Friday, September 23, 2005

Stephen Harper, Yankee Fan

The House of Commons is set to resume sitting next Monday, and already it seems that Stephen Harper is set to revive a Liberal meme that can be held against him: the accusation of American assimilation.

This meme goes to the effect of: "Stephen Harper wants Canada to be more like the United States." It was used to pretty good effect in the last election, due to America's decision to invade Iraq without UN support.

So what's going to happen to revive this meme? Have a look at what Mr. Harper intends to introduce as a private member's bill come Monday:

November 23, 2004 β€” Mr. Harper (Calgary Southwest) β€” Bill entitled β€œAn Act to provide fixed dates for the election of members to the House of Commons and to amend the Constitution Act, 1867”.

The bill text hasn't been printed yet, but we can get an idea of what Mr. Harper wants from a past CTV News story from November 2003:

Harper told reporters in Ottawa on Monday, Canada's electoral rhythms should more closely echo those of the United States where fixed terms are the norm.

"We shouldn't forget that Jean Chretien fueled a lot of cynicism about the electoral process in this country, during his 10 years in office, by calling an election whenever it suited his personal agenda," the Alliance leader said.

"Paul can begin to reverse this Chretien legacy and revitalize democracy in Canada, by committing today to fixing four-year terms between federal election dates, starting with an election next fall."

And, according to the Alliance leader, it would be an easy change for Martin to make.

"This would be an important first step and would require neither a constitutional amendment nor any immediate legislation. With the redistribution bill effectively dead on the order paper, it's the perfect time to institute this reform."

The odds are pretty good for some cross-party support; Lorne Nystrom of the NDP, for example, thinks fixed dates are a good idea.

However, there are two caveats. The first one concerns whether the bill sacrifices the principle of confidence votes. It's not likely, of course (no leader of opposition ever gives up a realistic chance of bringing a government down) but it's going to become an issue: if a Prime Minister is going to give up a right to seek a mandate on his own terms, then shouldn't the Opposition?

The second one is a timing issue. Four-year terms are an American convention; if the fixed date decided is in November of a year divisible by 4, it'd be too much for those Canadians who keep denying they're anything like Americans, because it's too close to the American electoral cycle. If fixed dates are to become palatable to the knee-jerk anti-Americans in Parliament, a different timing is required. Five-year terms, for example.

Obviously, Mr. Harper wants to see more democracy in our system, but getting this government to accept it is going to be an uphill battle. Especially since too many Libranos think democracy is too American.