It just occurred to me what is really going on with this whole political mess we find ourselves in; Stephen Harper has decided to invoke the principle of ‘truthiness’. What follows is an open letter to Canadians. You’ll know it if I’m talking to you…
You have an innate “sense” of what the word “democracy” means. You just “know” that it means that the “people” get to “decide” how their “government” works. Stephen Harper and the Conservative government know this. They know that appealing to what you feel is true, rather than what is actually true, is always the best strategy in politics.
You see, Stephen Harper knows that you believe that “democracy” means the same thing everywhere. In the United States, ‘democracy’ means the direct election of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government (well, not exactly, but discussions of the Electoral College are outside of the scope of this post). Yes, Americans elect their government directly, and, like it or not, they are stuck with their choice; in the case of the President, for four years. The President is not accountable to anyone, so long as he or she obeys the Constitution (well, not exactly…but I digress). He or she cannot be removed from power except in extraordinary circumstances, even if he or she does not enjoy the support of a single member of the legislative or judicial branches.
Because of our proximity to the United States, and because you watch too much television, you believe that Canadian democracy works the same way; you know that you vote and elect a government and a Prime Minister, who have the legal authority to govern until such time as they deem it necessary to call another election. You simply feel that it must be this way; that this is what democracy is. Stephen Harper knows that you think this, and has decided to use this bit of truthiness to his advantage.
Over here in Realityland, things are not so simple. Canada is a democracy, but is quite a bit different than the United States. We don’t elect governments, we elect Parliaments. We don’t elect Prime Ministers; Prime Ministers are chosen by the Governor-General. We have a principle called ‘responsible government’ that the United States does not. According to that principle, governments earn the right to govern by maintaining the support of a majority of the members of the House of Commons, who were selected by the people. So the people have been empowered to choose their representation by electing Parliamentarians, and the government is ‘responsible’ to the people via Parliament.
Stephen Harper knows this; he also knows that you don’t know this. He knows that you think you have given him a mandate to govern based on the last election; he also knows that this is complete rubbish.
The Canadian government is, at all times, accountable to the Canadian people based on the parliament they elected. Stephen Harper knows that, too. But he has banked on the fact that you don’t; and he’s winning. Let this little spectacle be a lesson to all of us; in politics, the truth is irrelevant. In all likelihood, Mr. Harper (or his replacement) will campaign on this issue in the next election, telling us that the nasty opposition parties tried to “seize” control of Parliament through “backdoor” politics that weren’t “accountable to you, the voter”. And this will resonate with you because you didn’t pay attention in grade 7 social science.
Well played, Mr. Harper. You are a master psychologist; you understand what makes people tick; you grasp the level of ignorance of Canadians, and will, without an ounce of shame, use it to your political advantage.
Truth be damned; you will never, ever go wrong appealing to truthiness.