Monday, July 04, 2005

Oh Wad Some Pow'r The Giftie Gie Us

The National Post has an insightful op-ed from James Allan, a Canadian-born Australian law professor, on how outsiders view our recent political scandals and the system that has given rise to them:

To many non-Canadian eyes, Canada looks a lot like a one-party state, albeit of the elected variety. Over the last 40 years, the Liberals have been in power for all but what, about 10 years? People here in Australia ask me how one political party can be in power that long without corruption creeping in. I generally change the subject at that point.

And let's not forget that in Canada -- unlike Australia or the United States -- it's the federal government, the Liberal government, that appoints all the top judges, even those of the various provincial Supreme Courts and Courts of Appeal. So it's the Liberals in Ottawa who appoint the top judges even in Alberta. I can assure you that had John Kerry won the presidency in the last U.S. election, he would not have been able to appoint the top judges in Texas. That's a matter for each state.

The Canadian set-up, coupled with the overwhelming dominance of the Liberals these past four decades, means the vast preponderance of top judges in Canada have all been appointed by one political party. Nothing remotely like that is true of Australia or the United States, nor even of New Zealand. Nor is it obviously a good thing.

When I raised this point during my time back in Canada -- that any well-functioning democracy needs the voters to kick parties out of power on a fairly regular basis -- I was met every time with this reply: "But Harper and the Tories are so right wing. We agree in theory, but really, no one could vote for them."

Canadians think that the rest of the world shares the same high opinion of Canada as Canada does of itself. Not only that, but that the rest of the world (excepting, as always, the United States) shares the same enlightened political and social opinions as our governing classes do.

As Professor Allan notes, our national narcissism keeps us from seeing that at least our Anglosphere brethren do not:

Take today's Tories and Stephen Harper out of Canada and plunk them in New Zealand and they would be to the left of Helen Clark's Labour government. Down in New Zealand, there is a two-tier health system; there are civil unions but no gay marriage; the economy is far less heavily regulated in terms of labour laws, tax policy and tariffs than anything Harper is proposing.

The same goes for Australia. Compare the policies of the left-wing Labour Party there (on defence, immigration, the environment, health, education, you name it) to Canadian Tories' policies and Harper consistently stands to the left of Australian Labour, not the right.

And this is the same Tory party that is demonized in Canada for being "too right wing." Frankly, it was disorienting to return to Canada and to be met, continually, with this total lack of global perspective.

Professor Allan's article demonstrates just how far Canada has diverged from the other old Dominions in its political views.

He does not go into the causes of this divergence, but it's safe to say that these distortions arise because of Quebec and decades of appeasement efforts aimed at dampening Quebec secessionism.

In the process, Quebec has successfully imposed its collective political viewpoint--statist economic policy, radical secular social policy--on the rest of Canada. (Although paradoxically, Quebec is much more open to healthcare reform than the rest of Canada, since its national identity does not rest on the mythology built around one-tier public healthcare.)

We have sold out our inheritance of British liberty for a mess of French statist pottage. And we suffer for it greatly.

To see oursels as ithers see us!

1 comment:

Mark said...

Read the same article this morning. Great piece.

I think you're correct RE Quebec and the amount of influence it has in Canadian politics.

Consider for a moment the intricate ties between the PMO and the judiciary, and then consider how many Quebec liberal PMs we've had. Consider the creation of the Charter and its role in making the Courts truly the highest power in the land. (Yes, the notwithstanding clause exists but it is considered draconian and anathema to the Charter. Never has it been used because the Charter is actually considered to trump it.)

I can't help but think that somewhere circa 1960 a group of Quebec liberals understood that, left to democracy and the will of the people, liberal and socialist principles would probably never make much headway. People would continue to regularly elect conservative governments and MPs with socially and fiscally conservative values. The solution was to usurp Parliament by creating a vehicle that the Courts could use to trump Parliament.

Voila -- the Charter. By it and through it the PMO-appointed judiciary trump the will of elected MPs and, hence, the will of the people.

SSM is only the latest example of this increasingly disturbing phenomenon.