Friday, January 08, 2010

As long as it's friendly....?

"Canada's democracy should not be conducted solely on the basis of convenience for the governing party." Globe and Mail editorial December 31, 2009.
To its credit, the Globe despises Prime Minister Harper's thuggish, anti-parliamentary decision to prorogue the legislature out of pure political calculation. But Mr. Harper's actions have always been based on his judgment that between elections a prime minister can do what he wants and is accountable to no one. (He's not the only prime minister to make that calculation, shall we say.)

In practice, the control that is needed to prevent prime ministerial autocracy is a lively and assertive parliament. And on that subject, the Globe ain't exactly a stalwart. A couple of years ago, when Mr Harper, with thuggishness to match his current behaviour, was allowed to have MP Bill Casey removed from the Conservative caucus for doing what MPs are elected to do -- vote -- the Globe was unconcerned:
It was legitimate for Mr Casey to vote his conscience; it was legitimate for Mr Harper to kick him out of caucus for voting no-confidence in the budget. Globe and Mail editorial, October 22, 2007.
It was a Globe columnist, Jeffrey Simpson, who popularized the phrase "friendly dictatorship" to characterize prime ministerial autocracy. But sometimes it seems it is the "friendly" part and not the "dictator" part to which Canadians give importance. Like the Globe editorialists, we only object to prime ministers running roughshod over parliamentary accountability when it seems, you know, really unfriendly.

In Britain, Prime Minister Brown seems to have survived a challenge to his leadership. But as this essay illustrates, in functioning parliamentary system it is taken for granted -- even when a challenge fails -- that the party leader is always and constantly accountable to the caucus. Parliament becomes the locus of accountability, and the prime minister is never beyond control.

When Canadians are routinely complicit in autocratic leadership practices, we are unlikely to be very persuasive if we raise our hand in horror when the autocrat takes the principle to its logical, unfriendly consequences.

(Janet Ajzenstat took note of our earlier note on this subject. (Memo to Janet: don't worry about quotation - link! Links are the only literary device unique to blogs. Try 'em.)
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