Rex Murphy, in his Thursday night editorial on CBC’s The National, called it fairly and squarely: the weeks-long uproar over Parliament not being in session this week would be a great deal more persuasive if the people on all sides of the aisle actually had some respect for Parliament.
But, of course, they don’t, neither on the Government benches nor on the Opposition ones. (Evidence of same, in the event that the video of Rex’s piece is unavailable, can be found with any day’s “Question Period” for, say, anywhere in the past forty years.)
The incessant, endless screaming that passes these days for “debate” is ludicrous in the extreme. Almost every moment is staged, planned for the cameras and scripted by back room “thinkers” looking for a tenth-of-a-point shift in public opinion. Those who actually dare to ask a question — a real question, one where a real answer to that question is expected, and where the question is expressed simply and with respect — are so rare as to almost never appear, for they do not serve their party’s ambition to saturate the media with the “line of the day” by being reasonable. Those who are called to answer a question — a real question, preferably expressed respectably but even if done “on the attack” nevertheless are called to provide an informative answer — in turn almost never appear, for those called to answer are chosen for their willingness to be irresponsible (in the sense of the demands of responsible government certainly, and, often, in the sense of being a decent human being).
Political theatre Parliament may be, but I daresay that almost never in your lifetime have you heard a Minister or Parliamentary Secretary respectfully submit an answer to Parliament as is required of them in our system of governance. This is an observed datum which has ascended, by virtue of statistical probabilities, to the realm of a truth that can be chiselled into stone and placed over the entranceway to a great public building, or on the pedestal of a great public monument, without fear of contradiction.
Indeed, for any rational man or woman seeking to serve their fellow citizens through elected office (or, given that there are Senatorial chairs to be filled from time to time, appointed office), the lintel above the double doors leading to the Green and Red Chambers, respectively, should steal from Dante’s Inferno and quote:
Lasciate ogni sperena voi Ch’entrate
Abandon all hope, ye who enter here
Such an entrance would at least have the virtue of something missing from Canadian public life: common-sensical moral honesty.
So let me be absolutely clear, since I already know that I will receive tweets, or Facebook comments, or blog comments, or emails, telling me I’m “for” someone in this:
The BQ, Conservative, Independent, Liberal and NDP MPs are all horrid.
Not one of them deserves anything other than firing at the next election. This isn’t a matter of “my leader better than yours” or “my party better than yours”, because they’re all reprehensible moral reprobates, publicly displaying behaviour that parents discipline two-year-olds over so that they grow up to become at least tolerable people to have around you.
“Ah”, you might say, “but Stephen Harper caused this latest kerfluffle, and Michael Ignatieff (or Jack Layton, or Gilles Duceppe) have no choice but to act as they do.” It is (as a friend of mine notes to take the intersubjective into account when dealing with data) a true fact that Stephen Harper did prorogue Parliament, and not necessarily in an appropriate way. Still, if one child in the sandbox grabs the ball, must the others scream and have a tantrum? I think not when they’re two — and I certainly don’t when they purport not only to be adult, but statesmen!
When Rex Murphy’s piece showed up in my podcast library this morning and I viewed it, I wasn’t astonished at all to find that it merely crystallized something I have felt for a very long time now: the nonsense in the House, in the Senate, and in the political coverage in the media, is utterly irrelevant to my daily life. I don’t miss Question Period — there are no questions asked and answered worthy of my time — and I don’t find any of the pronouncements made by Harper (“let’s all save the world’s women and children”), Ignatieff (“let’s just arbitrarily screw up the Parliamentary system to score cheap points”), etc. worthy of any effort of thought.
- Harper’s spending money we don’t have? Another bloody politician.
- Ignatieff’s dealing in the trivial? Another bloody politician.
- The Opposition parties want more spending? More bloody politicians!
- The political programs are full of shouting talking heads? Turn it off!.
- The polls are up/down/sideways? Who cares?.
As a country, we have serious issues that require serious political attention. The serious items are (a not-exhaustive list):
- Deficits and how public finances are to be restored.
- What should government do? What should it not do?
- How will we fix equalization and transfers to the provinces to restore equity?
- What would the acquis communautaire require in the way of change (an inevitable consequence of our current negotiations with the EU?
- What, if anything, should be done on the environmental (pollution, ecosystem destruction) — climate change (México 2010 Conference pending) — mobility fronts?
- What is our immigration policy and why, and how do we make sure immigrants “get on” in Canada?
- What is the right balance in dealing with terrorism — other nations’ security worries — policing — sentencing — etc.?
- What should the Federal Government do when provinces snipe at each other, if anything?
- How do we get to free trade and labour mobility between Canadian provinces and territories?
as opposed to:
- When did he prorogue and why did he prorogue it?
- Why hasn’t Canada taken over the Afghan Government’s responsibilities to ensure no prisoner suffers anything, ever?
- Why aren’t we bringing “our boys” home from Guantanamo or US prisons?
- Can we have Karlheinz Schreiber back and exile John Gomery instead?
- Was Chrétien — Martin — Mulroney — etc., a crook/loud-mouthed schook/fool of a Took?
or whatever the “gotcha” of the day is going to be (since dialogue is written and scripted, and Indignation Practice occurs just before Question Period, it can (and often is) invented — again, on all sides of the aisle.
I, for one, am sick to death of a politics and a political régime that can’t govern. This cancer starts in the civil service, with its caution, legendary bucking of intention, refusal to yield to Ministerial control and sloppiness in management and execution. It is aided and abetted by a media consumed with process and horse race outcomes and that expends not one minute of air time on actual investigation, analysis and exposition of issues. It is further aided by the media’s desire for “explosive” programming, and thus the daily holding of “Question Period II” on air, where the participants are chosen for their willingness to play their role as opposed to inform the public. Then there are the MPs and Senators, all bowing their necks and kissing the hem of the robes of their party grandees and the unelected officials in Leaders’ Offices and Party HQ.
As it is, Canada is not worth saving. Yet our problems will compound mightily if it dies or fades out. So we have little choice: we must work to save it.
So again, I say, fire the lot of them!
And keep the firings up — by voting incumbents out — until we get MPs that will be responsible, adult, human custodians of Parliament and tackle this country’s problems the way Parliament was intended: as a venture where, whatever competition there is, co-operation in the interest of the nation and its traditions of governance comes first and overrides sectarian, factional, party interest.
There will only be hope again in the Chambers of Parliament when we, the citizens of Canada, take it back.