The Senate crisis and the passage of bill c-51 are shining a light on a much more fundamental issue that should concern every single Canadian: are our government and institutions of governance working to serve Canadians?
My hope is the Senate crisis leads us to ask broader questions about our federal governance. Is there accountability and transparency? What is fundamental to our way of life and our values as a nation? What is broken? And, most importantly, how can we fix it together?
Today, Justin Trudeau set out the Liberal plan to restore democracy in Canada. This plan seeks to address the recent demise of good governance in Canada, which is directly attributable to the Harper government’s contempt for Canadian democratic institutions and values, and a system of government we have spent years as a nation fostering. A few examples:
- Harper persistently ignores the democratic principle of open discussion and debate in Parliament and its committees, using “time allocation” to cut off debate more than any other government in our history (100 times and counting).
- Harper regularly uses prorogation of Parliament as a tool to avoid political difficulties.
- The Harper Government tables massive omnibus budget bills, which have become standard practice. They include many different elements – often unrelated to each other or the budget – and there is not enough time or expertise in committee to properly examine and debate content.
- Harper centralizes power within the Prime Minister’s Office in a dangerous and unprecedented manner.
- The Prime Minister openly attacks the integrity of the Supreme Court of Canada and Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, which is an assault on one of the most important and fundamental institutions of our constitutional democracy: the independence of the courts.
- The Harper Government attacks public officials—often personally—with whom the government disagrees, such as the Chief Electoral Officer, the Auditor General and the Parliamentary budget officer. These officials are carrying out their jobs as required by the institution they represent, and have extremely limited ability to defend themselves against the power of the PM and his Ministers.
- Core institutions of good governance and the ministries that run them are threatened, including Fisheries and Oceans, Environment Canada, the RCMP, Health Canada, and Statistics Canada. Budgets have been slashed, and regulatory and other functions challenged or removed. This has resulted in a serious weakening of services Canadians expect their government to provide to keep us safe and secure, and keep our economy moving.
- The Harper Government has moved away from evidence-based policy-making to an ideological approach. Freedom of speech and information are restricted by muzzling government-funded scientists and public servants, and withholding and altering documents.
Contrary to these actions that diminish our institutions of good governance, the Conservative’s Anti-Terrorism Act (Bill C-51) ironically seeks to strengthen the institutions that spy on Canadians and others, without providing effective civilian oversight.
Canadians are deeply concerned. Under the Harper Government the very fabric of our country, and future generations’ chances of success, are at risk. This transcends all other issues; it is the foundational issue heading into this election.
I have heard from thousands of voters about the issues most on their minds: Bill C-51, balancing the needs of the environment with the economy, under-investment in decaying infrastructure, and housing affordability. At the root of these issues, we find evidence of contempt for the public will or the dismantling of our democratic institutions.
Canadians must re-connect with the notion that government belongs to us. We must find ways to return to a more open and inclusive government. Good decisions, policy and laws are born out of dialogue, inclusivity and informed debate. More people need to have a say in the decisions of government, and the processes that we have in place to ensure this must be respected and strengthened. We need to consider advancing our maturing democracy through embracing appropriate measures of electoral reform, including proportional representation and mandatory voting.
Democratic reform and renewal of our institutions may not be sexy but it is incredibly important. Canada still ranks 10th of 41 countries on the governance index (2014) but our rank and reputation are slipping and will slip further unless we turn the tide.
We who love the very idea of Canada, founded on open government and its strong institutions, built over many decades as a beacon of hope in an increasingly troubled world, need to re-engage with the expectation of being heard. We must demand that beyond the election our new government undertakes the necessary work to rebuild and strengthen our institutions, not diminish them.
The alleged abuses exposed in the Senate crisis are salacious and it is tempting to focus on the unfolding drama. I believe there is a continued place in our democracy for a reformed Senate. We can view these events as a catalyst for positive change, prompting a substantive examination and public dialogue about the urgent need for democratic renewal that extends beyond the red chamber. The Liberal plan for a fair and open government will help us get there.
~ Jody Wilson-Raybould