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An open letter to the Minister of Democratic Reform

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Dear Minister Steven Fletcher:

I think you are an intelligent fellow. You appear to thrive on a well-reasoned debate and I've witnessed you defuse a tense situation with a soupcon of humour.

You've been Minister of State for Democratic Reform since October 2008. For almost a year-and-a-half I assume you've read briefing notes from the public service, spent some time mulling over our constitution, have come to appreciate our Westminster parliamentary model, have a grasp of our parliamentary traditions; because you can't be the Minister of State for Democratic Reform if you have a rudimentary grasp of our democratic system.

According to your website, you are "responsible for Senate reform legislation, House of Commons seat distribution, the creation of a Canadian agency to promote democracy abroad and many other initiatives surrounding voter turn-out and Canadian democracy."

Okay, let's forget about Senate reform legislation because, let's be frank, your boss has made a mess out of this commitment. And I'm sure you have no control over the greatest number of Senate appointments ever made by a Prime Minister in one year.

Perhaps we can gloss over the promotion of democracy abroad, but it's a tough sell for your government considering how you've flagrantly abused your own democratic system. Not easy to promote something when one smells of hypocrisy. It's like invading a sovereign country under the dubious premise of countering terrorism, having that canard exposed, then switching your mission to one of freedom. "Invasion" and "freedom" don't comfortably co-exist in the same sentence.

Worrying Comments

So let's talk about your government and democracy.

In this week's issue of The Hill Times you make some worrying pronouncements. I'm hoping you will tell me you were spectacularly misquoted, that the reporter was high when he spoke with you, that you weren't the one giving the interview, it was your wicked, trickster Doppelganger, like Evil Mr. Spock.

You said that prorogation "enhances" the ability of government to do its job. How so? If your job is "enhanced" when the House isn't sitting, do you do a lousy job when it is? Or are you telling us you prefer that the House never sits? Piece of advice: stop reading Jason Kenney's speaking notes.

Then you declared that we dumb plebs (okay, not exactly your words) don't care about "this inside baseball" issue. Perhaps the 222,000-plus members of the Facebook group Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament doesn't rattle you because you're not on Facebook. I understand. Neither am I; not because of some ineptness with technology but because I could never inflict the mundane elements of my life on so many friends at once.

But you have to admit, those rallies on January 23rd were a pretty amazing display of non-partisan action. Hell, if you were impressed with those tea-baggers south of the border, you had to love our crowds. Democracy in action, power to the people, and all that, eh Steve?

Prorogation and Coalitions

You went a little too far, however, when you said that prorogation "is a valuable Parliamentary convention and it prevented the catastrophic coalition of the Bloc, the Liberals, and the NDP."

Yes, prorogation is valuable and should be used when the business of the House is finished. Was your business finished or did your government scamper off into hiding to avoid that whole debacle around Afghan detainees? You may think your action was justified, but the majority of us, including one of the Prime Minister's brothers-in-arms, Tom Flanagan, are sure the Afghan detainee issue had you bolting for the door.

And the last prorogation, which happened a year before this one, was called because your government could feel its lock on power slipping. But to call the formation of a coalition government "catastrophic" is, to be charitable, profoundly ignorant (and Steve, come now, the coalition was between the NDP and the Liberals and had support from the BQ. Let's not pretend the coalition was all three parties on equal footing).

You're plumbing the depths on this one, Steve. You're in the bathyscaphe, trolling the darkest deeps of the ocean floor.

How Reading One or Two Books Could Help You!

So let me enlighten you. In April last year, Peter Russell and Lorne Sossin edited a book containing a number of essays covering the "grave lack of understanding about the mechanics and legalities of parliamentary democracy on the part of Canadians". It was called Parliamentary Democracy in Crisis. You may have even received a copy as a gift. But I don't think you read it. Don't blame you, Steve. A bunch of elites, the book learnin' crowd like scholars and constitutional experts, offering brainy comments. What do they know? Isn't the goal of politics the acquisition of power and to trade on fear and ignorance to maintain that power? That was a rhetorical and sarcastic question. Please don't answer it; you'll only disappoint me with your answer.

How about this wonderfully readable resource penned by a former Senator (but I must warn you, he was a member of the CCF!). I won't do justice paraphrasing the late Eugene Forsey, so here's a short paragraph from How Canadians Govern Themselves:

"If a Cabinet is defeated in the House of Commons on a motion of censure or want of confidence, the Cabinet must either resign (the Governor General will then ask the Leader of the Opposition to form a new Cabinet) or ask for a dissolution of Parliament and a fresh election."

A coalition isn't really catastrophic, is it? In fact, the Liberals and the NDP were doing exactly what they're supposed to do. But I guess a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes.

I'm sorry if this letter is hectoring, boring and dated and you are, after all, cancelling March and April breaks when the House resumes. But the mainstream media aren't as focused on the whole prorogation issue as they were last month (and to be fair, they've been covering your greenhouse gas emissions target failure, your refusal to repatriate Khadr, the Rights and Democracy fiasco; man, you guys are an embarrassment of riches), so I just wanted to remind you that your polls are sliding and that two-thirds of us didn't vote for you in the first place. Oh yes, we're also watching you.

Disappointing performance so far Steve. Hope you can pick up your game before the Spring election.



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