This week MPs, senators and the media gathered in the Adam Room of the The Fairmont Château Laurier for the 6th annual Parliamentarians of the Year awards ceremony. Green Leader Elizabeth May was named Parliamentarian of the Year.
In an interview with Aaron Wherry for an article in Macleans she spoke about the state of our Parliamentary Democracy, below is a small extract..
“I love parliamentary democracy. I am fascinated by procedure. I’m beside myself with the way things are slipping.” What follows then is a 524-word dissertation—stretching from the slightest breach of decorum to the profound questions of power at the heart of our system—on the state of parliamentary democracy in Ottawa.
“I know it sounds small, but you’re not supposed to have members of Parliament standing and waiting their turn because they know when they’re going to be called and they have their speech ready and they’ve got the little podium and they’ve got a written speech in front of them and they’re standing while someone else is speaking. No one is supposed to stand except the person that’s been recognized by the Speaker and until you’re recognized by the Speaker you’re not supposed to stand. I know these may seem like small points, but it’s indicative of a failure to recognize that the respect for traditions in the House of Commons may start with things like one person stands at a time and only when recognized by the Speaker. And as soon as the Speaker stands, the person who’s in full oratory flight is supposed to sit down. Those are things that when you ignore that you also can get away with having a prime minister who ignores all parliamentary tradition and prorogues—well, not all, because Sir John A. Macdonald did it once and then paid for it by losing power—but you’re not supposed to prorogue the House of Commons to avoid a political difficulty. So a failure to respect our traditions of Stephen Harper proroguing twice then launched into Dalton McGuinty proroguing. This is very unhealthy for democracy. Because we are a Westminster parliamentary democracy and tradition and if we don’t pay attention and respect Parliament, then we are allowing the Prime Minister’s Office, which doesn’t exist as an entity in our constitution, it’s not like the executive branch and the White House in the U.S. constitution—the notion of a Prime Minister’s Office as an entity in the machinery of government is simply an invention, but it’s like a cancerous growth. And as the Prime Minister’s Office grows, and this is a trend we started with Pierre Trudeau in a much more innocuous way, it’s not reached its apex, but if we don’t do anything to stop it, what else will the next prime minister do? And as the PMO grows into being the all-powerful decision-maker, leaving cabinet ministers, basically their job appears to be the primary public relations spokesperson for an area of policy they had nothing to do with developing, it’s dangerous to health of democracy. So respect for Parliament, to me, is synonymous with respect for democracy. And I respect Parliament and that’s where the work is happening. I respect … there’s very few ministers who actually, actually I can only think of one, who sit though parliamentary debate on their own bills. And that’s, and should I say for credit where credit’s due, Jason Kenney. When his bills are being debated and when I rise to criticize his legislation, he actually knows what I’m talking about and will make a reasoned defence of his own legislation. But for the most part, it’s like a ritualized form of theatre. And that’s dangerous. It’s not just a relic, sort of an anachronism, that we still have parliamentary democracy. That’s the system. And the problem is PMO, not Parliament.”
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Originally posted Thursday, November 22, 2012