Polygonic

That weren't no DJ, that was hazy cosmic jive

What’s so wrong with the rough and tumble?

From Canada’s blushing outrage at Brigette DePape’s stop sign, to the House of Commons’ brand-new heckle-bans, it seems there’s little more important these days than the skin of respectful politesse. Any concern, though, for the health of the deeper corpus?

The British House of Commons, for example, is not a place characterised by decorum, but most would say it works well. It is indeed a raucous chamber of loud hoots and heckles, brazen browbeatings, laddish one-liners, and disparaging quips. Teasing “yeas!” and “whoas!” are bellowed from the backbenches, in support or in attack, of leaders’ proclamations. Each session of Prime Minister’s Questions truly feels like trial by drunken fraternity, and both Labour Leader Ed Miliband and PM David Cameron dish out, and receive, the kinds of bruising blows that would absolutely liquify Stephen Harper et al.

Watch yesterday’s Prime Minister’s Questions for a sample.

But what’s telling, and it came up in yesterday’s session, is that, in both the Canadian and British Parliaments, one thing you cannot do is accuse another member of lying. Because that’s impolite. Cameron made the mistake of accusing Miliband of “misleading the House,” which led the Speaker to demand a retraction.

Cameron said median (hospital) waiting times had gone down and claimed Miliband had misled the house about the issue two weeks ago, prompting an intervention from the Commons Speaker, John Bercow, who urged him to withdraw the remark in line with protocol.

Cameron said: “What I meant, of course … he gave an interesting use of facts in terms of waiting times, which are down in the NHS (National Health Service).”

Miliband responded: “The whole house will notice he didn’t withdraw that, and obviously he is rattled about the health service.”

“After a year, he’s proved the oldest truth in politics – you can’t trust the Tories on the NHS.”

Such protocol is one component of a broad effort to maintain a some semblance of dignified decorum in the House, and fine. But I do find it a cruel irony that, while a Parliamentarian can be admonished by the Speaker for accusing another of lying, they are not similarly admonished for doing the actual lying.

John Baird earlier this year claimed, in the House of Commons, that allowing Emirates Airlines three more landing slots at Canadian airports would cost “tens of thousands” of Canadian jobs. Remember that? Tens of thousands! Jeez Louise, John. There really aren’t more than 90,000 Canadians employed in the Canadian aviation industry all told, so far as I can figure, so any labourers counted in the plural units of 10,000 implies up to a quarter of the sector. They were all at risk of unemployment? Because of Emirates? Three landing spaces? If our aviation industry is so imperilled, then let’s get talking about that!

Decorum, deschmorum, Baird deserved a routing for peddling patently vacuous lies in the House of Commons, but even in the 40th Parliament, for all it’s “roughness,” he didn’t get one. He should have been mocked and hollered at, torn a new one, politically discredited and accused – indeed – of lying. Because that’s what he did, and that ought to be considered the greatest affront to good government.

The self-policed Parliamentary politesse that everyone seems interested in is a skin-deep solution that does not cure the rot in politics. It’s never been the roughhousing that turn citizens off politics – we’re hockey fans, remember? No, it’s the lies. Brazen dishonesty, without reprimand or consequence, is the real sin that’s ailing our politics.

Civility is nice, and there is nothing to admire in personal attacks or irrelevant insults. But the tone of Parliamentary debate is a secondary concern to the substance of it. The real game misconducts should be reserved for outright lies.

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Filed under: Canada, Politics, UK, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Blasphemy, paper tigers, and the Senate

Traditions of civil disobedience are responsible for democracy’s every last advance. This isn’t to overblow the consequence of Brigette DePape’s Senate protest, but it is to congratulate it. Canada’s going nowhere without the kind of gutsiness and strength-in-conviction she showed by stepping out like that.

I’ve been a bit amazed by some of the discourse I’ve read about it, leading me to realise that Sarah Palin and I agree profoundly on at least two things: 1) the mainstream media is, well, lame, and 2) it’s fun to ride in helicopters. Though I’ve never shot anything from one before.

Evan Solomon got the chance to interview Brigette DePape, and I found him extraordinarily defensive of the inviolable holiness of Senate and of Parliament. Democracy, that most ethereal and ungraspable of human endeavours, made real in towers of Parliamentary stone! Do not sully its grandeur with petty pranks, little Brigette! How dare you blaspheme in the very crucible of our sovereign liberty! Horrible girl!

Indeed, yes, quite. I’m less concerned about Senate having been violated by a 21-year old page with a paper stop sign, and rather more concerned about the abuses to our democratic institutions meted out by the Prime Minister himself. To use the Red Chamber, as he does, as a personal Infantry of Losers, failed MPs, sycophant journalists and barons of friendly enterprise, is to truly piss on the rug of our democracy. To politicise independent commissions, to rubbish their findings, to fire the civil servants who head them because they do not conform to the political agenda of the government – that is the proverbial Bird-Flipping in the face of institutional democracy that worries me more.

Even Elizabeth May tutted DePape, saying it was a protest in the wrong place and time. This is Elizabeth May we’re talking about, whose Green Party only ever achieved anything like mainstream status by standing on the shoulders of unpopular and untactful movements that came before it, which helped to slowly raise and then normalise public discussion around the environment, which slowly led to where they are today. Ordinary people, no matter how subservient they “ought” to be, speaking truth to power, fully cognizant of the personal sacrifice that involves. And the Green Party is tutting?

Anyone tutting and complaining that DePape showed a tactless contempt for Senate should slap themselves (with my eager assistance) until they sort out the none-too-subtle difference between contempt, and CONTEMPT.

Tragedy being, while she got fired for her “contemptuous” display, Harper got an expanded mandate and more power over our democratic institutions after his.

Filed under: Canada, Politics, , , , , , , ,

Senate reform or Reform Senate?

If by reform he meant “Reform,” then Stephen Harper has delivered. But I get the feeling that most people expected that Harper was serious about creating an elected upper house, not on simply stuffing it with his friends – in a manner that exceeds the worst cronyist excesses of Prime Ministers past.

By appointing his 34th partisan friend to the Senate, Harper’s generated a Senate majority for the Conservatives. It’s a majority that he’s conspicuously failed to achieve in the House of Commons, after three elections as party leader. Clearly he’s frustrated that he can’t be officially the boss of the room, so the irony is a bit biting – this erstwhile would-be “populist democrat” is only able to secure his deep-seated dream of political power through the patronage route – not through the route of electoral democracy.

The irony is perfectly reflected in the appointment itself. Our new Tory senator, Salma Ataullahjan, is a failed Tory candidate for MP. The view seems to be: what you can’t win through elections, you secure through patronage.

With that in mind, how open do you think Harper can really be to the concept of elected Senators? More democracy does not seem to generate more Conservatives.

Ah, but these were the days!

“Despite the fine work of many individual senators, the Upper House remains a dumping ground for the favoured cronies of the prime minister.” — Harper leadership website, Jan. 15, 2004.

“Stephen Harper will cease patronage appointments to the Senate. Only candidates elected by the people will be named to the Upper House.” — Harper leadership website, Jan. 15, 2004.

“Canadians . . . are ashamed the prime minister continues the disgraceful, undemocratic appointment of undemocratic Liberals to the undemocratic Senate to pass all too often undemocratic legislation.” — Stephen Harper, House of Commons, March 7, 1996.

Ah, youth! Ah, idealism! Ah, duplicity and a corrupting lust for absolute power!

Harper’s newly-friendly Senate met, obviously and by no coincidence, just in time to pass horrific legislation. The passage of last weekend’s omnibus “budget bill,” stuffed with unrelated poison pills that hadn’t passed in the democratic chamber but were added to this confidence motion, was obscene – not only a violation of any straight-faced concept of democratic accountability, but more galling, a violation of quite precise promises made by Team Harper thoughout his political life. Promises that got him elected in the first place (if barely).

A big question to me is why conservative voters aren’t putting more heat on the government that they elected to deliver these promises. Aren’t they disappointed? Didn’t they feel such reforms were really important, and they thought Harper would bring them into being?

There appears to be a real preference among too many conservatives to continue indulging in pitifully obsessive, collective attack-doggism against the Liberal Party – as though the Liberals continue to maintain a dark, shadowy control over the real levers of government. They do it through the civil service, and they do it through the CBC. They do it through sorcery and they do it through hypnosis. It’s a comic paranoia that’s not a million miles off from My Uncle Napoleon.

As if Harper hasn’t been in power for a full four years, with more than enough time to be in a position to now take responsibility for what government has failed to do. What relevance “adscam” in 2010? None – but it’s an easier subject for the Right to grapple with, I suppose, than trying to digest the complex fact that their Reform-a-Tory leadership are effectively “out-Liberalling the Liberals” when it comes to crude arrogance, cronyism, and an aloof disregard for promises broken.

Filed under: Canada, Politics, , , , ,

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