Monday, 4 January 2010

Springtime For Harper...

...with apologies to Mel Brooks.

The title is not meant to suggest an analogy between Stephen Harper's decision to once again crawl away from Opposition scrutiny and any feature of Adolph Hitler's regime. Building such an analogy would be, of course, outrageous. For one thing, Hitler managed to suspend democracy and rule by decree whilst still expecting members of the Reichstag to come to work every day, whereas Harper has emptied the House and shall, alone, be governing the country the way a Victorian schoolmaster would run his Latin classes--by Order-in-Council--until the eve of spring, in early March.

No, the title uses its absurd Americanism merely to invoke the commingling of tragic history and vulgar farce--the new Canadian cultural standard and that which shall be the most salient feature of Stephen Harper's legacy. The title also incidentally reminds us of what season we'll be sliding into by the time our Members of Parliament waltz back into the House with their glowing Fort Lauderdale tans. If analogies be wanted, apt ones could be made between Harper and any number of democratically elected "populist" tin-pot emperors who've ruled, smilingly and to great popular acclaim, through non-violent and nominally legal distortions of constitutional norms.

Harper's latest procedural belch is arguably unique, in that its announced pretexts are as offensive as, if not more offensive than, its real but unstated objective--something one would hardly guess from most media commentary: apparently, suspending the business of the House until one has stacked the Senate with enough of one's neutered poodles to capture neutered-poodle majorities on committees is so much more defensible than shutting down inquires into Afghan detainee abuse. Frankly, I fail to see the ethical canyon between the urge to suppress committees and the urge to manipulate them into partisan shams that exist merely to thrust one's legislative agenda through a gauntlet of gutless rubber stamps.

As things now stand, however, I just hope that Harper's next series of Senate appointees maintains the exacting standard of integrity and intellect that the prime minister has so far demanded throughout his provision to the Upper Chamber of some of the best legal minds and civic consciences with which our nation has been gifted--from media hacks who've perfected the perversion of their professions, through small-time jobbers and lobbyists who've never been too busy currying favour with federal power brokers to do their fair share of lady-killing, to superannuated jocks whose insights into House bills are deep and sharp once they've had them read aloud, slowly. Perhaps the new year shall see Harper finally reach the logical, Caligulan conclusion of his current Senatorial trajectory and appoint a horse (as he's running out of asses).

I've been amused to see a few astute commentators vent their rage at this latest fiasco through an historical analogy I used last year (and which I had thought was mine alone, before coming across this post a few days after posting my own). I've been amused, I say, rather than just interested, because of how casually they invert the true polarity of the situation: they see Harper as Charles I, a throne-borne despot dismissing a turbulent Parliament against the wishes of the people. This indulgent perspective reminds us of the difference between serving the people and flattering them--for it does the people no service to deny that the most civically degrading acts of despotism are always done in their name, and often with their full consent.

In fact, Harper calculated his actions, both last year and last week, upon an assumed and apparently real base of significant public support (or apathy, which is becoming the same thing). Harper made his cowardly requests to the Governor General as a legitimate vehicle of the public mood, especially on the Prairies--where Albertan prime ministers can always expect to have the “democratic” integrity of their personal fiat defended against the tyrannical pressures of duly elected Members of Parliament.

It was the “people” who shuttered Parliament. Only that unelected, undemocratic remnant of aristocratic privilege--the office of the Governor-General--had the power and the duty to interpose the claims of constitutional integrity between the axe of Harper's Nixonian arrogance and the exposed neck of our nation's chamber of legislative deliberation. It was not the people but the ostensibly sovereign framework of their political life, the Crown--the ghost of Charles I, in effect (or of Lord Byng)--that was trodden underfoot, as it is daily by a system that will no longer tolerate having the "undemocratic" agents of our constitution protect that constitution from "democrats" pledged to nothing beyond the satisfaction of their own partisan appetites. It is during crises like the last two prorogations when we see most startlingly revealed the Tory truth that the people require an ultimate, inviolable and sovereign principle of order be kept suspended high above themselves and beyond the trammelling exploitation of their tribunes if their rights and interests are to be preserved from total usurpation.

Ours is not an age of Stewart absolutism. In our age, the people do not cry for freedom from the Crown; it is the Crown that cries for freedom--freedom from a popular "democratic" prejudice that will not allow it to block the desires of prime ministers, no matter how disordered they may be, or perform any executive gesture not redolent of slavish obligation to the self-interested whims of the Treasury Bench. Raised as we are to think ourselves administered by such alien principles as the "separation of powers", very few Canadians understand that the Crown is often the only effective check upon a prime minister (especially one who presides over a majority) and have thus acquiescently allowed it to disappear as a living component of our constitutional system.

The Crown has been abducted. It is perpetually held in a cold, dark place by avid prime ministerial charlatans who, oozing concern for our welfare, force us to pay exorbitant ransom in national dignity, integrity and self-esteem for what they’ve taken. And we always pay, without ever receiving what we've paid for. Our Harpers believe that most of us do not very dearly miss what they’ve stolen. I fear they're right.


Well, well, well. At least some of the world's parliamentarians will be working this month, and the next. Looks like our Afghan "democratisation" is working after all.

Perhaps we should ask the PPCLI, JTF2, and the Van Doos to help re-build their own nation whenever they finish duct-taping Karzai's little narco-state.


Catelli juxtaposes me to the venerable Paul Wells. Profundity ensues.


The Liberals perform their first tactically brilliant and ethically admirable gesture since...well...ever.


Catelli said...

I miss it! Though for many the value of something is only known after it is gone.

Sir Francis said...

...the value of something is only known after it is gone.

One of life's saddest truths.

jkg said...

Your post really highlights my somber observations about the current political landscape for two major reasons.

1) This apathy has allowed certain CPC supporters supposedly to become ersatz spokespeople for the what Canadians are truly thinking. This veiled faux-centrism is often structured in a curt genteel fashion in that the "extremes" will be denounced in favour of talking to "ordinary folk" whatever that means. Thus, we are privy to this political seance, channeling what "true canadians care about." Then, to top it off, a lament about how such criticisms of Harper is really just the result of an Assyrian horde of extremists who are being unfair, a vaulting generalization somehow divined only subset of narrowed encounters with a few politically active opponents no less.

2) This new model has effectively allowed this new conservatism to co-opt the radical nature of neo-liberalism but house it in such a way as if though there is still an ongoing effort to defend time honoured institutions. After all, when Harper's team got into power, the republicanism that has driven the effective dilution of the GG's power certainly didn't keep them awake at night when they benefited from the increased executive power that has resulted from it. It was for this reason that I found the whole 'scolding' of the GG for her Head of State cockup so disingenuous as it was more Harper wanting to remind MJ who had the real power rather than an assertive defense of our constitutional monarchy.

I am not all surprised, however. This may sound a bit strange, but my reading of the King-Byng affair was a prototype of how to manufacture popular opinion to play around with the branches of government. Lord Byng refused to consult Britain at the request of King initially, yet King campaigned that Byng's actions were the result of colonial interference. Ultimately, this just served to increase power in the executive, which continues unabated today. The sad part is that the baying for an approximate style of direct democracy would politicize more branches of government that would benefit the Prime Minister's power even more. If the GG is relegated to de facto irrelevance even more, CBC should might as well create "Canada's Next Great Governour General" or "GG Idol."

Anonymous said...

Your argument wobbles when you hang it on the abstract, "the Crown", rather than the Queen or the GG. I doubt there is the remotest chance in the 21st century that any political traction could be grounded in a defence of the royal perogative, but even if such were possible, it is inconceivable to me that such a battle could be waged between Harper, a real live person who speaks on the nightly news, and an abstract constitutional entity to which no personality attaches? Her Majesty might get some limited attention if she became crabby, if only because we fear beloved, displeased grandmothers, but her successor with his endless flow of ideas and trusts? An artist from Quebec everyone knows was appointed for 100% symbolic reasons?

Even if you could surmount this hurdle, your problem would be the incongruity of looking to the royal perogative to defend parliamentary privilege. Kings and Queens of yore were not generally known for telling first ministers who advised them they have the power to do something that they did not, which was a real confusion underlying King/Byng. I trust you are not seriously arguing for a return to colonial deference.

As I watch progressive bloggers fulminate with overheated rhetoric about Harper and Reichstag fires, etc., I can't help but see their protests as an admission of complete disarray and incompetence in the opposition and its supporters. The man has had a minority government for four years, for God's sake, and the opposition can't put one non-confidence vote together against the man putatively destroying parliamentary democracy?! But instead of visiting their wrath on the incompetence of the opposition and taking a hard and humble look at what it would need to displace him, they take the easy way out and use the opportunity to indulge in yet another sneer at Alberta yahoos and the sneaky machinations of the Harperites who are both incredibly stupid and uncommonly wily. At least the Dems had the excuse that Bush had a fixed term.

Catelli said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Catelli said...

jkg makes a good point. I believe there is an argument to be made that our government is as remote and distant as the crown.

The fog of accountability (to whom and when) separates us from our supposed democratically elected appointees. I vehemently disagree that the only method to hold the government to account is via elections. That's quite the sledgehammer for nuanced issues. Also, that is only effective with a minority parliament. These powers to disrupt parliament at a whim are also now the prerogative of a majority government (Liberal or Conservative).

I don't care who's in government, they shouldn't have this unchecked authority. If people won't accept "the crown" as an abstract replacement, then we need something more concrete.

Ti-Guy said...

very few Canadians understand that the Crown is often the only effective check upon a prime minister (especially one who presides over a majority) and have thus acquiescently allowed it to disappear as a living component of our constitutional system.

Other than concluding that this is a result of Canadians reared on a myth of "separation of powers," (something I thought English-Canadians, and especially Conservatives, would have understood better than those of us who weren't, at least in the abstract, keen on when we learned about it to be critical of it), are there other reasons you believe this has occurred? It's not a challenge to your analysis. I'm just wondering what your thoughts are.

Ti-Guy said...

An artist from Quebec everyone knows was appointed for 100% symbolic reasons?


Yes, of course. *Everyone* knows.

When Peter uses the word "know," I reach for my gun.

Ti-Guy said...

Oh, and to add:

...and the opposition can't put one non-confidence vote together against the man putatively destroying parliamentary democracy?

Well, we all remember one in late 2008, a very important one, that the Opposition came together to move and one which had significant popular support. I seem to remember Harper not even allowing that one to be held.

Sometimes I think Peter has no memory beyond the previous day, which is, sadly, no longer surprising among his ilk.

Sir Francis said...


1) One would need to look far and wide to find the last election or the last significant legislative initiative driven by something Canadians objectively "care about". The environment (climate change, specifically) has shown up as Canadians' top concern on countless surveys over the last few years, yet governments--and not just Harper's--haven't felt the need to move on that file in a meaningful way. In fact, it has arguably been one of their least pressing issues.

Look at the three major national projects we've undertaken over the last two decades or so--FTA/NAFTA, Meech/Charlottetown, and debt reduction: quite apart from questions concerning the objective wisdom of those initiatives, which of them were placed onto the national agenda by "the people"? Which of those was not the result of top-down agenda-setting pressure?

Post-modern North American elections allow us merely to ratify decisions already made (or agendas already established); they do not allow authentic popular engagement in the establishment of the agenda itself.

2) You're talking about a key aspect of the philosophical incoherence inherent in what today passes for "conservatism". I've mentioned it many times: it pretends to have a protective, "conserving" agenda whilst espousing the socially dislocating and culturally disintegrative powers of an unrestrained, globalised "free" market. This, “conservatives” do in theory more fervently than they do in practice, of course, as popular opinion tends to be an inconvenient drag on their ambitions (in this, the people--even "socialist" Canadians--tend to be more conservative than the "conservatives").

The snail's pace of and secrecy surrounding negotiations towards a North American union is a case in point: élites want it badly, expecting the "dynamism" of the market to obliterate what remains of the border, but they quite rightly fear public backlash--especially in America. The very last thing they want is public input. When was the last time you heard the premises of the NAU (or the “Smart Border”, its junior form) being discussed in the House?

Ti-Guy said...

Sorry to jump in:

Post-modern North American elections allow us merely to ratify decisions already made (or agendas already established); they do not allow authentic popular engagement in the establishment of the agenda itself.

The reason I harp about the media so often is that I have almost a decade's-worth experience of living in a place where there was no news media to speak of (which for me, was the most novel experience I've ever had). There was no local media and cable television only delivered international English-language media that the local population, being insular (for it was an island-nation) had little interest in. Even I lost interest after a while and that experience was transformative for me personally (the Internet was at that time, still rather embryonic and rather more so in a place with hardly any communications infrastructure).

It was astonishing to note that, even with a rather ineffectual and lazy group of parliamentarians, what did end up being issues of common import (which happened rarely) arose from the people, usually expressed in an outbreak of riots, but a few times dealing with national infrastructure, which in that place, usually meant a highway or a water reservoir.

I bring this up in relation to the periods in the last few decades you mentionned where we were supposedly focused on matters of substantive common import and go back to just how exactly they acquired that status for us. It's not just the imposition of the will of our political masters; there is much more collusion than that. I can never get very far away from the mainstream media as a point of failure that requires the most concerted attention, much more than climate change or economic/national sovereignty or any other matter and that any activism (even just discussions like this) that does not engage in a robust challenge to how that media handles its particular campaign and influences public opinion is a waste of time.

Sir Francis said...


I doubt [if]...any political traction could be grounded in a defence of the royal perogative[sic]...

I think it would be quite easy to defend the Royal Prerogative if Harper or any other prime minister one day announced that he would prefer to serve for a term of ten years rather than four and that he would ignore any notice of dissolution served upon the House by the Governor-General.

The fact is (as my example illustrates) that the Prerogative is not abstract; it is really quite tangible, and our unconsciousness of it is due to its political ubiquity rather than its marginality. As Catelli points out, we're reminded of how important it is only when it is flagrantly compromised.

I'm not sure I understand what you mean by the "incongruity of looking to the royal prerogative to defend parliamentary privilege". How is it strange to expect the power of the sovereign to protect the integrity of the system of which she/it is the titular head? Are not heads of states bound to the sacred duty to protect that of which they are the heads?

Perhaps we need to talk, rather, of the incongruity of looking to the head of government (who is always ultimately and primarily the head of a party) to protect Parliamentary privilege, as the inconvenient recalcitrance of an official Opposition, while crucial to any healthy democracy, is the last thing any government wants.

As to your reference to "colonial deference", I think you know better than to describe the exercise of the prerogative as "colonial" or a form of "deference". The prerogative is native to our system of government and implies deference to nothing but our own constitution. In any event, has deference to the White House become the only form of deference "conservatives" are willing to perform? I'm fascinated by the quaint notion that such a gesture is not "colonial".

I can't help but see their protests as an admission of complete disarray and incompetence in the opposition and its supporters.

On this we partly agree. I think it is perfectly feasible, though, to find this latest Harper/Jean compact outrageous and sad whilst also being perfectly aware of (and outraged by) the Opposition's supine impotence. It bears noting, of course, that Harper requested last year's prorogation precisely to evade the Opposition: it was not they who ran from him; it was he who ran from them.

On the whole, though, the Liberals and NDP have provided laughably inept opposition--partly because of the constraints imposed on them by the rigidity of our party and electoral systems. In a place and time of looser party affiliation--say in Britain during the Canning/Peel era--Harper would never have been able to sustain a ministry for as long as he has. The House would have diced him, eaten him and spat him out long ago.

Sir Francis said...


If people won't accept "the crown" as an abstract replacement, then we need something more concrete.

Though an arch-Tory monarchist, I must sadly admit that the Crown may have passed beyond a capacity for renewal. The point is, though, that whatever is to replace it must not be abstract; it must be concrete, vital, and effective.

Thus, an elected G.-G. who is yet relegated to ceremonial irrelevance is, naturally, not the answer. Nor, I think, is an elected president--an entity that would fit awkwardly indeed, and perhaps not at all, into the rest of our system.

Sir Francis said...

...are there other reasons you believe this has occurred?

That's a huge question, Ti, to which I really should devote an entire post. I think it's the net effect of how the technological liberalism that defines our doctrinal systems, both official and unofficial, has informed our views of Canada's civic reality. We've been made to see our nationhood as totally subject to human decision, totally unanswerable to any conceivable inner restraint demanded by the organic nature of the polity itself (vulgarly called "tradition") or to any conceivable ordering principle that may claim immunity from electoral contingency.

We've had a sort of trick played upon us: we've been made to believe that the only legitimate political reality is the one we ourselves produce while simultaneously being forced to watch the means of asserting that reality disappear or at least wither to the point of utter pointlessness.

Thus, on the one hand, the "undemocratic" components of our freedom are expropriated by the agents of "democracy"--to our relieved self-satisfaction at the sight of our growing political "maturity"--while, on the other, those democratic agents become ever more brazen in their disdain for real popular accountability. It's basically a Surrealist politics, an unofficial constitutional reform by way of Antonin Artaud.

Ti-Guy said...

I think I'll wait for the whole post (if I need to) because I understood absolutely nothing from that last comment.

From the experience last year, one of the changes I thought wouldn't need to be too radical with respect to the GG would be a requirement for a public explanation of how decisions taken by the GG have been arrived at.

I mention that because I've long been fed up with solutions that propose a shift to a different paradigm when quite possibly a change in the degree of public ignorance is all that is required. It's one of the reasons I bring up the media all the time, for that matter, which is both the source of, and the cure for, public ignorance (and not what people are taught in schools, for example).

It drove me crazy last year to hear all of these public figures lamenting the fact that that our system of government is not properly taught in schools when none of them would admit that it wasn't during that period when they really learned about it in any way that persisted well into adulthood.

Catelli said...

Sir Francis:

Would you will be willing to enter into a debate about electing a GG? David Mader over at just made a quick post proposing an elected GG with expanded, real, constitutional powers. (Somewhere between her current role and a President I suspect).

I am proposing a posting from each of you to be hosted at my site, and 1 rebuttal from each.

Does this strike your fancy in any way?

Sir Francis said...


Sure. Bring it on.

Should my first post be a rebuttal of what Mader's already written (which I haven't yet read, by the way)?

Catelli said...

Kind-of. Its only a one line post so far. I have asked if he's willing to expand on a full piece arguing for the concept.

To start things off (if David agrees, he hasn't replied yet) I think the central theme to discuss is the viability of having an elected official (whether GG, President or other) that has powers separate from the Prime Minister and his government. Both you and David appear to agree on the need to check this power, just the how differs.

If David agrees, we'll discuss the overall concepts through e-mail, make sure everyone is on the same footing and take it from there.

Sir Francis said...


Right you are. Let me know when things are set to go [rubbing hands in evil/gleeful anticipation].

Anonymous said...


It seems we are talking about the royal perogative in two senses: the first is executive perogative juxtaposed against the authority of parliament (e.g. to conduct foreign policy) and the second is the limits of the obligation of the monarch or GG to accept the advice of ministers. The first is largely a matter of law and the second is of custom. In both cases the Crown has been on the losing end of most battles for over three hundred years, which I think is the main reason the power is seen as more effective in reserve.

Are you not trying to find a way to bridge the gap between law and custom here? I don't know how that would be possible without effectively moving to a presidential system. Let us assume that Harper's proroguing of parliament last fall was constitutionally acceptable, no matter how politically palatable, but that this time it is not. Could you really reduce the difference to objective, legal principles? It seems to me the difference is as much visceral and political as objectively principled, which is why one of the glories of a constitutional monarchy is that it is not fettered by hard law.

I must disagree that the perogative is concrete without reference to the person of the monarch/GG. Did the Prince Regent have the moral/political authority to guard the traditional liberties of Englishmen that Victoria had or was seen to have? Who cares whether Prince Charles is amused or not? Would you trust Adrienne Clarkson on this question as much as Georges Vanier? I'm actually an admirer of Ms. Jean, but it is no insult to her to suggest she is an unlikely guardian of hundreds of years of bedrock constitutional principles.

My quip about colonial deference was in relation to King/Byng. That controversy was muddled by the fact that Byng was widely seen, not just as the representative of the King of Canada, but the representative of the Imperial Government in pre- Statute of Westminster days. There were two challenges to King, were there not? The first was the right of the GG to refuse a PM's advice, but the second was the constitutional competence of what was then still legally a colonial government. Byng's standing up to King was analagous to using the old, now forgotten, power of disallowance.

Asserting long-disused royal perogatives because an Opposition that could vote the government out antime lacks cojones is problematic, to say the least. I think the real problem here is that no one, least of all the Libs and NDP, really thinks there is a constitutional crisis or that parliamentary democracy is threatened by this, anymore than they did last fall. Cromwell didn't react to Charles' proroguings by taking opinion polls and announcing eight weeks later that the country really didn't want a revolution, so he had decided to support the King.

Aeneas the Younger said...

Our Constitution does work, WHEN we decide to honour ourselves by using it as it was intended.

It is not really something that cannot be explained to the people - all it would take is to find someone who believed in our system and not an ersatz American system.

The problem is, there are too many politicians and residents of Rideau Hall who are afraid of the masses.

Government without checks on its power are no better or worse than governments that are slaves to the uneducated rabble.

Our Westminster System was supposed to check oligarchy AND mob rule. In not using the system the way it is structured we are permitting oligarchs to use the mob to govern via Orders-in-Council and through extra-governmental means.

In the process, Canada withers.

Sir Francis said...

It seems we are talking about the royal perogative[sic] in two senses...

I don't discern a huge cleavage between the two usages you cite; they seem to dovetail into each other quite snugly, at least from an operational point of view: in both cases, the Crown's independence of action and duty to ensure the observance of constitutional norms are taken as given. What I deplore is that we now proceed as if that independence and duty were mere formalities which the Governor-General may under no circumstances execute. One must wonder whether we can be said to have a constitution at all when one of its principal components has been so badly compromised.

Also, law and custom are very closely intertwined in our constitutional practice, as you know: custom is followed precisely because it is a kind of law. In any event, gross and arbitrary violations of custom are sufficiently anti-constitutional to merit the kind of disgust and admonishment such as you might wish to reserve for violations of strict law--if only to ensure a deterrent effect: a government that glibly violates the custom will, one day, attempt to violate the law. of the glories of a constitutional monarchy is that it is not fettered by hard law.

Yes, but that glory shines through only when the glory of the Crown is acknowledged and respected. Otherwise, we don't have a monarchy of any kind and certainly not a constitutional one. We have a de facto republic with ceremonial royal gewgaws for tourists.

My quip about colonial deference was in relation to King/Byng.

I assumed it was. That's odd, since, as Ti-Guy pointed out (anti-historical militant though he is), King actually demanded that Byng call Whitehall in order to receive direction from Britain--an absurd and unconstitutional request which would have placed a Canadian question at the feet of British arbitration. It was Mackenzie King, the coy republican, who was the agent of colonial deference.

Byng rightly refused to accede to King’s request and, instead, used the power vested in him by Canadian constitutional custom in order to arrest King's craven manipulation of the House. That’s not the way this affair is presented in the high-school textbooks edited by our illiterate edu-crats, but that’s how it happened.

Asserting long-disused royal prerogatives because an Opposition that could vote the government out antime[sic] lacks cojones is problematic, to say the least.

We've no idea how many requests for prorogation have been refused by Governors-General during private conversations with past prime ministers. Thus we've really no idea how "long-disused" this power is. In any event, I'm not arguing in defence of the Prerogative because of the impotence of the current Opposition. I would argue on behalf of it under any circumstance, as you know.

Finally (and as I've already mentioned), I'm not asking the exercise of the Prerogative to do something the Opposition should be doing but is not; I'm asking it to do what it's intended to do--to protect constitutional norms, in this particular case in order to prevent the prime minister from cancelling the Opposition's opportunity to bring down the government if it so chooses (which is what drove last year's prorogation).

Sir Francis said...

...there are too many politicians and residents of Rideau Hall who are afraid of the masses.

They're not afraid of the masses; they simply have contempt for them and are thus unwilling to do what's necessary to maintain the finely ordered hierarchy of values and functions our system requires if it's to provide the liberty the masses think they want.

Ti-Guy said...

Cromwell didn't react to Charles' proroguings by taking opinion polls and announcing eight weeks later that the country really didn't want a revolution, so he had decided to support the King.

It's a bizarre mind in which these two events are compared in order to provide an illustrative example.

Nevertheless, it does mention my favourite bête noire; opinion polls and their suspiciously-unexamined ability to tell anyone (not just governments) anything useful. And that's when one assumes the methods being applied represent best practices.

Sorry. I'm just exhausted by the uses and abuses of history while the here and now continues its retreat into complete irrelevance. Carry on!

Catelli said...

Sir Francis:

David is in, could you send an e-mail to me cdnclosetliberal (at) yahoo dot ca so that you, me and David can quickly communicate the ground rules and we'll get this started!

jkg said...

Post-modern North American elections allow us merely to ratify decisions already made (or agendas already established); they do not allow authentic popular engagement in the establishment of the agenda itself

I always expected a certain top-down approach to policy making as it features more into the now irritating 'retail politics." The issue I have is the general ambivalence concerning this phenomenon. As you pointed out, environment is supposed to be an objectively important issue for Canadians, yet Dion, probably of fault of his own, could not sell an environmentally driven platform. I would accept that his policy was unsuitable due on its design, but I suspected that a top down approach was used again to discredit his policy altogether long before it could have been evaluated.

On the other hand, I keep on detecting in the language an implicit desire for direct (rather conflict driven or confrontational) democracy on the part of the electorate (which may explain the ignorance of our Westminster system). To that I ask: Is this a legitimate response to the frustration with top down policy making? Or is it just an acceptance of it and thinking that the Executive should be directly elected is just a way to feel involved in whatever is handed down by the governing party in question?

Reformers, for example, harped on this grassroots style of democracy, which translated into rising populist support when they rode into Ottawa. It is a still a point pride these days, but it appears that, as the current members of the governing party, they had no trouble co-opting the very mechanisms they derided as causing disconnect with the citizenry.

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