Opinion

Dissolve Parliament? In Harper's Canada, Parliament Dissolves You

In wake of TRC findings, the PM's lost confidence in Canadians.

By Ian Gill 17 Jun 2015 | TheTyee.ca

Ian Gill's Tyee column, The Poor Mouth, appears every two weeks or so. Gill lives and writes in Vancouver and works on social innovation initiatives. Find his previous pieces in The Tyee here, and find him on Twitter @gillwave.

It is fewer than twenty weeks till the measure of Canadians' disdain for Prime Minister Stephen Harper is put to the test in an election where we'll have an opportunity to swap out a petro-puppet for, hopefully, a real leader of a real political party who actually seems to give a fig about the future of Canada, and its peoples.

For many Canadians bent on change, Election Day can't come fast enough.

But maybe it can't come fast enough for Stephen Harper, either.

Based on current form, it is clear that Harper's interest in the electorate has waned. As Bertolt Brecht once so slyly advanced, "The people have lost the confidence of the government; the government has decided to dissolve the people, and to appoint another one."

Harper would love nothing more than to dissolve us, the people, and to appoint another people in our place.

How else to explain his utter indifference to, most recently, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's release of its far-reaching examination of what was incontestably an exercise in cultural genocide, if not an attempt at outright genocide, of our first peoples?

Canadians: not Harper's crowd

Perhaps his discomfort was with being trapped in a roomful of people who saw the plight of victims of residential schools as a "sociological phenomenon," rather than as a crime committed well before Harper's government came to power and for which, in any event, he has already apologized.

Whatever the reason, it was simply staggering to witness the prime minister of a country whose most vulnerable population had just undergone a heart-wrenching and very public washing of tears, sitting so grim-faced, stoic and utterly unmoved by their call for a new compact with Canada.

This clearly wasn't his crowd, and wasn't his event either. It must be remembered that far from being a positive by-product of his apology to First Nations, as some people seem to think it was, the very idea of the TRC was offensive to the Conservatives, who fought the commission just as surely as they have fought against that other sociological inconvenience, which is the call for a public inquiry into missing and murdered Aboriginal women.

The TRC would never have taken place if the survivors of residential schools hadn't won the largest class-action suit in Canadian history, insisted on the commission being struck, and used the proceeds of their settlement to fund the commission's work. It was a gift to Canada that our federal government has chosen not to unwrap.

One of its recommendations was, again, to ask for a public inquiry into the missing and murdered Aboriginal women, who number 1,181 and counting. In another moment of abject gracelessness at the conclusion of the TRC, Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt sat rooted to his seat, refusing to join a standing ovation when Justice Murray Sinclair called for such an inquiry.

In some perverse way, the Tories have probably saved us a lot more heartache by not acceding to calls for an inquiry into the missing and murdered women, because what good would it do if its recommendations landed in the lap of a government so lacking in empathy and moral purpose?

Such an inquiry is more likely if the government changes in the fall, but why wait? Why not, instead, a public inquiry initiated by the public?

People power

Presumably there are two reasons we look to government to authorize this sort of inquiry: it can pay for it, and it can give it judicial powers, such as powers of subpoena.

So what if we removed the first hurdle, and crowdfunded a public inquiry into the missing and murdered Aboriginal women? If the government we elected to represent our country's moral interests -- not just its military and industrial ones -- won't spend our tax dollars on such a compelling, urgent and decent request, why don't we spend our after-tax dollars and mount a truly public inquiry ourselves?

And to the second point -- what force would it have? Well what if, say, Justice Murray Sinclair -- note the 'Justice' there -- agreed to sit on a panel of inquiry into the missing and murdered Aboriginal women. What if retired Judge Ted Hughes joined him, along with Indigenous legal representatives nominated by, say, the Indigenous Bar Association? Why not an inquiry whose parameters were set by Aboriginal people themselves? Start now, benefit from the momentum of the TRC, and report in eighteen months not just to a federal government that may or may not care to act, but to all governments and all Canadians. Why not experiment with an inquiry whose force is moral, not judicial?

At some point, when your government signals to you that your concerns don't matter, that they'd like to replace you with a more compliant people, it doesn't seem unreasonable to search for a better way to conduct your public affairs than to wait for that government to do the right thing. Especially this government.

But does that sound, to quote Stephen Harper talking about G7 commitments to end our dependence on fossil fuels, a little too "aspirational" for your taste?

E-day returns

Well, back to where we started, in that we still have recourse to an election in the not too distant future. And from Alberta, we have an example from the not too distant past of what happens when the "acquired arrogance of power," to quote former NDP strategist Robin V. Spears, curdles what was once political magnetism into what Spears calls a growing "magnetic repulsion."

Jim Prentice, a one-time Harper henchman who swaggered back into Alberta and got summarily thrown from his high horse, was in many ways a worthy avatar for the politics of arrogance that Harper has perfected, and that might well be his undoing, as it was Prentice's. The real lesson from the Prentice run in Alberta was less how he came into power or what he promised, than the nature of his leaving.

When Rachel Notley knackered him in plain view of the entire country, Prentice got one thing right: he resigned the Conservative party leadership forthwith. But with a characteristic lack of regard, right out of Stephen Harper's playbook, he quit his riding, too. People had elected Prentice, if not to be their premier, at least to be their MLA, but Prentice concluded even his own people weren't good enough for him. He just walked away. Electorally disrobed, what an ugly, hard-hearted little man he turned out to be -- all hat and no saddle. What a fittingly inelegant exit from public life.

Now, picture Harper, and ask yourself if he doesn't suffer the same revulsion for you, his people, that Prentice did for his. If the answer is yes, then a few months from now, surely, the answer is no. Dispatch Harper before he dissolves you once and for all.  [Tyee]

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