This is the Life: Canadians deserve to see reined-in Prime Minister’s Office

Web Lead

If there is one thing Canadians deserve to see from the federal Liberal government it is evidence that the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) has been reined in. One need look no further than recent court cases to see that former prime minister Stephen Harper’s obsession with control has not served this country, or its citizens, well.

The revelations that came out of the Mike Duffy court case were stunning, with the judge chastising the PMO for using senators like pawns on a chessboard. And several courts have ruled that government-imposed mandatory minimum sentences have resulted in what amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

In both of those situations, Harper’s need for control, and to promote his image as a tough guy, are shown to have been less than helpful.

Let’s start with the Canadian Senate, and his long-held view that it should be dramatically overhauled or, better yet, dismantled. While he was never dumb enough to say it out loud, Harper’s disdain for junior governments and independence of the judiciary system becomes clearer as he himself fades into the distance. He was clearly unhappy when the Supreme Court ruled that the federal government could not tinker with the Senate without working with provinces. He might just have been the only one in the entire country who thought it might rule otherwise, or perhaps he was just playing to his followers, who would happily turn the prime minister’s role into a dictatorship — as long as Harper was the dictator.

Think about it — the Senate was created to provide a balance between centralized and regional legislative power, primarily to protect the interests of provinces and to ensure a centralized government could not run roughshod over them. All the while knowing that he couldn’t destroy the Senate because we actually have things like a constitution, he set about turning Canadians against it, going so far as to throw his own appointees under a bus to make the institution look bad. He even refused to fill Senate vacancies, ignoring a clear legal requirement to do so.

Similarly, Harper set out to create distrust in an independent judiciary (judges might be appointed by governments because of their particular political leanings, but those same governments have no subsequent control over how they make decisions, as long as they stay within legal boundaries) by picking fights with Supreme Court members and then to enact legislation tying judges’ hands by requiring minimum sentencing requirements.

Make no mistake about it — those minimums, along with construction of more jails at a time when his government was pleading poverty, were not introduced because of rising crime rates. They were acts designed to create or increase fear throughout the population because people who are afraid look to an authority who might, just might, make things better. They are much more governable and much less likely to challenge the status quo. (Watch the next season of House of Cards for a lesson on this subject.)

Sadly, the fear mongering was never destined to make real change, other than to erode confidence in provincial governments or our judicial system or even the Senate. Real change in a democracy requires consultation, co-operation and a lot of give and take. Harper knew full well that a Canadian prime minister has far more power than most democratic country leaders — U.S. presidents drool with envy — but even that wasn’t enough. He created a huge PMO that worked to control every aspect of governance and members in that cloistered, murky circle worked diligently to carry out his agenda. Don’t like the provinces (or at least the ones with the wrong parties in power)? Ignore them by not sitting down and talking to their leaders. Don’t like the Senate? Plant ticking time bombs inside and wait for the explosion. Don’t like the judiciary? Create legislation intended to control it.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has vowed to undo what many Canadians see as a steady and determined effort to undermine our values. And those Canadians deserve to see clear evidence that the PMO’s power is reined in, and that his government respects this country’s democratic principles. Enable provinces and municipalities, which are much closer to the people than the federal governments, to function well. Stop the erosion of an independent judiciary. Work with the provinces to retool the Senate so it can function as it was intended. Resist the intention to control every aspect of the country.

Lorne Eckersley is the publisher of the Creston Valley Advance.