I wrote this 7 years ago. It took longer than I would have believed but we got there.
Full frontal optimism from a polite citizen
Rome wasn't burned in a day, Washington either. Canada tried to burn down Washington in 1814, allegedly for Americans' burning down Toronto, but we've noticed Washington has been rebuilt. Unfortunately, so has Toronto. Except for the Leafs. (If that sounds strange, any random Canadian will explain.) Meanwhile back in D.C., Dick and George have managed to finish the job and burn down Washington quite thoroughly. Those fires don't look to be going out any time soon.
We've had a similar problem up here, but dealt with it differently. This apparently caused confusion on The Daily Show, and stimulated a Canadian need to apologize to Americans (particularly) for being boring. The last thing we should do is apologize. I'm here to help clear up the confusion.
In a nutshell, the Prime Minister (Stephen Harper) built a Cult of The Leader inside the federal government and is about to get his head in a bag as a result. It's pretty straightforward. We don't normally hold with megalomaniacs up here, unless of course hockey is involved, but even in hockey it doesn't pay to act like a star, especially if you aren't one. There's no obvious government to replace Steve’s Conservative Party either, even if they found a new head, not that people haven't tried. Some have despaired. Heartfelt moaning can be heard about the decline in standards of civility and debate in the House of Commons, and about the inability of Members of Parliament to behave like grownups. People think the political outlook is like the economic outlook: dismal.
People should get a grip and Jon Stewart should pay attention. Canada is about to fire its executive using an antique method developed haphazardly over centuries. Charles I lost his head over it. It’s called parliamentary democracy and it’s a Rube Goldberg contraption with two standard and fabulously incomprehensible features built in: (1) it works, (2) it learns. I’m not an expert, I just grew up here and I don’t see anything confusing about it at all. Stand back and watch it work.
Bad news is everywhere of course, not just in Canada. Apart from the economic disaster, the last eight years have been ugly for anybody who thought that Nuremberg and International Humanitarian Law actually meant something, and Canada is in ISAF up to its back bacon. But so what? The good news is that the British form of parliamentary democracy has one thousand years of momentum behind it, and seems to evolve relentlessly towards open and responsible government despite frequent attempts at sabotage, including those made in Canada. I'm not saying Americans are doomed any more than the rest of us – I sure as hell hope not – just that it's too soon to know if the American Constitution can withstand the current savage onslaught from within.
Which brings us back to Steve, Canada’s Prime Minister, who has alienated lots of Canadians including some of his supporters, by trying to run the country as if it were a one-party state like Alberta. Not all Canadians might use those words but people are riled and Steve can be fired in several imaginative ways; we don't have to wait eight years like our neighbors to the south. I don't think we should feel shy about pointing out these advantages to our American friends. In fact there's a good chance Steve will be fired in January, most likely by the Governor-General unless there's a revolt in his own party and the Conservatives fire him first. I'm impressed that the Governor-General can actually fire Steve, having no apparent power other than that conferred by history and tradition, and more remotely, some transatlantic telegraphy to the Queen. We don't talk about that much, and it doesn't seem to matter. When you learn that the Governor-General was born in Haiti and is getting her constitutional advice from a New Zealander, you'll have to admit American family dynasties look, well, awkwardly feudal.
And here's another thing, we have the Bloc Québécois, a federal party dedicated to removing Québec from Confederation (which arouses a lot of consternation) but the system accommodates this contradiction, and peace, order and good government continue to happen. A Venezuelan acquaintance saw his first Canadian federal election recently and couldn't believe it: “At home, there would be bloodshed, family breakup, and interruption of basic services. Here, everything keeps working.” Americans might think this is a little weird too, but last I heard there were some elements in the South that weren’t too crazy about joining up with the North and that pockets of disenchantment linger still.
I'm not saying Canadian parliamentary democracy is perfect, but it learns. The next stage of evolution might be the involvement of citizenry more directly in federal politics by means of the Internet. Word reached us some guy named Obama came to the same conclusion. Whatever. Within hours of Steve discovering he wasn’t Dear-Leader-for-Life and being forced to make an unplanned visit to the Governor General, thousands of comments about this were posted on websites of the CBC and Globe and Mail among other members of the “press”, and Members of Parliament heard from their constituents almost instantaneously. No more waiting for the news to filter out from Ottawa by mail or telegraph, even. I'm betting this will change the way government works, maybe even frustrate crazed Orwellian attempts to run Canadian politics as if selling lousy beer to stupid customers. Such change won't happen overnight of course but …we'll add a new feature to the Rube Goldberg contraption and then.....
Canada's Parliament convenes January 26, 2009. It's show time.
Oct 20, 2015
Rube Goldberg contraption addition probably in the works.