Monday, December 08, 2008

Canada’s shameful opposition

Countries with long traditions of democracy often like to flaunt that accomplishment by either lording it over younger democracies or invading other countries. Democratic eminences grises like the UK, France and the US often use various platforms, such as the UN or the Organization of American States, to criticize authoritarian regimes (Cuba, Iran, China, North Korea, to name a few), starting from the position that their long traditions of democracy gives them the right to tell other countries how they should run their affairs. (Picture: Michael Ignatieff, left, with Bob Rae and Stephane Dion.)

Canada is not exempt from this and has often criticized other countries’ human rights track record (Iran, China) or on occasion participated in military invasions in the name of democracy (Afghanistan).

The problem, however, is that even mature democracies are under threat, and the more one digs, the more rotten the democratic foundations reveal themselves to be. The US’ long history of military intervention or CIA meddling in other countries — Cuba, Guatemala, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Italy, Greece, Chile, Nicaragua, Afghanistan, to list just a few — activities that, one must add, went against its vaunted regard for democracy and people's right to self-determination, or the disregard for due process that accompanied Washington’s “war on terrorism,” show us that the so-called leader of democracies would not like what it sees if it were to take a long look in the mirror.

For its part, Canada, which often likes to portray itself as the “wiser” democracy, is not without problems of its own, as its participation in the US-led “war on terror” and adventurism in Afghanistan have made clear.

Nothing could have prepared proud Canadians, however, for what’s happened in recent weeks, with the opposition, led by the Liberal Party, the New Democratic Party and the separatist Bloc Quebecois, virtually attempting a coup d’etat by forming a coalition to overthrow Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government. Aside from the fact that this triumvirate includes a party whose political goal is to separate from Canada, the problem with this scheme is that it is undemocratic.

Like him or not (and I personally don’t), Harper was elected by voters and his party even gained a few seats in the latest election, a sign that his policies have appeal to a large swath of the Canadian polity. To remove him from office via backroom deals in parliament not only insults everybody who voted for Harper, but also opens the door to more such arrangements in future, which could threaten the stability of government whenever the country is run by a minority government. Liberal leader Stephane Dion had an abysmal election campaign and, in Quebec at least, he has long been known to be uncharismatic and uninspiring. In other words, his party did not deserve to win in the elections — and it didn’t. Any attempt to overturn the democratic process and turn loss into victory should be met with the strongest opposition.

And just when we thought things couldn’t get worse, the Liberals have now begun to fight among themselves, with Dion co-conspirators Michael Ignatieff and Bob Rae distancing themselves from the party leader and calling for his dismissal by January. Surely their position would have been drastically different had the triumvirate’s gambit succeeded, which speaks volumes about the integrity of the future leaders of the Liberal Party. (It also emerged today that the party's national executive had given a cool reception to a plan, proposed by Rae, to use democratic means within the party to elect the new party leader.)

In democracies, governments should only fall at the ballots, not as a result of unaccountable machinations behind the scenes. What Dion, Ignatieff (who in recent years has supported US military interventions in his books and articles), Rae, NDP leader Jack Layton and Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe attempted was disgraceful. Let us hope that come election time, voters will remember what these five did in their bid for power and how they made a mockery of the democracy Canadians pride themselves in. (Picture: Duceppe, left, Harper and Layton.)

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