There was a complete SNAFU in the House of Commons this week, with a minister trashing her own committee, and members of the ruling Liberal party standing up and shouting angry words at their own people. What is going on? I’m afraid I know.
Sometimes we run into a situation where people seem to be acting illogically. They talk like everything is normal, and you think you’re having a conversation (or a discussion, or a reasonable argument) but after a while you realize that their reactions are not what you would expect. When you pry into the reasons for their weird behaviour, I’ll give good odds that those people have an objective they’re not telling you about. A hidden agenda.
So instead of responding to your input and judging it by its logic, they’re deciding how your input matches with their real objective, and responding on that basis.
This observation does not present a very pleasant picture of certain people, but when we are dealing with friends or fellow workers, it is pretty safe to assume that most people do not treat us like that. Innocent until proven otherwise.
However, when we are dealing with politicians, it’s the other way around. Politicians attain their positions by playing that kind of wheels-within-wheels game, and we expect them to be good at it. And most of us in a rather cynical way consider it part of the price of admission, and let it ride.
Unless the politicians make a mistake and their behaviour demonstrates a gap of logic that cannot be explained. Then we have every right to start prying.
For example, when Justin Trudeau reads a glowing eulogy to Fidel Castro, we might just chalk it up to a relatively inexperienced politician, a bit too hung up on his “I hobnob with the rich and famous” social media image, swayed by Papa Trudeau’s unlikely friendship with El Presidente, allowing his emotions to rule.
Of course, the message could also be aimed a bit farther south, letting a new American administration know that Canada intends to keep its independence, thank you very much, and will not roll over for a tummy rub about NAFTA or NATO or for any other reason. It could also have been aimed even further south, reminding the Cubans that, no matter what hot wind blows out of Washington, Canada will maintain a steadfast economic relationship to the advantage of the people of Cuba.
Yes, it cost Trudeau a bit of precious popularity, but the stance has been taken. Now he has decided his schedule is too busy to attend the funeral, and most Canadians consider that sanity has returned.
Relatively harmless in the end. Trudeau just spent a little bit of his political capital. We’re not sure exactly why, but it doesn’t seem to have harmed anything but his reputation. He has corrected his mistake (if mistake it was). Let it pass.
The amazing fuddleduddle in the House of Commons this week brings up much more serious questions. The Liberals won an election with the distinct mandate to change our electoral system to something more democratic. They don’t need a referendum on that topic. The difficulty is in choosing which form of system to move to, a question that needs a serious voter education program, a great deal of media discussion and a referendum on what the newly-informed electorate really wants. It needs to pass with at a 60% or even 66% majority to be truly democratic. It’s a win-win situation, really, because we will get the referendum everyone wants, and electoral reform will happen, no matter what the referendum says.
So the Liberals created a committee to study this problem, and immediately stuffed it with their own people. Immediate outcry, followed by a backing down and a reshuffle to make the committee more democratic. In my mind, this was an honest mistake. The Liberals thought they could keep control of the situation and they couldn’t. That would be undemocratic, and Canadians brought them up short. Score 1 for democracy.
The committee went through discussions and hearings and did its job. Obviously the governing party would be in on what the committee was hearing from Canadians. The Liberal response? Before the findings were made public they started a second round of “asking Canadians.” This is hardly productive, and it puts the government’s trust in the committee in question. I’m afraid the only conclusion is that the Liberals knew they weren’t going to get what they wanted to hear from the committee, and were going to make a second try.
When the committee made its findings public, Minister of Democratic Reform Maryam Monsef stood up in the House of Commons and made a close-to-personal attack on the committee for not doing its job. The next day when the furor had died down, Ms. Monsef completely backtracked and apologized. Huh? What could possible have been gained by that, except the Liberals look bad, and Ms. Monsef herself loses a few political points?
What, exactly, is going on?
It looks a whole lot like the Liberals know exactly what they want from electoral reform, and in a very undemocratic way, they are pulling out all the stops to try to get it. Best guess? Either they want a specific form of election, or, like many other promising reformers, they have decided that the system that elected them may be better after all. They are playing every underhanded political trick they know in order to impose their will on Canadians.
And when their machinations start to become obvious, it shows that they are getting desperate, which means that they are losing. Which is probably a good thing for democracy. Beware people you don’t trust who seem to be doing what you want. I guarantee the result will be what they want instead.
Mr. Trudeau and his party really have two choices. The first is to make a reasonable reform, in spite of the fact that these new systems tend to produce a large percentage of minority governments. The second is that they go back on their promise, in which case they might possibly have spent so much of their political good will that they end up with a minority government.
Or else they have something completely different up their collective sleeves, and some day we’re going to find out what it is. And I guarantee we won’t like it.