Friday, June 08, 2018

Two cheers for dictatorial prime ministers

As if this were not a depressing enough morning in Canadian politics, here comes the June issue of The Literary Review of Canada with an essay by Paul Wells explaining why the friendly dictator is just fine and really it's what we all want and need, and in any case hallowed by centuries of tradition.  Wells is reviewing a new book by Ian Brodie, political scientist and former chief of staff to Stephen Harper.  Brodie opens his book
with a commonly heard claim about prime ministers, one I heard many times before Harper held the position and still hear about his successor: “Canada’s prime minister is a dictator.”
To that claim Brodie, citing Liberal apparatchik Eddy Goldenberg, mostly says, Sure.
To the claim that the PM is a dictator, the three possible responses are, “I agree, and it’s awful;” “No he’s not;” and “Sure he is, and what of it?” In these early chapters, at least, Brodie leans heavily on the third response.
Well, Brodie and Goldenberg would, wouldn't they? When your whole role in politics depends on the fact that you stand (all unelected) at the right hand of the dictator, you had better. Indeed, Brodie declares -- and Wells believes him -- that current Canadian politics follows a form many centuries old
My time in politics filled me with awe and wonder at the form of government we have inherited from our ancestors
It bears repeating that the awesome and wonderful point of parliamentary democracy as it developed over the centuries is constant accountability.  A prime minister is part of a collective government, and that collective -- the cabinet -- is daily accountable to the elected representatives of the people. Prime ministers are removed in mid-term when necessary (see Spain the other day) and backbencher force changes to unpopular policies (see the Brexit pains of Theresa May). Somehow, Canada has developed a "parliamentary" "democracy" in which none of those qualities has endured, and yet Wells and Brodie glory in our continuity of an imagined tradition.

Well, the historical illiteracy of most political scientists is well established, so we should not be surprised at Brodie. The depressing part is how Paul Wells takes Brodie's case as proof of "how well the system works."

Next, I guess, he'll return to explain how reducing elections to little more than celebrity gossip is also a good thing.

If this is the best our journalists and political scientists can offer, there really are dark days ahead.

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