Message to Mr. Flaherty

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He was the leader of a party I frequently criticize. And his tenure as head of the Liberals is generally dismissed as an abject failure (hard to argue with, given the performance of the party in the last federal election). But there’s a part of me that likes Michael Ignatieff. I’ve read one of his books, and liked it, which I’m sure colours my perspective. He was also a liberal who supported the invasion of Iraq at a time when I was a staunch supporter of the same (my view of foreign intervention has changed significantly since, although I still believe Bush’s motives were fundamentally good in invading Iraq, and that his belief in the threat posed by Hussein was genuine). And he seemed to have a faith in people – that average people could handle adult concepts, rather than being spoon-fed slogans.

Ig is in the Post today speaking an obvious but important truth. Party loyalty is killing democracy:

It’s fitting we discuss party loyalty today. It’s a factor in the strangulation of democracy in the U.S. as well as Canada. There was lots I disliked in Romney and lots I dislike in Obama. I wonder, though, how the next four years will differ from the last four years? Party loyalty will paralyze Washington and real change will falter.

Here in Canada, parliamentary democracy creates another danger: the tyranny of the majority. Change can happen quickly here. All it takes is a prime minister with a majority, such as we have today. And that’s another kind of danger posed by party loyalty. We elect kings, not prime ministers. King Harper nods his head and his MPs do his bidding.

I’m not even a particularly harsh critic of Harper. I like some of what he does, and dislike other things. But his autocratic instincts are troubling, and the willingness of MPs of all parties to walk lockstep with party leaders is a betrayal of their duty.

Constituents should come first, party second. The only exceptions, maybe, are on confidence votes. Every MP should be an independent thinker who must be appealed to by the prime minister for support on each issue. Parties should be big tents that welcome diverse views. Party affiliation should be an indication of a general perspective, not a guaranteed vote in the PM’s pocket.

The future of democracy is by no means guaranteed. There are strong forces – not just parties – that would find ruling the world much easier if they could get rid of the tedious process of consulting the ruled.

What’s really sinister, though, is that democracy can die quietly and slowly. Not a coup, but a slow poison. I think the process has already begun. There’s no star chamber orchestrating its demise, just an unfettered human instinct to grasp power and benefit from it.


(If you need a small, concrete example, look no further than page 9 of our paper today: Finance Minister Jim Flaherty saying he wishes the PBO “would stick to his knitting.” Well, Mr. Flaherty, I wish you’d pull your head out of your bottom and start dealing honestly with the people who elected you. Oversight of spending – AND CUTTING – is one of the ways we can improve democracy in this country. And if Flaherty thinks the PBO has overstepped his mandate, fine – the numbers should still be released just cuz it’s the right thing to do.)

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