Stephen Harper on Democracy & Capital

In an interview with Business News Network, the Prime Minister flatly rejected the notion that proroguing Parliament has left the country open to criticism it is not a stable democracy.

In fact, it is Parliament in a minority situation that is perceived by markets as unstable, said Harper.

“The games begin when Parliament returns,” he explained. “The government can take our time now to do the important work to prepare the economic agenda ahead.

“That said, as soon as Parliament comes back . . . the first thing that happens is a vote of confidence and there’ll be votes of confidence and election speculation for every single week after that for the rest of the year. That’s the kind of instability markets are actually worried about.”  [The Star]

The sad thing is, Stephen Harper is correct.  He’s not right, but he’s correct.  It’s about corporate capitalism stupid.

Best Chance for Progressives in a LONG TIME

I am in agreement with Murray Dobbin, in full rah rah mode:

This may well be the best chance progressives have had in the four years of Harper government to deal him a decisive blow and frame him and his government as unfit to run the country. He has clearly been hurt by this but Harper will not go away quietly and if we do not take advantage of this moment and take the next two months to press the issue of democracy (and the Afghan detainee issue which prompted Harper’s move) we can count on Harper to recover – especially given the current weakness of both the Liberals and the NDP.

It’s Time to Join the Democracy Movement !

Write your MP and if you’ve already written your MP, write again.  Write to the PM, to local newspapers cc’ed to national media and to leaders of the opposition.  Demonstrate with members of Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament on January 23rd.  If we let up we’ll get the democracy we deserve.

More Anti-Rogueness

Constitutional law professor Errol Mendes at The Star:

This behaviour [the prorogation] by the Prime Minister is another piece of evidence of a major shift in Canadian constitutional democracy taking shape. First, there is the unconstitutional behaviour of the Harper government to deny the committee uncensored documents despite a motion of the House of Commons. Second, there is the boycott of the committee by the Conservative MPs at the committee. Third, we have seen the sandbagging of the Military Police Complaints Commission and the “yanking” of its chair, Peter Tinsley. This commission, a quasi-judicial tribunal has been stymied in its attempt to determine the truth over the detainee transfer issue. Finally, there is the unprecedented slamming of Richard Colvin for just doing his job of speaking truth to power and then accusing anybody who supports him of either being Taliban dupes or undermining our brave Canadian military heroes.

These are serious examples of abuse of executive power over Parliament, the Governor General, the public service and ultimately the Canadian voters who elected MPs to make Parliament work.

. . .

Some Canadians may not pay much attention to archaic constitutional terms such as prorogation of Parliament or even to the fate of Afghan detainees transferred to torture. Other Canadians will care greatly about both these issues. But all Canadians must care about a minority government that undermines the fundamental democratic institutions of this country while also manipulating quasi-judicial tribunals and intimidating the public service from speaking truth to power. This abuse of executive power is tilting toward totalitarian government and away from the foundations of democracy and the rule of law on which this country was founded.  [you can have more]

A bit more at The Star:

“What this is is a continuation of a very authoritarian approach to government by the current prime minister … this particular prime minister does not want to govern in an accountable democratic manner. It is extremely dangerous,” [constitutional law professor Peter] Russell told the Star.  [there is more]

[links via impolitical]

Dawg on Michael Ignatieff’s less than rousing response to the prorogation:

Leaders are supposed to lead, dammit. This empty suit has been asking for input almost since his coronation. Doesn’t he have any ideas of his own by now? Any gut reactions? Any strategy? Any vision? Any passion, for crying out loud?

I’m not even a Liberal, and I’m yearning to hear something real, just for once, come from this man’s mouth.  [always more and always worth it!]

ANTI-ROGUE UPPIDY DATE:

From Rick Mercer’s blog:

It is ironic that while our parliament has been suspended we are a nation at war. On New Year’s Eve we greeted the news that five Canadians were killed in a single day with sadness but not surprise. We are at war because ostensibly we are helping bring democracy to Afghanistan. How the mission is progressing is open for debate but this much is certain – at present there is a parliament in Afghanistan that it is very much open for business. Canada has no such institution.

In Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai’s government faces fierce opposition at every turn; many of his cabinet choices have been rejected in a secret ballot by the more than 200 parliamentarians that sit in the legislature. Simply closing parliament down and operating without their consent is not an option for Hamid Karzai; to do so would be blatantly undemocratic or at the very least downright Canadian. If Hamid Karzai suspended parliament on a whim we might be forced to ask why Canadians are dying to bring democracy to that country.

Stephen Harper doesn’t have that problem. The Parliament of Canada has been suspended for no other reason than the prime minister simply can’t be bothered with the relentless checks and balances that democracy affords us. He doesn’t want to have to stand in the House of Commons and hear anyone question him on any subject. I don’t blame him. Parliament is filled with jackals, opportunists and boors. The problem is, like it or not, they were elected.  [the whole thing]

Anti-Rogue Update

James Travers at The Star:

Systematically, and without explanation, the Prime Minister is testing every limit on his power. Along with successfully shuttering Parliament for the second time, he’s neutering committees charged with the primary democratic responsibilities of safeguarding the treasury and forcing the government to explain its actions. He’s challenging independent rulings against how Conservatives funded their 2006 election and how this government treats Canadians in trouble abroad.

Politics is an uncompromising blood sport played to win within loose rules. By learning Liberal dirty tricks, adapting to changing circumstances and reinterpreting every regulation in his favour, Harper is proving to be a shrewd and accomplished contestant.

Far less clear is what he accepts as legitimate constraint, the line in the democratic sand not to be crossed.  [more]

NJN Network provides us with a list of bills that hit the skids when Stephen prorogued.

From Heroes in Rehab:

The idea is that it is fundamental to our notions of responsible government in a parliamentary democracy that the government of the day must “meet the House”; though majority governments may (by virtue of the number of elected members of the party sitting in the House) possess the ability to ram through legislation and seemingly act at will, even they must answer questions about the government’s actions and agenda in the House, questions asked by the Opposition.  This requirement that the government of the day must meet the House is supposed to (through the mechanisms of moral suasion and public debate) keep it honest.  Of course, this Harper government does not even have the luxury of a majority, or the democratic mandate that would go along with it.  Minority governments are supposed to be more, not less, responsive to the concerns of the elected members of the House.  [and more]

From Bow. James Bow.:

Here, now, we have a prime minister who seeks to suspend the work of parliament — not, as it could have been argued last year, to establish a seven week cooling period before facing the prospect of changing a government in the middle of an economic crisis, but to thwart the work of various committees asking questions in the name of accountability. This is a prime minister who has defied the principle of parliamentary supremacy, ignoring a direct order by vote of parliament to turn over uncensored documents to a parliamentary committee for investigation, in order to save his own political skin. Whatever high ideals the move to suspend parliament last year might have had, they’re not present here. The move is nakedly political, and shames our democracy.  [James has the goods]

Susan Delacourt at The Star:

… none of us know what Michaelle Jean told Harper during that longer-than-expected chat in December 2008. Who knows? Maybe she said that the Prime Minister should try to make Parliament work, unless the Olympics were on, and then all bets were off.In the end, of course, it’s not Michaelle Jean who has to approve this move. It’s Canadians — including you folks out there reading this — who have to decide whether Harper has a legitimate reason to suspend the work of Parliament. Personally, I haven’t heard one good reason yet.   [not much more]

But really, I think it’s going to be difficult to keep this issue alive.  There’s so little to talk about.  Stephen Harper’s actions are cynical and wrong for fairly obvious reasons and there seems to be fairly general agreement on that.  Now on to the Olympics?

I hope not.  If  Harper’s prorogue move wakes Canadians up and presages the end of this government I’ll be glad he did it.  That is all.  For now.  For the next few days I’ll be reading Arundhati Roy’s Field Notes on Democracy: Listening to Grasshoppers.  A few words from Roy:

… what have we done to democracy? What have we turned it into? What happens once democracy has been used up? When it has been hollowed out and emptied of meaning? What happens when each of its institutions has metastasized into something dangerous? What happens now that democracy and the free market have fused into a single predatory organism with a thin, constricted imagination that revolves almost entirely around the idea of maximizing profit?  [a lot more]

BIG FAT UPPIDTY DATE:

How could I forget James Laxer?

A year ago, the Prime Minister was prepared to mislead his fellow citizens about the essence of our system of government—the requirement that the ministers of the crown must enjoy the backing of the majority of the members of the House of Commons—to retain power. To stay at the helm, he was quite happy to delude Canadians into believing that the PM is directly elected and that the members of parliament from Quebec aren’t quite equal to the others.

When the history of this era is written years from now, the story is likely to be that of a not very talented gang with values distant from those of the Canadian mainstream, holding onto office longer than they should have because the opposition couldn’t figure out how to unite to deal with them. Some will bear more responsibility for this sorry state of affairs than others.  [Read the rest – that’s an order!] 

Here & There on US Health Care

From Hillbilly Report:

After months of healthcare debate a bill has been passed in the Senate. A bill that stripped basically all that was good for working Americans out, and has become very unpopular among a majority of Americans. A bill that mandates millions of Americans at the mercy of the insurance industry, and allows them to continue to discriminate against folks with pre-existing conditions. Quite simply, a bill that was written for Corporate Welfare complete with backroom bribes to get it passed. And for many Progressives, the fact that we had not a champion in the Democratic caucus to stand up for us and vote against these junk reforms was painful enough, Harry Reid added insult to injury.  [more]

Wendell Potter at Huffington:

Although the effort to achieve health care reform has been arduous and ugly, progressives can’t merely brush off their hands, move on to other issues and hope the stars will align again for “real” reform. When you stop and think about the bottomless pot of money that health insurance companies constantly replenish by diverting part of our premium dollars away from paying for medical care, it is in some ways remarkable that we have accomplished as much as we have with this legislation.  [more]

David Sirota, also at Huff:

For those caught up in the obsequiously triumphalist bullshit coming from the DC elite – you know the crap about the Senate allegedly passing the most important piece of progressive legislation in American history today (an analysis I completely reject) – it’s important for us all to remember that the health care battle isn’t over – and specifically, the battle over the public option isn’t over.  [more, of course]

Ronald Brownstein at The National Journal:

The new Internet-based left, because it is so heavily reliant on college-educated whites generally less exposed to the economy’s storms, also has a blind spot on kitchen table issues. According to the Census Bureau, just 6 percent of college-educated whites lack health insurance, for instance, compared to 19 percent of African-Americans and 31 percent of Hispanics. But the idea that Democrats should just press restart after the grueling struggle to reach this point carries an air of fatal abstraction: If health reform fails now, the next chance for big change probably wouldn’t come for years, if not decades. “The universal rule of health care — there are no exceptions — is you get what you can,” says Brown University political scientist James Morone, co-author of The Heart of Power, a recent history of health care politics.  [more]

Letter to David Sirota at Open Left:

This is an excellent example of the “satisfying purity of indignation.” Millions will benefit from a compromise plan. Zero would do so from a more ambitious but unachieveable plan. I’ve no patience for this kind of impractical and bloodless stance. Please take me off your list.

Sent from my iPhone
Stephen Davis
Executive Director
Millstein Center
Yale School of Management

Sirota’s response

From Dan Sweeney, Huff again:

What the past several months have revealed, far more than the power of lobbyists (which we already knew) or the ability of senators to toss their ideology out the window for fun and profit (ditto), is the complete and total inability of the government to govern. Whatever your opinion of this health-care bill, whatever your opinion of Democrats or Republicans, put that aside for a moment and consider this: A charismatic president with a supposedly filibuster-proof majority in the Senate and a large majority in the House is completely incapable of enacting massively popular reform.  [he goes on]

Michael J. W. Stickings, the Huff goes on:

reality is reality, and politics are politics, and, given the Senate’s ridiculous rules and procedures that effectively require a supermajority of 60 to pass legislation, the votes just aren’t there even for a Medicare buy-in, let alone for a public option, let alone for a robust one, let alone for anything even more substantial.Like it or not, that’s just the way it is, and while I wish there had been a stronger push by progressives and liberals for concessions from right-leaning reform-skeptic Democrats like Nelson, Lieberman, and Baucus, specifically regarding subsidies for those who simply will not be able to afford the insurance they would be required to buy, and while I wish Obama, and the White House generally, had pushed for more substantial and transformative legislation (it’s still not clear to me what Obama is actually for, if he is for anything other than the Senate bill as is, which he may not be), we are left with a stark choice: pass the bill or kill the bill.

I think the choice is clear: PASS THE BILL.  [a bit more]

From Reed Abelson at the good ole Globe and Mail:

For many people, the result of the long, angry health care debate in Washington may be little more than more of the same.As President Obama once promised, “If you like your health plan, you can keep your health plan.”

That may be true even if you don’t like your health plan. And no one seems to agree on whether the legislation will do much to reduce workers’ continually rising out-of-pocket costs.  [more]

Paul Krugman:

Now, in a hostage situation there are times when you have to just say no — when giving in, by encouraging future hostage-takers, would be worse than letting the hostages perish. So the question has to be, is this one of those times? I don’t think so, given the history: as Kevin Drum points out, health reform has come back weaker after each defeat. I’d also point out that highly imperfect insurance reforms, like Social Security and Medicare in their initial incarnations, have gotten more comprehensive over time. This suggests that the priority is to get something passed.

But what’s happening, I think, goes beyond health care; what we’re seeing is disillusionment with Obama among some of the people who were his most enthusiastic supporters. A lot of people seem shocked to find that he’s not the transformative figure of their imaginations. Can I say I told you so? If you paid attention to what he said, not how he said it, it was obvious from the beginning — and I’m talking about 2007 — that he was going to be much less aggressive about change than one could have hoped. And this has done a lot of damage: I believe he could have taken a tougher line on economic policy and the banks, and was tearing my hair out over his caution early this year. I also believe that if he had been tougher on those issues, he’d be better able to weather disappointment over his health care compromises.

So there’s a lot of bitterness out there. But please, keep your priorities straight.  [more]

Jon Walker at FireDogLake:

Today’s vote in the Senate to pass their health care reform bill was a big win for many people. It was a big win for the drug companies, the biologics industry, the hospital companies, and the for-profit health insurance corporations. They will all get billions of government dollars piled on to their ledgers, and and millions of Americans now forced to buy their products. The vote was also a huge win for the lobbyists who just saw their profits jump thanks to this great opportunity to show their clients just how powerful their hold on Washington really is.

This vote was also a political win. It was a big deal for politicians–like Barack Obama, Max Baucus, Rahm Emanuel, and Harry Reid–who cared more about putting up a “W” on the scoreboard than about the policy. It was also a big day for senators like Blanche Lincoln, Mary Landrieu, Ben Nelson, and Joe Lieberman. The incredibly broken rules of the Senate gave them an absurd amount of anti-constitutional power that allowed them to hold reform hostage for pork and industry favors.

It was loss for the country. Our broken health care system will remain broken and costs will continue to rise at an alarming rate. Things like drug re-importation and a robust public option, which would have helped bring down prices for millions of Americans, were stripped from the bill at the request of powerful industry lobbyists.

It was also a big loss for the progressive movement. We were out-gunned by industry lobbyists, and many of our movement “allies” failed us. A woman’s right to choose was thrown under the bus just to get something passed. The supposed “progressives” in the Senate refused to go all-out and use every tool to achieve the most progressive reform. Lawrence O’Donnell is right, most importantly, this bill will give liberalism a very bad name.

This is not progressive reform. This is a perverse Democratic version of Reagan style trickle down economics. Hundreds of billions will be given to poorly regulated private health insurance companies in the hope that they spend roughly 80% of that money on actually providing people with health care. It forces millions of people to buy very expensive insurance that they cannot afford to get actual health care, so that Democrats can proudly say millions more people are “covered.” Private health insurance companies are what have ruined our current system and are dramatically less efficient than public insurance programs, yet Democrats will use them almost exclusively. It is a massive reward for a history of terrible performance. Instead of reining in the insurance companies, it only enriches, empowers, and entrenches them further. The only “check” on the industry will be new regulations, but with extremely weak to practically non-existent enforcement, it is basically no check at all.

[there’s lots more over there]

So much to think about.  Likely I’m on the side of the lefty abstractionist naysayers.  Overall I’m just sad.  Though I was never a believer in the hopey-changey President.  I’m frustrated with those lefty abstractionists who were.  In any case, the American system of government and its flaws has been exposed in all its vain-glorious ingloriousness.  That’s what people should be paying attention to, whatever they think about health care “reform”.  Perhaps the problem is with the notion of reform itself.  Now there’s a revolutionary idea.

The Last Generation

From the Port Huron Statement of the Students for a Democratic Society, June 1962

Our work is guided by the sense that we may be the last generation in the experiment with living. But we are a minority — the vast majority of our people regard the temporary equilibriums of our society and world as eternally-functional parts. In this is perhaps the outstanding paradox: we ourselves are imbued with urgency, yet the message of our society is that there is no viable alternative to the present. Beneath the reassuring tones of the politicians, beneath the common opinion that America will “muddle through”, beneath the stagnation of those who have closed their minds to the future, is the pervading feeling that there simply are no alternatives, that our times have witnessed the exhaustion not only of Utopias, but of any new departures as well. Feeling the press of complexity upon the emptiness of life, people are fearful of the thought that at any moment things might thrust out of control. They fear change itself, since change might smash whatever invisible framework seems to hold back chaos for them now. For most Americans, all crusades are suspect, threatening. The fact that each individual sees apathy in his fellows perpetuates the common reluctance to organize for change. The dominant institutions are complex enough to blunt the minds of their potential critics, and entrenched enough to swiftly dissipate or entirely repel the energies of protest and reform, thus limiting human expectancies. Then, too, we are a materially improved society, and by our own improvements we seem to have weakened the case for further change.

Some would have us believe that Americans feel contentment amidst prosperity — but might it not better be called a glaze above deeplyfelt anxieties about their role in the new world? And if these anxieties produce a developed indifference to human affairs, do they not as well produce a yearning to believe there is an alternative to the present, that something can be done to change circumstances in the school, the workplaces, the bureaucracies, the government? It is to this latter yearning, at once the spark and engine of change, that we direct our present appeal. The search for truly democratic alternatives to the present, and a commitment to social experimentation with them, is a worthy and fulfilling human enterprise, one which moves us and, we hope, others today. On such a basis do we offer this document of our convictions and analysis: as an effort in understanding and changing the conditions of humanity in the late twentieth century, an effort rooted in the ancient, still unfulfilled conception of man attaining determining influence over his circumstances of life.

More

Rebels with a Cause chronicles the movements for social change of the Sixties that began with the civil rights movement and culminated with the angry protests against the US war in Vietnam. Told through the eyes of SDS members, the film is about far more than SDS. It’s about the values, motivations, and actions of a generation that lost its innocence but gained a sense of power and purpose. It’s about a decade that changed America.

Confounded Opposition

For four years, the government has successfully deep-sixed its critics and confounded the opposition. Low-key nuclear regulator Linda Keen was fired (and the isotope crisis remains unresolved.) Inquisitive parliamentary budget officer, Kevin Page, is being starved of funds. The government refused to co-operate with the Military Police Complaints Commission looking into the detainee issue and is not reappointing its chairman, Peter Tinsley. It has taken Elections Canada to court, withheld an RCMP study on the gun registry until after a crucial vote, and ignored a vote ordering it to release documents relating to Colvin’s testimony.

More from Susan Riley at The Ottawa Citizen and from Lawrence Martin at The Star here

UPDATE:  Don’t forget Dawg

And so a four-year assault on Canadian democracy continues on many fronts, from subverting responsible government to the targeting of ordinary citizens and now to the suppression of charitable human rights groups.

About that “suppression of charitable human rights groups”?  He’s talking about KAIROS.  See this and this [pdf] and this.

UPDATE II:  Haroon Siddiqi weighs in —

Stephen Harper is centralizing power in the PMO on an unprecedented scale; defying Parliament (by refusing to comply with a Commons vote demanding the files on Afghan prisoner abuse); derailing public inquiries (by a parliamentary committee and the Military Police Complaints Commission); muzzling/firing civil servants; demonizing critics; and dragging the military into the line of partisan political fire.

Of course, there’s more.

So, lots of people have noticed.  Now what?

Sometimes I Read Comments

A comment on an editorial:

kissinger wrote:
This REFORM government (it is so far removed from Progressive Conservative that history will never forgive MacKay for taking a knee) is so full of Straussian evangelists and zealots in all areas of political, economic and religious persuasions that they hold Parliament in contempt and believe deeply and philosopically that all thought is divinely classified into two types — that which is their own and that which is false and dangerous. They are destroying Canada by the installemnt [sic] plan..turf them.

via Pushed Left

Canadian Guess Who?

There’s an old-fashioned idea, once a Reform Party thing, that regular people – those grassroots folks – should have a sniff of the action. As nice as it sounds, don’t go there. You need to amass unparalleled executive power so everything is top down and put through the filter of politics. For your own caucus, you enforce such tight discipline that no one dare cast an independent vote. You issue your members a secret handbook on how to disrupt parliamentary committees. For Question Period, you instruct your members to answer most queries with a putdown of the previous government’s record.

Guess who?

More on Canada’s top anti-democrat