Monday, November 24, 2014

When Stephen Lewis hasn't a clue, we are really in trouble

Just be nice?  Come on.
Apparently Stephen Lewis gave a barnburner in Charlottetown the other day when he presented the Symons lecture. According to Tom Walkom in the Star:
The one-time lion of the left unleashed a withering roar over eight years of Stephen Harper government that deserves to be moved from the relatively tiny confines of the Confederation Centre of the Arts and into a larger forum.  Lewis focused on five fronts of perhaps irreversible decline in this country, five only, because time did not allow him to get into all the factors that “scar my soul.”
Except one of his "fronts" was that  "the Harper government’s contempt for Parliament and its traditions has degraded political life and fostered voter cynicism." Lewis finds Mr. Harper is not nice, and compares him unfavourably to Bill Davis, whom Lewis once opposed in the Ontario legislature.
Lewis compared the atmosphere in Ottawa to that of the Ontario legislature where he served for 15 years, the William Davis years.  There was a respect in that chamber, he said, and that was respect was fostered by the premier. “Vitriolic nastiness in debate does not breed respect,” he said.
But a political system that depends on the niceness on the guy in charge is not a political system we should encourage or be nostalgic for.  We need a political system that controls the guy on top, that will not permit him to treat parliament with disrespect, degrade political life, and so on.

The controls are there in parliamentary democracy. They depend on the willingness of members of parliament to use them, that is all. Stephen Harper treats parliament and parliamentarians with contempt because they allow him to, and will continue until they tell him to stop.  He's more ruthless than Bill Davis, but the situation is the same.

The essential question is whether leaders are accountable to parliament, or whether parliament answers to leaders.  Parliamentarians have the power to hold leaders accountable whenever they choose to use it, whenever we tell them to , expect them to, use it. When a caucus gets sufficiently tired of being ignored, bullied, disrespected, and manipulated by its leader, it need only fire the leader and pick a new one.  (Indeed, most often it need only threaten to do that to have its way.)

There is no other solution to the problem.  And no other is needed.  This begging for leaders to play more nicely has become a hallmark of political commentary in Canada   (see here and here), but it demeans us all and the political situation we tolerate and encourage, even as we wring our hands.

Photo: Toronto Star.

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