Tonight was a perfect case in point. I rushed directly back from Halifax to be at the House for a series of four votes. They were fairly disparate,covering no particular theme. But on each and every one the government lost. There was no coalition; no behind the scenes negotiations among the opposition. In many ways it’s been like this since the last election; the government losing most of the smaller votes while surviving on the more crucial ones. In so many of the less consequential votes, the government itself just refused to recognize them, even though Parliament had spoken. It’s something I never quite understood since I first came to the House and I comprehend it little better now.
The government side was quieter this evening, likely dispirited by the Speaker’s ruling yesterday that it must respect the will of Parliament and turn over the full documentation on the Afghan detainee situation. Interestingly, what prompted the showdown was a similar vote in the House that the government lost but with which it refused to comply. The Speaker finally said “enough,” and in the process validated the power and will of Parliament over any particular government of the day. His ruling surprised no one, for the government itself had little ground to stand upon.
But that’s just the thing. It refused to accept other compromises when they came forward and forced Parliament to the brink. This has been the way they played ball since being elected, but in the end they couldn’t take down Parliament itself.
Abraham Lincoln was fond of saying that, “Nobody grows old by merely living a number of years; people grow old by deserting their ideals.” Well that’s what’s been going on with the government for some time now. Riding on the wave of scandal, the Harper Conservatives promised a new day, one driven by accountability and transparency to Parliament itself. And leading the team was the man who made the following statements:
- “If you want to be a government in a minority Parliament, you have to work with other people”
- “Restoring accountability will be the main priority of our new government”
- “And I think the real problem that we’re facing already is that the government doesn’t accept that it got a minority”
All Stephen Harper quotes, and all while he was the leader of the opposition.
All this talk about accountability drills down to this one key question: accountable to whom? Everybody knows the answer to that: accountability to Canadians, not through any party, but through Parliament and its historical tenets. That makes sense; we all know it and have accepted that reality for well over a century.
Why then does the present government continue to defy the Parliament? Because it no longer likes accountability, and it never did take to working well with the other parties. And it seems to have lost sight of the fact that this is a minority situation.
It’s likely then that Lincoln was right: they’ve grown old by deserting their ideals of transparency and accountability to the Canadian people. The issue here isn’t the government against the other parties, but the government against the people of Canada. There’s no other way to put this; both the Speaker and parliamentary jurisprudence confirm it.
When people get old they can get cranky. When governments age past a certain point they get arrogant. And so we have arrived at this crucible: a wise and seasoned Speaker near the end of a distinguished career facing down a government that chose power and secrecy over the people of this good country. It couldn’t have come out any other way, and once again the citizens of Canada have claimed their primacy. Just as they should.