Quick and dirty thoughts on government shutdown caper in Excited States ..

Sep 30th, 2013 | By | Category: USA Today

If you are the kind of Canadian who avidly follows American politics from the safe distance of your TV set, you will know that another Armageddon is about to be unleashed in the Excited States. (Well, probably. Nothing will be dead certain until Tuesday.)

For the mind-numbing details consult, eg, “As government shutdown nears, lawmakers trade blame” and/or “House pushes US to the edge of a shutdown.” For arguments that maybe the increasingly likely shutdown will be a good thing, see “The House GOP’s shutdown plan is great news” (Ezra Klein, Washington Post) and “Why I’m Rooting for a Government Shutdown” (Joshua Green, Business Week).

Klein’s argument is that a comparatively benign government shutdown now will reduce the chances of a more serious default on the US public debt “only a couple of weeks later.”  Green’s somewhat similar argument is “it’s now clear that Congress can’t operate smoothly, and even a conclusive national election won’t break the cycle of dysfunction … I’m rooting for a shutdown …  At this point, it’s the safest way to jolt Washington back to its senses.”

Francesca Pascale, girlfriend of former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconni. “I sought him out, I courted him, I made him fall in love and I made him my boyfriend ... Practically I've done everything: He only has to say 'Yes.”

Up here in the land of ice and snow (soon enough anyway), it’s all too easy to roll your eyes. We are strong believers in some strong doses of democratic reform in Canadian political institutions. But this isn’t the first time in living memory that the Excited States have bumped into federal government shutdowns (and prospects of defaulting on the public debt). One crystal clear implication is that the dysfunctional “checks and balances” political system in Washington is no model for serious democratic reform in Ottawa.

Similarly, one of the great virtues of the kind of parliamentary democracy we have in Canada is its adaptability and flexibility, in the face of just the kind of domestic controversy that apparently lies at the bottom of the current government shutdown caper in the Excited States. One great weakness of our current system is that it has evolved to give too much power to the prime minister (especially in majority governments that represent less than 40% of the democratic electorate). Yet the current government shutdown caper in the Excited States, we think, should also be making us wonder whether recent plans and proposals to reform parliamentary democracy by reducing its traditional flexibility (as in, eg, the UK Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, back in the home of the Mother of Parliaments) really make a lot of sense. (As opposed, eg again, to democratizing what in Canada we still call the office of Governor General!)

Feb. 25, 1956: A crowd of several hundred greets Marilyn Monroe at Los Angeles International Airport after flight from New York.

At the same time, yet again, it no doubt ought to be noted as well that the current political troubles in the former Great Republic to the south of us have less to do with institutions, and more with the rigid paranoia of some contemporary conservative political actors, who (rightly) fear that the world is no longer moving as much in their direction as they would like.

In this context Prime Minister Harper’s insistence this past week in New York that he “won’t take no for an answer on Keystone XL pipeline” is indulging in the same syndrome. And anyone who claims that Mr. Harper is “standing up for Canada” in this exercise should be called to order.

What he is doing is behaving just like the American conservatives who detest President Obama (as their ancestors detested Franklin Delano Roosevelt in an earlier era). He is participating in the American political system on behalf the oil industry in Alberta,in a voice that sounds like it just left a tea party somewhere.  For broader economic reasons, this is understandably popular in Alberta — and, it should also be said, among many in the Toronto financial community.  Yet despite all the bullying on this front over the past number of years, it is not the same as  “standing up for Canada.” (Which, we agree, it would be a very good thing for more Canadian politicians to stand up for — however much this may incite the wrath of the Texan Ted Cruz who was born in Calgary, Alberta!)

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