Thursday, June 18, 2009

So THIS Is What "Responsible Governance" Looks Like...

Nation, the brinkmanship that's been floating like some heinous grey cloud over Parliament Hill over the past week or so has lifted somewhat, with the revelation that Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Official Opposition Michael Ignatieff have actually come up with some sort of accord to ensure the survival of the current parliament through the summer.

Prime Minister Harper is quoted as saying this shows "willingness of the government and the Official Opposition to work together on an important public policy matter" - which is a good thing. My question is, shouldn't the government and the Official Opposition ALWAYS be willing to work together on important public policy matters? Isn't the public good absolutely, 100% of the time SUPPOSED to trump petty partisanship and political manoeuvring?

I'm not naive enough to believe that things work that way. Don't get me wrong. But, the bigger question is: SHOULDN'T they work that way?

I was recently nominated to address the issue of what makes a great opposition member. It's a task I'll be undertaking shortly, and I'll try not to re-tread any ground I'm about to cover here.

However, both the government and the opposition DO have an obligation to work together, to find common ground representing the vast majority of Canadians, on issues of importance. That's true whether the government has a rock-solid majority or a razor-thin minority. If the opposition is being honest and earnest in its pursuit of honest, accountable and transparent governance and policies that will make life better for Canadians, and if government is acting likewise, then there simply HAS to be room, time and an appetite to sit down and talk as statesmen, rather than as politicians.

This is something that Jack Layton, by most accounts a good guy, seems to have forgotten. His obligation to the people of Canada is not to "oppose Stephen Harper on all fronts, on all issues, without even bothering to read bills, budgets or reports". It is to hold government to account by reading EVERYTHING, and opposing where it is warranted and justifiable, and supporting where it is warranted and justifiable. Layton and his proxies do all of us a disservice by playing coy political games to try and win votes in the next election ("71 confidence votes and counting!") when we need statesmanship. (Not that Jack has been alone in these games - far from it. All of the parties have been guilty of this - his is just the most recent to irritate me. They ALL do, eventually.)

Harper and Ignatieff have a lot in common. Chief among those similarities is their unmistakable, avaricious pursuit of power and accolades. They both know that only one of them can be Prime Minister, and both also know that they can only trust the other up to the point at which their interests diverge, and not a millimetre past. Both men, however, are smart enough to recognize that they have too much to lose to be seen as the person responsible for an unnecessary election. A more jaded politico would suggest this is likely the one and only reason that the Liberals will not bring about the government's fall this Friday.

I have hope, though, that while this political survival instinct may be the primary motivation for the current detente, it might not be the ONLY motivation. Perhaps Harper and Ignatieff understand that, by working together collectively on an issue as critical as the economy, they can pool their efforts and make a real difference. That by putting aside their own interests and working to make our lives better, they can earn the accolades they so covet.

At least until one or the other feels they're in a majority position. Then the 40% of voters who will support them on Election Day are the only ones that matter.

Political theory, getting slapped upside the head by political realism.

"A politician thinks of the next election; a statesman of the next generation."
- James Clarke


Unknown said...

Great point of view!

Dunkler said...

I really dislike the 0 sum/black or white/with us or with the terrorists version of politics. When you treat parliament simply as a forum to fight for soundbites or jocky for positioning in the next election, nothing gets done.

As much as I dislike a lot of the PM's policies, if the political culture can change a bit, I'd be willing to accept it as a reasonable trade.

good post.

Gustav said...

Hey Mr. Savage, thanks for taking up the challenge to examine opposition forces.

I have no idea how you're planning on doing this, but perhaps breaking it down to "types" such as: The Rat Pack Attack Dog, the Cabinet Minister in waiting, the former Cabinet Minister now missing the perks.

Just stuff to mull over.