The New Government: Accountability

Today the Liberal Party, which won a majority of seats in the House of Commons in the 42nd general election on October 19, forms the new government. The Prime Minister-designate will take various oaths of office following which the people he has appointed to form his Cabinet will do likewise. All of it takes place at Rideau Hall, the residence of the Governor General, the representative of the Queen of England who is the official head of state of Canada.

The Governor General informed through a press release that the public is welcome to attend the event on the grounds of Government House. The police informed through news media that the public is welcome but cannot bring placards or big bags “for security reasons.”

On the basis of what we know, what can Canadians expect as the new government takes the reins of office? Besides a celebration made to appear public but in fact managed by the Liberal Party and the police, media reports have been filled with speculation of who might be nominated to the cabinet and their credentials for the job. The talk is all about accountability. What to make of it?

Since 1993, when the Liberals formed the government under Jean Chretien, Canadians have been bombarded with talk about accountability. Their Red Book, as it was called, promised to get rid of the damage done by nine years of Conservative rule. It stated, “If government is to play a positive role in society, as it must, honesty and integrity in our political institutions must be restored. The most important asset of government is the confidence it enjoys of the citizens to whom it is accountable. […] A Liberal government will take a series of initiatives to restore confidence in the institutions of government. We will introduce reforms to Parliament […] Open government will be the watchword of the Liberal program.”

The Liberals were elected in 1993 on various pledges but particularly their promises to get rid of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) and to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) entered into by the Mulroney Conservatives, neither of which they did. To cover up the Sponsorship Scandal which later oozed out despite their attempts to keep it bottled up, they declared that they would introduce reforms to make the government accountable. The last straw they grasped to hold onto power was a series of electoral and “ethics” laws they hoped would stand up as their “get out of jail free” cards – indulgences for their wrong doings.

Since that period, the words “accountability” and “transparency” have been uppermost on the agendas of one government after another. The more they swear to be accountable and promise reforms, the more incoherent the laws and processes become, whether we speak of elections or parliamentary procedures and institutions.

The Liberals led by Justin Trudeau have added a peculiar twist by boasting that their platform comes from the people, but there is no evidence of this. This in itself sets a bad start to any claim to be accountable and transparent.

The Liberal Party’s platform for electoral and political reform was adopted at its February 20-23, 2014 Policy Convention in a resolution entitled “Restoring Trust in Canada’s Democracy.” The footnote to the resolution states:

“The democratic reform agenda described in this resolution represents a compilation of ideas developed by the Leader and the Caucus over the past year. Canadians want their Members of Parliament to be effective voices for their communities in Ottawa, and not merely mouthpieces in their communities for an all too-powerful Prime Minister. Our goal must be greater transparency, accountability and participation in Canada’s political system, and fewer abuses which undermine the confidence of citizens and voters in the quality of their democracy.”

“Fewer abuses?” This is a goal they think is worth pondering? Versus what, pray tell? “No abuses” or “more egregious abuses?” Talk about hedging your bets. How the desire of Canadians to have effective representation is turned into a goal of “fewer abuses” and how this can be called “greater transparency and accountability” is not at all apparent, let alone transparent.[1] The worthy goal of “greater participation in Canada’s political system” is presented as the possible implementation of such things as mandatory voting or on-line voting, amongst other things. In other words, the disaffection of Canadians with a political process that enables political parties over which they exercise no control to form a government and reduces them to the role of spectators of a race which requires voting cattle to provide it with legitimacy will not be dealt with seriously. It will be met with expanded ways to vote, or a law which counts votes differently or selects parties differently and makes the vote mandatory.

The resolution adopted by the Liberal Party’s Policy Convention in 2014 gave rise to the Liberal package of electoral and political reforms presented during the election campaign entitled “Fair and Open Government.” These policies have been posted on the Liberal Party website since at least June 2015 when Justin Trudeau announced the overall framework. Canadians were invited to participate in “rating” the policies. If recorded on-line votes on these policy objectives are any indication, not many Canadians seem to have been inspired to participate.

The Liberals ask visitors to rate each policy on a scale of 1 to 5 by clicking on the appropriate number of stars. As of October 28, the number of people voting averaged 1,055 for 20 of 21 policies, with a high of 2,238 people who voted on introducing partisan government advertising controls and a low of 193 on reforming parliamentary committees. One of the Liberal promises, to end the first-past-the-post system, attracted 12,491 voters who gave it an overall rating of 4.82 out of 5.

What does this level of participation tell us about the supposedly citizen-driven agenda of the new government or the hype about the revitalization of the Liberal Party? To whom will it be accountable?

The Liberal Party has no plan to increase “participation in Canada’s political system” because such a thing is anathema to the dictate of the neo-liberal anti-social offensive and the cartel party system it has given rise to. That is a fact. What remains to be seen is its particular rendering of the notion of accountability.

The Marxist-Leninist Party invites Canadians to discuss what they think accountability means and how they think a government can be held to account.

Definitions

1. ap·par·ent — əˈperənt/
adjective: apparent
clearly visible or understood; obvious.
“it became apparent that he was talented”
seeming real or true, but not necessarily so.
“his apparent lack of concern”
synonyms: evident, plain, obvious, clear, manifest, visible, discernible, perceptible; unmistakable, crystal clear, palpable, patent, blatant, writ large; seeming, ostensible, outward, superficial;
informal: as plain as the nose on one’s face, written all over one’s face
“their relief was all too apparent”
antonyms: unclear, obscure

trans·par·ent — transˈperənt/
adjective: transparent
(of a material or article) allowing light to pass through so that objects behind can be distinctly seen.
“transparent blue water”
“fine transparent fabrics”
having thoughts, feelings, or motives that are easily perceived; easy to perceive or detect.
“you’d be no good at poker—you’re too transparent”
“the residents will see through any transparent attempt to buy their votes”
“a transparent attempt to win favor”
synonyms: clear, crystal clear, see-through, translucent, pellucid, limpid, glassy, vitreous, sheer, filmy, gauzy, diaphanous; obvious, evident, self-evident, undisguised, unconcealed, conspicuous, patent, clear, crystal clear, plain, (as) plain as the nose on your face, apparent, unmistakable, easily discerned, manifest, palpable, indisputable, unambiguous, unequivocal
antonyms: opaque, cloudy, thick; ambiguous, obscure

Source: Renewal Update, November 4, 2015 • No. 208

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