stephen harper because he can

This Wednesday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced his new cabinet, took a few questions from reporters, and then left the podium. Moments later his office sent round an email announcing the appointment of three new senators.

This Wednesday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced his new cabinet, took a few questions from reporters, and then left the podium.

Moments later his office sent round an email announcing the appointment of three new senators. Actually, two of them are not exactly new; they were senators before the federal election, quit to run for Commons, lost, and are now returning to those plush red seats. The move has drawn fire from left and right, the angriest comment coming from disgruntled Conservatives, most of whom appear to have just woken up from a six-year nap.

Gerry Nichols, formerly of the National Citizens Coalition, called the appointments “a real slap in the face to Reform tradition and to those Reformers out there who wanted a reformed Senate, an elected Senate, an accountable government, who wanted more democracy in Ottawa,”- as if anybody who gave a hoot about democracy voted for the Pro Rogue of Parliament. Scott Stinson of the National Post declared that Harper had “played Canadians for sucker.” Well actually, Scott, only the 39 per cent who voted for him, out of the 60 per cent who voted at all. So roughly 24 per cent of eligible voters were suckers – if this number comes as a surprise at all it is only insofar as it’s surprisingly low.

One Conservative MP, who chose to remain nameless, told the Globe and Mail that the Conservatives, rather than destroying the Liberals, had decided to become them. Brad Wall, the premier of Saskatchewan, said of the move, “I think it takes away momentum for change.” Well, duh, Brad. Harper has been busy stacking the Senate since he got into office. He uses it as a place to store future candidates and bagmen, and he doesn’t ask for the resignation of senators up on criminal charges for election fraud. You were expecting to see momentum for change?

Now that the wails have been wailed and the teeth gnashed over the federal election, there’s a lot of talk, as there always is at this time, of how “undemocratic” the Canadian system is. About a quarter of eligible voters, four our of 10 of those who bothered to show up, marked an X for Conservatives, and now Stephen Harper has near absolute power for the next four years. He will stack the Supreme Court with right-wing judges and stuff the Senate with unelectable Conservatives and generally make his mark on the path of Canada’s future for years to come.

But is this so far from what was intended by the framers of the Canadian Constitution? What was the meaning of democracy in 1867, when the British North America Act joined the two British colonies of Upper and Lower Canada into One Dominion? At the time, the principal project of democracy was the theft of land. The great vast continent, or such of it as had not already been stolen by the Americans, was up for grabs from sea to shining sea. Democracy was the path to getting rid of the original inhabitants and replacing them with displaced Highlanders and Irish. The success of the project was dependent on the one-white-man-one-vote system of government.

But those Highlanders and Irish were not exactly the creme de la creme of society, so democracy had to be held in check. Among other mechanisms built into the system to prevent the great unwashed from achieving real power was the creation of the Senate. No one can be appointed to that institution, even today, who doesn’t own land. And if you happened to be a settler who owned a quarter section of prairie, forget it, the king was not going to hear your name any time soon. The office of the Governor General was similarly created to keep untrammeled democracy from taking hold in the colonies.

Those who cry that democracy is malfunctioning in Canada simply don’t understand what its intended function was. It has actually worked very well. The vast majority of aboriginal people have lost all control over their land, and the common herd of settlers feel utterly powerless over what goes on in Ottawa: success on both fronts. As for whether the results of the election reflect the will of the people, they were never intended to.

Elect is an interesting word. It doesn’t actually carry any connotation of democracy about it; it simply means to pick out. It doesn’t imply the choice was that of the majority. Harper could be said to have “elected” his new senators. On Saturday, when the world ends, those who rise to heaven will be the “elect,” chosen (or elected) by God, though who elected Him is hard to say. How does the tribal deity of a warlike race of desert nomads reach such a pinnacle that His are the only pronouns that get capitalized?

The answer is that it happened by chance, like most things. God was elected by history, Stephen Harper was elected by suckers, and the new senators were elected by Stephen Harper. If you wonder why Harper chooses to fly in the face of all that he once claimed to hold dear, the answer is plain to see. He does it for the same reason that a dog licks its nether regions. Because he can.

Al Pope won the Ma Murray Award for Best Columnist in BC/Yukon in 2010 and 2002. His novel, Bad Latitudes, is available in bookstores.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Yukon MP Larry Bagnell, along with Yukon health and education delegates, announce a new medical research initiative via a Zoom conference on Jan. 21. (Screen shot)
New medical research unit at Yukon University launched

The SPOR SUPPORT Unit will implement patient-first research practices

Yukon First Nation Education Directorate members Bill Bennett, community engagement coordinator and Mobile Therapeutic Unit team lead, left, and Katherine Alexander, director of policy and analytics, speak to the News about the Mobile Therapeutic Unit that will provide education and health support to students in the communities. (yfned.ca)
Mobile Therapeutic Unit will bring education, health support to Indigenous rural students

The mobile unit will begin travelling to communities in the coming weeks

Premier Sandy Silver, left, and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley, speak during a live stream in Whitehorse on January 20, about the new swish and gargle COVID-19 tests. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Swish and spit COVID-19 test now available in Yukon

Vaccination efforts continue in Whitehorse and smaller communities in the territory

Local poet Joanna Lilley is photographed at the Beringia Centre in Whitehorse on Jan. 20, where she will be hosting a poetry workshop on Jan. 24. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Poetry for the ages

Workshop set for the Yukon Beringia Centre

Parking attendant Const. Ouellet puts a parking ticket on the windshield of a vehicle in downtown Whitehorse on Dec. 6, 2018. The City of Whitehorse is hoping to write of nearly $300,000 in outstanding fees, bylaw fines and court fees, $20,225 of which is attributed to parking fines issued to non-Yukon license plates. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
City of Whitehorse could write off nearly $300,000

The City of Whitehorse could write off $294,345 in outstanding fees, bylaw… Continue reading

Grants available to address gender-based violence

Organizations could receive up to $200,000

In this illustration, artist-journalist Charles Fripp reveals the human side of tragedy on the Stikine trail to the Klondike in 1898. A man chases his partner around the tent with an axe, while a third man follows, attempting to intervene. (The Daily Graphic/July 27, 1898)
History Hunter: Charles Fripp — gold rush artist

The Alaskan coastal town of Wrangell was ill-equipped for the tide of… Continue reading

A man walks passed the polling place sign at city hall in Whitehorse on Oct. 18, 2018. While Whitehorse Mayor Dan Curtis is now setting his sights on the upcoming territorial election, other members of council are still pondering their election plans for the coming year. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Councillors undecided on election plans

Municipal vote set for Oct. 21

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decicions made by Whitehorse city council this week.

A file photo of grizzly bear along the highway outside Dawson City. Yukon conservation officers euthanized a grizzly bear Jan. 15 that was originally sighted near Braeburn. (Alistair Maitland/Yukon News file)
Male grizzly euthanized near Braeburn

Yukon conservation officers have euthanized a grizzly bear that was originally sighted… Continue reading

Mayor Dan Curtis listens to a councillor on the phone during a city council meeting in Whitehorse on April 14, 2020. Curtis announced Jan. 14 that he intends to seek nomination to be the Yukon Liberal candidate for Whitehorse Centre in the 2021 territorial election. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Whitehorse mayor seeking nomination for territorial election

Whitehorse mayor Dan Curtis is preparing for a run in the upcoming… Continue reading

Gerard Redinger was charged under the <em>Civil Emergency Measures Act</em> with failing to self-isolate and failing to transit through the Yukon in under 24 hours. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Man ticketed $1,150 at Wolf Creek campground for failing to self-isolate

Gerard Redinger signed a 24-hour transit declaration, ticketed 13 days later

Most Read