The Horse

John Robson is a professor of history, a documentary film maker, and a fan of the Magna Carta’s limits on the power of the executive branch of government whether that takes the form of a British hereditary monarch or the Canadian PMO (Prime Minister’s Office). I agree with his analysis that we have drifted far from the Westminster form of parliamentary government. I have no idea how we make our way back. Maybe thinking about it is the place to start.

Robson has a good piece in the Epoch Times this week, which I subscribe to solely for the purpose of reading his op-eds. I’ve copied the last several paragraphs below, changed formatting for readability, and added bolding for emphasis in a few places.

Proper elections happen for three reasons:

  • First, the ministry loses the confidence of the sitting House of Commons, and no potential successor can obtain it.
  • Second, the five years allotted for a parliament elapse.
  • Third, the ministry faces a vital unexpected question on which it commands the confidence of the House, but it is doubtful that the House commands the confidence of the nation because it was not elected with that issue in mind.

All three, crucially, depend on parliament not the executive having a popular mandate and the ministry holding office only as long as the lower elected house in particular extends it to them.

I describe the Westminster system, adopted here with the addition of federalism and a written Constitution limiting what the entire government can do even if executive, legislature, and judiciary are united. But we no longer have such a system. Now we think we elect the prime minister. So we do.

It is currently unthinkable that a governor general appointed by the monarch for their understanding of and fidelity to our system might reject election-timing jiggery-pokery.

Instead, a governor general appointed by the prime minister for their symbolic value on a pressing issue is so docile that two parties put out press releases about the election call and statement before Trudeau even strutted to Rideau Hall, including one [party] that could precipitate a proper dissolution but won’t.

Likewise, it would be fatuous to suggest we are about to run an election on some specific promises from Team Trudeau, including whatever his current policy on mandatory vaccination happens to be. Not only because of his trail of broken pledges, from first-past-the-post to indigenous boil-water advisories to balanced budgets to open government. Because if “re-elected” Trudeau will be essentially unchecked, by parliamentary budget procedures or committee inquiries, his cabinet, ethics rules, or anything else.

We have not become a classic tyranny, despite a tinfoil hat shortage stretching back past Jeffrey Simpson’s 2011 “The Friendly Dictatorship.” But we have become a tyranny of the majority. And since one cannot determine or even sample majority opinion on every issue, and popular sentiment tends not to aggregate to a coherent whole with resources adequate to demands (formerly the ministry’s particular job), that system always means an autocrat wields the full powers of the state until the next election.

In Canada, those powers do not include arbitrary imprisonment and torture. But if the public is complicit or indifferent, they are very sweeping, including infringing freedom of speech and worship. And the only election question is: “Who gets to ride the horse?”


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2 Responses to The Horse

  1. Jim Taylor says:

    The internet sent around a picture of Jason Kenney, riding a horse in the Calgary Stampede parade. The horse is asking the horse next, “Where did this malignant growth on my back come from?”
    I wonder what terms the cartoonist might use to describe other political leaders, intent on riding the high horse.
    Jim T

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jim – I find it helps, a little, to keep our politicians in some perspective – whether historical or international. In my view they’re neither giants nor malignant growths, just regular folks (intellectually and morally) with a predilection for power. And they bear watching, even the best of them.

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