EDITORIAL

Must the lament for Parliament become a requiem for democracy?

Peter C. Newman March 22 1982
EDITORIAL

Must the lament for Parliament become a requiem for democracy?

Peter C. Newman March 22 1982

Must the lament for Parliament become a requiem for democracy?

EDITORIAL

Peter C. Newman

Decisive shifts in a nation’s political history are seldom discernible from . their beginnings. Moods and alliances shift, accepted beliefs are re-examined; profound discontents seek expression; the pressure for dramatic change becomes irresistible—that’s how the bedrock institutions of a country are altered.

It was this almost revolutionary sense of transformation that may well be the most lasting legacy of the parliamentary impasse due to play itself out in Ottawa this week. What changed was something very fundamental. The suspicion that the House of Commons has become irrelevant to the conduct of the nation’s business was confirmed beyond doubt or dispute.

This is a serious and troubling development. Democracy is a fragile enough form of government at the best of times. To function properly, it requires an almost daily renewal of the social contract between the governors and the governed, based on mutual trust and respect. That link has now been severed.

The important issue at stake here is not so much who is to blame. Whether it is the Liberals’ shoddy tactic of trying to ram through 15 pieces of important leg-

islation disguised as an omnibus package, or whether it is the Tories who called for a vote and then refused to attend it. Whether it is better to be arrogant or childish is not a contest that we should be forced to witness. (If only the Liberals had the good sense to have capitalized on the parliamentary paralysis by proroguing the House of Commons, thus automatically allowing the MacEachen budget mercifully to die on the Order Paper. Now, that would have produced cheers right across the country.)

The posturings and preenings of party hacks on all sides of the Commons that eventually began the movement toward a compromise solution (page 28) is hardly the issue. What is really frightening is that the erosion of Parliament’s authority is only beginning. The Charter of Rights, rapidly becoming law at Westminster, will transfer control over those rights, fundamental to us all, from the House of Commons to the courts.

“The Liberal government,” Paul Fox, a University of Toronto political scientist, once commented, “aims at operating noiselessly, like a respectable, mammoth business corporation which fears nothing more than making people aware it is there.”

That comment was written a quarter of a century ago. It is becoming truer by the day.