Monday, September 8, 2014

On The Training of Marine Mammals (a.k.a. MPs)

As I mentioned in a blog post the other day, I am currently reading Tragedy in the Commons, a book that examines the gross deficits to be found in Canadian parliamentary democracy. One of the recurring complaints of the former MPs interviewed for the book is the lack of independence afforded them, ethereby rendering them unable to effectively represent the interests of their constituents, interests that are routinely superseded by the chief priority of the party, which is to gain and maintain power.

Former Conservative Member of Parliament Brent Rathgeber, now sitting as an independent, is intimately acquainted with such impotence, and has written a book, set to be released this month, detailing his experiences under iron grip of the Harper cabal.

Entitled Irresponsible Government: The Decline of Parliamentary Democracy in Canada, the book

outlines how MPs have seen their powers fade away, reduced to “cheer-leading and barking on command” while the PMO has grown stronger over decades, under Mr. Harper and his predecessors, with little oversight.

While perhaps hardly new or shocking to those who have followed the machinations of the regime over the years, an insider's view does reaffirm the commonly-held perceptions of Mr. Harper's leadership:

The book offers a glimpse into the tightly controlled Conservative caucus, where backbenchers are given little say and punished – a relocated office, a less desirable committee, the cancelling of travel junkets – for stepping out of line.

Indeed, there aren't even any votes in the Tory caucus:

Under Mr. Harper, the Conservative caucus is more of a pep rally, says Rathgeber. Most play along in the hopes of rising to Cabinet, and so willingly submit to uttering prewritten talking points they are given, lobbing softball questions at ministers, and a myriad of other indignities that rob them of both their independence and any spine they might have.

Rathgeber questions the decline of ministerial responsibility, at one point saying cabinet ministers Peter MacKay and Tony Clement should have resigned over their handling of the F-35 and G-8/G-20 summits, respectively. He touches, too, on the responsibility of Mr. Harper for his own staff, pointing to the agreement between Nigel Wright and Mike Duffy, of which Mr. Harper has disavowed knowledge. “Leaders lead, they do not perpetually search for scapegoats”.

Lest those whose whose allegiances are with one of the other two major parties feel smug, the independent MP offers this:

Opposition MPs may like it, he said. “But if and when they become the government they will summarily dismiss all ... the suggestions designed to stir discussion about how to renew democracy contained in his book.

In that, I fear he is all too correct.

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