Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Dispatch from McGill's Public Policy in Crisis #2: No marks for timeliness, but maybe one for political science 101

It has been nearly two weeks since I was in Montreal for the Public Policy in Crisis conference, which I appreciate is a lifetime or two in blog-land.  However, many of you* wrote to say that you enjoyed the dispatch so I thought I'd make it the first of at least two.

While the evidence panel was my favourite panel, my favourite individual speaker was Peter Russell, the long-time constitutional scholar from the University of Toronto.  Addressing the conference theme, he spoke to the two crises that underlay Canada's "Parliamentary crisis," now better known by the (previously-unbeknownst-to-me) term prorogation.

In Russell's analysis, crisis number one was our fiscal and economic policy (basically a badly- crafted budget that lacked consultation and ignored the economic crisis).  The prorogation, he argued, improved this crisis by allowing the implementation, in record time, of a budget that was better and developed with debate and consultation.

With crisis number two, which is our policy for dealing with parliamentary government, especially in a minority situation, Russell argued that we Canadians are not so lucky.  The request to prorogue laid bare the fact that too few of us, including the PM and his advisors, are either a) aware of or b) willing to adhere to the principles of parliamentary government or the functions of those within it.  The details are less important, but the upshot is that if, like me, you a)believe we're in for a series of minority parliaments in the years to come and/or b) want to improve the function of government in Canada, we should do our part to learn a little more about how it's supposed to work. 

Fortunately, Russell and a gaggle of experts constitutional have made this a little easier for us by writing down the rules in the Toronto Star.  He also pointed out that, "we're not in good shape if a handful of constitutional experts need to say this when... we need consensus [among the governing party and the public] for Parliament to work and we don't have that." So please do your bit!

He closed with a small rant on the weakness of our Parliament and its disconnect from policy making and from citizens (incidentally, one of my hobby horses of late).  Proving he was an equal opportunity critic (the PM and his crew took a real beating), he expressed frustration at the sentiments of one Liberal MP, who said in this Parliamentary session his party would focus on enforcing the government's "probation," rather than proposing policy ideas that can be stolen by the Tories.  "Have we not had enough?" Russell asked.  "Policies should be discussed!"  Amen.

*I say many meaning more than "a couple," however as a new blogger I am heartened by any reader feedback, so please keep it coming!  And feel free to use the comments section too.

Coming up: More dispatches, this time from the Reva and David Logan Investigative Reporting Symposium I attended in Berkeley this past weekend.  It reminded me of a few things I missed about living in the U.S., in particular, the willingness of private philanthropy to step in creatively in issues of public importance (although not always for the right reasons or with good outcome).  If your curiosity is getting the better of you, Mark Glaser blogged from the event.  See his April 4 and 5 posts.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

thanks for this post. I'm still shaking my head over the ignorance I witnessed from Canadians... so few understood the rules of our democracy. Sigh.

Back to your hobby horse, how can Parliament get back into alignment with the population?