Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Wednesday Afternoon Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Andrew Coyne asks some disturbing questions as to how the federal government is becoming less and less accountable:
In other countries, executive power is subject to various checks and balances. Who or what prevents a prime minister of Canada from doing as he pleases? The governor general? But he is his appointee. The Senate? He appoints all the senators. The courts? He appoints every member of the Supreme Court, and all the federal court judges, too. The bureaucracy? He appoints the clerk of the privy council, every deputy minister, the heads of all the major Crown corporations, even the ambassadors. The police? He appoints the chief of the RCMP. And so on, hundreds and hundreds of posts, great and small, and nearly all without any independent oversight.

Ah, but the prime minister, as we all know, must command the confidence of the House of Commons. Surely that is the ultimate check on his power.
Worse still has been the continual whittling away of Parliament's ability to hold prime ministers to account. Closure, for example, was once so rare that, when invoked in the matter of the pipeline bill in 1956, Parliament was engulfed for weeks in furious protest. Today it has become routine. Even that most fundamental of prime ministerial obligations, that of commanding the confidence of the House at all times, has come under assault. Paul Martin lost a confidence vote in 2005, yet spent the next nine days using the power he no longer possessed, notably with respect to appointments, to win the votes he needed to regain it. Stephen Harper prorogued the House rather than face a confidence vote he was sure to lose, and prorogued it again to avoid unpleasant questions. Et cetera.

It used to be said that Canada "could never have a Watergate": that a prime minister, answerable to the House, would be compelled to resign long before things progressed to the cover-up and obstruction of justice stages. But such is the decline of our institutions of accountability, such indeed are the absence of checks and balances, formal or informal, that today one is not so sure. Suppose we did have a Watergate. How would we know?
- Meanwhile, Frances Russell presents some of types of questions from Lawrence Herman that the Cons are deliberately refusing to answer when it comes to their determination to torch the Canadian Wheat Board:
"The question is, why should Canada make these changes unilaterally, largely to the benefit of international grain companies and to the applause of U.S. politicians, without negotiating some quid pro quo with the Americans? Why voluntarily give up a valuable bargaining chip that can be used with the U.S. and other trading partners without securing something in return to benefit Canadian farmers?" Herman wrote in The Globe and Mail recently.

"The U.S. agriculture sector is so rife with internal government support and market access barriers that there could be important gains in improving Canadian farmers' and agri-food producers' access to that market by skilfully playing the wheat board card," he continued.

"There's no question the Harper government's policy is welcomed in Washington and by U.S. farm groups and large grain companies.

But getting nothing in return from the Americans and from our major trading partners is an abandonment of our international negotiating leverage."

Herman notes that once gone, the CWB -- or any marketing board -- cannot be recreated thanks to the one-way privatization doors embedded in corporate-driven trade agreements like FTA/NAFTA and now, the World Trade Organization.
- Susan Delacourt writes about the Cons' efforts to damage the ability of future governments to reverse their regressive policy direction. But with the Wheat Board issue front and centre at the moment, it's worth noting that efforts to bind future governments can cut both ways - and the Cons' argument against having to respect the current wording of the Canadian Wheat Board Act will weaken their case when they inevitably do to govern from beyond the political grave.

- Finally, Tim Harper and Duncan Cameron comment on Peggy Nash's progressive bona fides, while Thomas Mulcair's narrative apparently includes pushing back against organized labour.

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