Sunny ways or darker days for democracy?

May 27, 2016

It seems the “sunny ways” of the Trudeau government are starting to fade, or perhaps it was always just a façade. The Liberals framed their 2015 election campaign around the false notion that the former Conservative government was somehow bad for democracy and that a Trudeau Liberal government was the only answer. Canadians were promised a government that would be open, transparent and fair. Yet, as the days go by, it looks like Canadians are being taken for a ride.

Last week, the actions I witnessed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the House of Commons, the very epicentre of one of the world’s most respected democratic institutions, were unprecedented and profoundly troubling. In any other professional workplace, physical aggression or intimidation towards a co-worker would normally justify termination. But our Prime Minister, the one person who has been entrusted with all the advantages of the most powerful job and leadership role in Canada, displayed childish and irresponsible behaviour – exhibiting contempt for our democratic system. Unfortunately, this lack of respect for democracy is starting to become a hallmark for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his entitled government.

A cornerstone of the Liberal Party of Canada’s platform was to respect and enhance democracy. In fact, the Liberals promised that Members of Parliament would be given more free votes. This is particularly interesting, given that research conducted by the non-partisan research group Samara Canada indicated Conservatives allowed more free votes than any party in government in recent history; something our party continues to do. For example, only one Liberal Member of Parliament voted against Bill C-14, the physician-assisted dying legislation. In contrast, twenty Conservative MPs voted in favour of this controversial and complex bill. And then there’s Bill C-10. While Liberal MP Doug Eyolfson voted against the legislation at second reading, when it really mattered at report stage he supported it. Is it considered a free vote when MPs are whipped when it really matters?

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau vowed never to resort to legislative trickery and to provide time for proper debate. At almost breakneck speed, these promises were abandoned and turned out to be nothing more than empty rhetoric. Doing precisely what they pledged not to, the Liberals cut debate short on Bill C-10, legislation affecting where Air Canada can have aircraft maintained. They also imposed a time limit on debate relating to the Budget Bill and on Bill C-14. The Liberals have only allowed four hours of debate at report stage for C-14, where there are sixteen amendments to consider. Murray Mandryk from the Regina Leader-Post has said “democracy only works when governments have time to present their bills and oppositions have time to scrutinize them. And make no mistake that Trudeau did attempt to deny the Conservatives and the NDP a reasonable amount of time to debate Bill C-14”. I couldn’t agree more.

Most recently, the government introduced a motion of unprecedented legislative tricks that would enable them to adjourn the House of Commons for the summer without notice, restrict the opposition parties’ ability to impact proceeding timelines and force overnight debates to impose their agenda. This essentially eliminated the role of the opposition that Canadians elected to keep the Liberal government accountable. Postmedia’s Kady O’Malley called this motion a “procedural hammer to smack down opposition dissent”. Thankfully, in the aftermath and backlash of Prime Minister Trudeau’s physical intervention on colleagues in the House of Commons, the Liberals withdrew the motion. This cannot be dismissed as “the way things work”; this is a pattern of deliberate choices by the PM and government to hinder democracy to get their way. The editorial board at the Globe and Mail has even said, “For all the talk about the need for a new civility in Parliament, there has been little in evidence since the election of the Liberals, and this week was hitting new lows before the PM decided to take it down a rung.”

The Liberals have also doubled down in their effort to evade the democratic process through their approach to electoral reform. To forever sway elections in the Liberal Party’s favour, they are attempting to unilaterally overhaul Canada’s 150-year-old election system without properly consulting the people of Canada with a referendum. Three quarters of Canadians and a whopping 80% of Albertans believe that electoral reform should not proceed without a referendum, as was done in British Columbia and Ontario, and is the precedent in other developed democratic countries around the world. Still, the Liberals are pushing forward without a referendum or any regard for the opinions of Canadians. This, of course, is a bit strange considering that it was under this particular “illegitimate” electoral system that the Liberals received their majority mandate in 2015, and this is also the system that elects provincial and municipal representatives across Canada.

It’s very clear that our Prime Minister isn’t content with the democratic process, especially regarding the most important issues and decisions we all face. Words alone may have helped him through the election campaign, but Albertans know that actions speak much louder.

With the Liberals’ duplicity and lack of respect for democracy, the joyride Canadians were promised last election has turned into a turbulent blunder with more collisions on the horizon. Unfortunately, the promise of “sunny ways” is starting to look pretty dark.