually only exercise their powers with the approval of the Prime Minister’s Office, which has few checks on its own authority.

Albertans used to cringe whenever Jean Chretien called an election at a time that suited the Liberals. One of the first things the Harper Conservatives did after taking office was to set fixed election dates. However, in 2008 Harper broke his own law and called an election anyway, waiting less time than Chretien ever did, even though there was no real reason to send Canadians to the polls in the first place.
Albertans and Canadians in general were angered by the amount of tax money that was pork-barrelled in Jean Chretien’s home riding of Shawinigan, leading to the infamous “Shawinigate” and other scandals. During the G8 conferences in Ontario, more than $45 million was spent on a variety of projects in cabinet minister Tony Clement’s riding. Many of these projects, such as a $17-million community centre upgrade and a $100,000 gazebo, had little or nothing to do with the conference.

Finally, Western Canadians also have bitter memories of the way conservative politicians, and by extension the people who supported them, were almost treated by many Liberals as somehow ‘un-Canadian’ because of their views. However, the Harper Conservatives are doing the same thing with their smear campaigns against Liberal leaders Stéphane Dion and Michael Ignatieff, or Conservative Sen. Mike Duffy’s claim that environmental groups who oppose the Northern Gateway pipeline are “un-Canadian.”

How can the federal Conservatives justify these actions? Wasn’t one of the main reasons for the creation of the Reform Party to put a stop to these things? What does this mean, in the long term, for the health of Canadian democracy and national unity? Whatever the answer is to this last question, so far the signs don’t look good.

Originally published in The St Albert Gazette under the title Federal Conservatives Behaving Like Liberals Past posted here with the permission of the author.

Jared Milne is a writer, researcher and public servant living in St. Albert, Alberta. His major interests including Canadian unity, nationalism and history, particularly regarding how Canada's incredibly rich past has affected the present we live in today.

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