Parliament has become a dysfunctional disgrace ...but there is hope
By Walter Robinson
Canadians can be forgiven for thinking that last fall's election is still underway. The nastiness, personal attacks, and just plain old stupid shenanigans on daily display in the House of Commons over the past fortnight closely resemble the name-calling, issueless farce that tried to pass itself off last November as a general election.
Too harsh you say? Hardly. Let's start with Canadian Alliance MP, Rahim Jaffer, who was apparently too busy opening a coffee shop in Edmonton (and we thought his job was to be an MP, silly us) to do a national interview on a Vancouver radio station so his assistant impersonated (albeit ably) him. When confronted, the MP first lied about the incident, then finally capitulated and told the truth.
Next up, a Liberal MP, Lynn Myers, hurled the "racist" label at his opponents during debate. He swore he said rubbish, but when Hansard was consulted, it showed that he uttered the overused and much diminished "r" word at his opponents. If patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel, then calling your opponents racist is now the hallmark of inept and intellectually challenged elected representatives.
Moving to the front bench, Canadians were treated to the spectacle of Hedy Fry, Minister of Multiculturalism, claiming she had a letter from the Mayor of Prince George detailing cross-burnings that were taking place in that city. While the media sometimes gloss over important issues or debates, a cross burning is not something that would end up on the editing room floor it's 6pm lead-story material!
Alas, it turns out there is no letter, no cross burning ever occurred and in fact, this is not the first time that Ms. Fry has resorted to this type of hyperbole and fabrication. While she offered a half-baked apology, she still won't own up to her lie about a non-existent letter.
And we mustn't forget Prime Minister Jean Chretien who told us that he sold his shares in a golf course (the Grand Mere) in 1993 (which he didn't), then told us that he never intervened in a federal loan for an inn adjacent to the golf course (but he did) and continues to state that there is no conflict of interest (which there definitely is). Hmm, maybe his imaginary homeless friend bought the golf club shares.
This golf course scandal, dubbed Shawinigate, continues to dominate Parliament. In response, Liberal MPs and Ministers in unison feign outrage that the business of the nation is being ignored. Let us get to work on behalf of Canada they plead.
But when the opposition parties teamed up to forward a motion on March 29 to adjourn the House of Commons for the day, only 95 Liberal MPs showed up to vote against the motion so they could continue working on behalf of taxpayers. They lost the vote 98 to 95. Seventy-six (76) Liberal MPs were missing in action. Perhaps they were scouring the hills and valleys with fire hoses in tow, just in case any cross-burnings flare up. The Liberals were so desperate to round up MPs that they even broadcast "ET phone home" style messages on local taxi dispatch systems.
Parliamentarians have no one to blame but themselves for the state of contempt in which Canadians hold them. Indeed, you could probably find more decorum and civility in a local kindergarten class.
This is why the Fair Vote Canada conference which took place this past weekend on Parliament Hill is so important. Almost 100 activists, academics, politicians and journalists, not to mention ordinary citizens, gathered to discuss and debate options and a strategy for abandoning our first-past-the-post, winner take all voting system as the first step in fixing our dysfunctional system. Instead of tuning out, citizens are channeling their anger toward constructive change. You can too at www.fairvotecanada.org.
Walter Robinson is Federal Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.
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