Welcome back boys and girls .. could the Canadian federal parliament actually surprise us in 2010?

Mar 3rd, 2010 | By | Category: In Brief

OTTAWA. WEDNESDAY, MARCH 3, 2010. [UPDATED MARCH 4]. The Canadian federal parliament is back in the business of democracy, after its controversial prorogation late last year. There will be a throne speech from the Harper minority government, read by Governor General Jean in the Senate Chamber, at 2 PM today, and then a federal budget tomorrow.

[UPDATE  I: As it happened, the throne speech did not begin until closer to 3 PM. If you’re up to reading the full document, which is at least somewhat carefully crafted, CLICK HERE. For Jennifer Ditchburn’s Canadian Press report see “Harper takes aim at deficit with throne speech, opposition says there’s no new ideas.”]

The deeper question at least ought to turn around Canada’s 40th Parliament at large. Three recent opinion polls present rather different results — the sum of which again ought to be that no party has an interest in election hi-jinks for any near future. Can Parliament  do something, anything, to show the Canadian people that democracy really does work?

You don’t have to be very healthily cynical at all to say the most plausible answer is probably not. But all who value even the modest degree of a real free and democratic society we are so lucky to enjoy in Canada today have a vested interest in keeping hope alive.

That also means seconding the particular if also probably vain hopes of such irrepressible upbeat commentators as Andrew Cohen, president of The Historica-Dominion Institute: “The danger of [the just ended Olympics in] Vancouver is that our success [in our own eyes at any rate: and we did win a record-breaking 14 gold medals after all] will reinforce our culture of complacency …  Let us commit to renewing the federation with a national securities commission, Senate reform, a revival of parliamentary committees, empowering private members and a campaign to encourage Canadians to vote …  so the new patriotism means something other than wearing a red sweater or buying a coffee at Tim Hortons.”

Still more must be done as well, of course, to stop Stephen Harper’s two most recent parliamentary prorogations from becoming serious precedents for the future. Both the Liberals and the New Democrats are apparently interested in trying to make prorogation more of a power of parliament itself, rather than of the prime minister and governor general. We still wonder how practical this is. And we think there is probably more long-term mileage in democratizing the office of governor general, to help offset the all too vast array of executive power that has now accumulated in the hands of even minority prime ministers. (If you haven’t already seen our latest on this subject  — “March 6 referendum in Iceland: here’s one model for democratizing the governor general in Canada “ — CLICK HERE to check it out.)

OLY-Arrivals 030110 TOPIXMeanwhile, our very best wishes to all the MPs and unelected (and unreformed) Canadian Senators, who gather in Ottawa today. How wonderful it would be if they actually could set aside their own partisan careers for a brief moment over the next few months, and somehow manage to do something that would make Canadians half as proud as Mlle Rochette and the Winter Olympics in Vancouver 2010. And who knows? Stranger things have in fact happened at least once or twice in Canada’s diverse, exotic, and improbable history. It is not entirely impossible that they will happen again — and again, and again, and again.

[UPDATE  II, March 4: As widely predicted, there is nothing surprising about the new Canadian federal budget. For the key documents from the  finance department by the Rideau Canal see  “Budget 2010: Leading the Way on Jobs and Growth.”  For brief commentary from Canada’s self-proclaimed national newspaper see “Ottawa unveils smallest spending increase in a decade … Restraint seen as necessary if Finance Minister Jim Flaherty is to meet his objective of paying for economic stimulus bills without raising taxes.”]

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