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Our long journey into the Night

The current parliamentary crisis in Ottawa framed historically

by Michael Werbowski Dominion Stories


Also posted by michael werbowski:

Canada went through three major political crises which threatened to destabize it in recent memory or jolting its populace out of their predictably complacent “comfort zone”. The first was the so called “October crisis” of 1970. The second was the 1995 referendum. The third and most recent one, this time, is the prorogation of parliament which just took place in December 2009. Call this move if you fancy “The New year’s or the December coup” Let’s look more closely at the first two historical events, which if they hadn’t been handled adroitly and decisively , may have led to authoritarian one- party or one- man rule, (as we see in Latin America), in the country.

 

In 1970, the Prime Minster at the time, Pierre Trudeau, invoked the “war measures act” to quell the rise of nationalism in order to put an end to the terrorist tactics of the radical wing of the Quebec nationalist movement: the FLQ. It was seen as drastic tactic back then. Yet it successfully stopped the bombings of mailboxes and kidnappings, which led to the cowardly killings of top government officials. The situation resembled the period, under which Italy experienced the terror of the “Red brigades”, which led to the death of Aldo Moro. The Italian Prime Minister like the Canadian politician Pierre Laporte (an innocent casualty of the FLQ), was first kidnapping then killed and had his corpse stuffed into the trunk of an abandoned car. For the usually placid and uneventful landscape of Canadian politics, the events which took place 40 years ago were quite serious, yet the House of Commons in Ottawa functioned normally. Sinister murmurs of shutting down parliament may have been muttered in smoky backrooms and deserted corridors of power, by opportunistic usurpers, but this draconian measure, was thankfully never carried out.

 

At the time the federal parliament wasn’t adjourned and functioned normally despite the declaration of ‘martial law light” in Quebec. A quarter of a century later a provincial referendum (the second in Quebec’s bid for independence) was held. This event almost led to the break up of the country. Nevertheless, the federal Parliament again, remained in session and conducted business as usual. Parliamentary proceedings were neither curtailed, adjourned nor interrupted, during those very troubling times. This gave continuity to the legislative process and projected a sense of domestic stability both to the populace at home and to Canada’s concerned allies abroad, regardless of the severity of the situation facing the nation. Despite the grave state of affairs, the people’s parliament was still open. And thus, a “comfort zone” so crucial to internal stability was maintained. The bedrock of Canadian stability and democracy has crumbled without even a whimper. This time, while Canada is at war aboard in Afghanistan and the country slips further into an ever deepening economic hole, its legislature has been shut down for purely self serving, short -term political interests. The difference between this crisis and the previous two mentioned beforehand is this one has nothing to with the central issue of “national unity” or federal provincial relations which has been the linchpin of Canadian politics for decades. This is something new, disquieting and discomforting for most of the electorate.

This time the source of the crisis is not made in Quebec City, or within a separatist-terrorist cell in an East- end Montreal basement, but at the PMO (The Prime Minister’s Office). And its origins can be traced to a leadership style which can historically be associated with Quislings, Francoists and yes, it may even be treasonous. It is an unprecedented, blatant and ruthless power grab, with incalculable damaging implications for the future of parliamentary democracy in Canada. In the wake of the effective “padlocking” of parliament, the country is again faced with a worrisome situation similar to 1970 and 1995. The nation’s fate is at stake. In 2009/10, the prorogation (for the third time since the Conservatives have been in power) of parliament until early springtime, means there’s no sitting legislature to conduct the nation’s affairs, nor steer the country effectively while it is mired in an endless war in Afghanistan and slips further into the North American wide morass of economic blight. In the process of proroguing ( what a dreadfully sounding word) the House, the voters have been silenced and muzzled. Shutting down the legislature has now become a “routine” practice as the prime minister’s spokesman puts it. Welcome to Canada’s “new normal”. In the new decade, what lies ahead for Canadian democracy does not look very promising indeed.

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