The real issue

Absolute must read by the great John Ibbitson: Few countries can claim such a pathetic Parliament. Every single word…

It is a small symptom of a grave condition. Our Parliament has become the most dysfunctional in the English-speaking world, weaker and more irrelevant than the U.S. Congress or the parliaments of Britain, Australia or New Zealand.

If Britain is the mother of Parliaments, her Canadian daughter is a fallen woman. Government MPs are cowed; parliamentary committees are too often irrelevant. Three consecutive minority governments haven’t strengthened the powers of the House to hold the government to account; instead, they’ve encouraged new methods by which the Prime Minister’s Office seeks to centralize authority…

It isn’t prorogation, as such, that’s the issue. It’s everything around it: the motive, the precedent, and most of all, that our Parliament should be in such a degraded state already that the Prime Minister would think he could slap it around with impunity. All parties have contributed to this, and it is time for all parties to clean up the mess they have created.

That’s what all the facebook fury should be aimed at. That’s what the rallies later this month should take as their subject: not bemoaning the past, but fixing the future. It isn’t as if Parliament is going to be “unprorogued.” It’s what happens after Parliament returns that counts. The first week of March could prove to be a historic moment in the life of Canadian democracy: the opportunity, at long last, for Parliament to stand up, and start to take back the powers and rights that have been stripped from it by successive prime ministers.

And if Parliament won’t stand up on its own, then maybe it will need a little bit of encouragement.

NOTE: There is one sure way to stop anything useful from coming of this, and that is for the opposition parties to try to turn the whole thing into a chance for partisan point-scoring, rather than a genuine reform moment. No doubt there will have to be some barking of shins to impress upon the PM that Parliament means business. But the Liberal leader would make a sign of his sincerity if he were to publicly accept his party’s share of the blame for the damage that has been done to our democracy over the years.

Offer to cooperate with the government on a comprehensive plan of parliamentary reform. Make suggestions; challenge the government to match them. But be constructive. If statesmanship is met with indifference, the voters will be able to draw their own conclusions as to who is interested in restoring popular rule to Canada, and who is not. But first they have to see some statesmanship.

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.