Protecting Canada's democracy

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It always made me yawn when Olympics boosters claimed the Winter Games would be a defining moment for Canada. How foolish of me. They were so right.

Stephen Harper's cynical decision to use this stunning international showcase to impose an entirely alien despotism on Canada's long tradition of democracy is truly a potential turning point.

Proroguing Parliament to avoid dealing with the Afghan detainee issue represses political debate on the rule of law, the honesty of government and the non-partisanship of our civil service. It's a kind of soul theft that will, if unchallenged, leave deep wounds in the national psyche.

We may never recover. And the implications are both local and global.

We live in a time when China is turbo-charging into its new status as a super-superpower. Copenhagen sealed the deal on that in a big way. (More on that next week.) But unlike the U.S., which must still struggle with democratic institutions, China is a harsh dictatorship.

The world got a good look at this in the run-up to and during the Summer Olympics. Not a pretty sight. Now Harper's making autocratic Beijing into the new normal. Too bad. That's not only a disaster for us -- it's terrible for the world.

Internationally, we're entering a new and uncharted time. The Copenhagen climate summit, for all its failings, clearly signalled the emergence of a next stage of carbon governance. Yes, in Copenhagen the Canadian government did everything it could to make it all go away. No doubt Harper and Environment Minister Jim Prentice exchanged a high-five when they got home since, on the surface at least, it looks like intransigence won the day.

But they are deluded.

China, the U.S. and almost all the governments in the world are quite clear that climate change isn't a matter of obscure science. There are major initiatives on the ground almost everywhere, including Ontario, Quebec, BC, Manitoba, and the list goes on.

As Barack Obama's climate bill unfolds and the COP process continues, 2010 will be an intense year for the development of the new global carbon regime that will deeply affect how this whole century unfolds. How democracy will fare in this new global political process is a huge open question.

Truth is, despots abound in this dangerous world, and who knows what it will mean to have an already frighteningly empowered dictatorship like China's calling many of the shots?

This is the time to protect democratic traditions with everything we have. Inviting the world to see a Canadian government that doesn't even have a majority mandate disembowel its accountability through the unprecedented use of some supposedly ceremonial vestige of monarchism is setting the worst possible example. Talk about earning that Colossal Fossil label we picked up in Copenhagen.

The Opposition needs to take note. This cannot go unanswered. We cannot have your usual disappointing, ineffective, business-as-usual approach during this time of national crisis. In particular, Michael Ignatieff and Jack Layton, you need to do some soul-searching, because we need new thinking.

Look in the mirror. Alone, you are both incredibly weak. Neither party can do anything by itself. Coming together now, around the simple bare bones of commitment to democracy and action on the environment, could redeem you both.

Jack, your bid to position yourself as Canada's next prime minister in the last election drained your authenticity. And continually embracing short-term retail politics over political principle has failed to yield real growth while deeply alienating significant portions of your base.

Your stint as leader might not outlast another election.

And Iggy, your leadership has been one messed-up stumble after another. Your failure to embrace the environment or stand for anything at all has been a huge mistake. You're going down so fast, you need to gamble on something big or surely continue to die by a thousand cuts. As you say, this is a moment of "supreme clarity." Liberal democracy has been your life's work. Don't forsake it now.

Listen to your own words. When you came to leadership, you famously commented, "Coalition if necessary, but not necessarily coalition." Necessity beckons.

I know a river of toxic sludge runs against any joint undertaking. Building a bridge over such thick waters couldn't be more difficult. But this is a dangerous time, and if we don't address our dysfunctional past now, it will surely take us down.

The work of saving our country from a frighteningly Conservative future must start with us. We need to tell our politicians we care about our democracy and we want them to work together. It's time for letter-writing and phone campaigns.

And we need to get some real numbers out on January 23, when demos are scheduled across the country. It's up to us to show the world what democracy looks like when eyes turn to Vancouver next month.

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