An Empty Shell Of Democracy
by Paul Albers
Thursday, May 19, 2005
When news comes thick and fast it's easy to miss the larger picture. Let's recap recent events.
Back in March, the Liberals presented their budget. At first the Conservative Party said it would support the budget bill, guaranteeing its passage, but they quickly found that the Liberals had slipped in a form of carbon tax. This was unacceptable to the Tories who insisted it be removed. Stephen Harper pledged his party would vote against the budget unless a change was made. The Liberals refused, they were on top in the polls and all but openly welcomed an early election.
At the same time Justice Gomery continued his inquiry into the sponsorship scandal. Jean Brault, the head of Groupaction Marketing, took the stand on the last day of March. His testimony was given in open court, but a publication ban prevented the media from reporting the contents of his testimony. The press were able to report panicked reaction of the Liberal caucus, however.
Within a couple of days details of the testimony were posted on an American blog and it became crystal clear that the sponsorship scandal was not merely the usual government waste and incompetence. The ruling party now stood accused by a man under oath of carrying out a criminal conspiracy to launder taxpayer money for the benefit of the Liberal party.
Although curiosity was high, only a few Canadians were aware of the bombshells Brault dropped. While Conservatives debated how they would proceed in light of this revelation, the Liberals suddenly offered to remove the carbon tax from the budget bill. Harper announced that his party would not seek to overthrow the government at this time, but they would revisit the question after the testimony became public.
The ban was expected to last for months, but one week after Brault took the stand the curtain was lifted on most of his testimony. Public outrage swelled and the Conservatives determined to seriously pursue a motion of non-confidence against the government.
Before they could table the motion, the Liberals cancelled opposition days, denying the majority of MPs an opportunity to put forward any motion in the House of Commons. In spite of this the Tories were able to secure one opposition day towards the end of May.
Suddenly the Liberals decided that Gomery should finish before an election is called. Martin used the powers of his office to acquire prime time television coverage of a pre-recorded partisan message, again using taxpayer money for Liberal Party benefit. The Prime Minister begged Canadians to allow his government to be released on their own recognizance even without a not guilty plea.
The opposition parties (two of them anyway) would have nothing of it. The Liberals went into campaign mode throwing a billion dollars a day at one special interest after another and the NDP were only too happy to cash in on the opportunity. What's wrong with a little corruption if you can use it to get what you want, right?
As the cost of not having an election continued to grow day by day, Conservative MP Inky Mark reported that a cabinet minister contacted him and tried to get Mark to accept an ambassadorship or senate seat. Peter MacKay reported that he knew of three other opposition MPs who received similar offers. Former Liberal MP David Kilgore's concerns about sending troops to Darfur suddenly became a high priority. When the announcement failed to secure his vote, the issue was suddenly returned to the backburner.
Together the Conservatives and Bloc passed a motion in the house that called for the resignation of the Prime Minister. All three opposition parties agreed that the passage of the amendment represented a vote of non-confidence, but the government hid behind legalistic interpretations and refused to settle the question by calling for a vote of confidence.
For the rest of the week the opposition parties shut down the House of Commons, keeping it open just long enough to give the government another chance to prove (if they could) that they still had the confidence of the house. Rather than do so, the Liberals promised a budget vote on the 19th of May.
The government tried to pass off the idea that a week's delay would make no difference, but in reality they bought themselves time to finish working out a deal with Belinda Stronach to bring her across the floor into Martin's cabinet. Now British Columbia MP Gurmant Grewal and his wife reportedly have a tape recording of similar attempts to buy their votes.
If the Liberals manage to survive the budget vote today, it will only be because they defied the will of Parliament long enough to use taxpayer funds to buy votes they would have never gotten otherwise. A Liberal victory would represent the end of responsible government in Canada. We would be left with nothing but an empty shell of democracy where the only virtue is power and the only vice is getting caught.
The Liberal party has raided the public purse, violated electoral law, limited opposition in the House of Commons, defied the will of Parliament and now appears to be bribing Members of Parliament. If that isn't enough to justify an election, what is?
Paul Albers is a freelance columnist living in Ottawa