Tuesday, May 29, 2012

On shadow governments

Plenty of others are theorizing that it's time for some radical action in response to the Cons' continued contempt for democratic accountability. But I'll take a few minutes to work through some of the considerations which should be kept in mind in deciding where to go from here.

To start with, it's worth keeping in mind that there are two different sources of power and influence in Ottawa which any party should be seeking to use to the greatest possible effect: the Parliamentary institutions which the Cons are shutting down, and the country's largest political media apparatus. And it's rather a plus to work with the latter even while protesting what happens within the former.

That makes Dr. Dawg's "no such thing as a secret hearing" strategy seem fairly appealing, as it neatly combines protest against the Cons' overreach with ready interaction with the media. But that looks to be only a first step, since it will almost surely be met by a Con refusal to hold official meetings of any significance whatsoever.

At that point, there's a glaring need to to more than just throw up our hands and say there's nothing we can do. Fortunately, though, both opposition parties seem to be headed in the right direction as to what comes next: if the Cons are determined to shut down Parliament as a source of meaningful debate and discussion, then the response needs to be to provide alternative means of reaching that same end.

In some cases, that means fanning out across the country to reach people who aren't watching Ottawa closely. In others, it means creating channels that come as close as possible to simulating Parliamentary structures and investigative procedures to remind people what we're missing when an authoritarian prime minister decides that accountability is inconvenient. But both can be seen as part of a common theme: if the Cons are determined to shut down all meaningful forms of consultation with the Canadians affected by federal decisions, then the opposition will take up the job.

The above isn't to say the opposition parties can't find some ways to make a difference at the margins in Parliament even under the Cons' strictures. But in order to make sure the Cons can't turn their own distaste for democracy into a "government doesn't work" narrative that only helps their ultimate cause, we'll need to be the ones to make sure voters see it's possible to do better. And any protest against the Cons' demolition of meaningful consultation needs to include some thought as to what we can and should build instead.

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