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Stephen Harper: Sans moi le deluge

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As the prime minister of a long-established, if complacent, democracy, Stephen Harper is supposed to say that for him the will of the people is paramount. He is supposed to declare that whatever House of Commons Canadians establish through their votes, he will accept it and work with it. He is supposed to say that he is the servant of the people.

Remarkably, Harper says none of these things. He insists that the only House of Commons he can work with after the election is one in which his party has a majority of seats. Should his party end up with the largest number of seats in a minority Parliament, he has declared that he cannot work with the other parties.

He will not alter a single jot or title in the budget he presented in March in a bid to win the support of one or more of the opposition parties. Quite simply, he does not recognize the legitimacy of the members of the other parties in the House of Commons, even though their presence in the House is the result of the expression of the will of the people. He is not required, he is saying, to heed the voices, the wisdom or the ideas of other Parliamentarians.

As a politician in a democracy, even if you secretly have nothing but loathing for the views of others, you are not supposed to make that contempt obvious. You are supposed to claim that you recognize the legitimacy of others.

That is the conventional thing to do.

The conventional is often dull, pretentious and ceremonial. But it is also an essential form of shorthand. It lets us know whether we can trust someone at first glance. We recoil, for instance, when a man bites a dog.

Not only does Stephen Harper refuse to acknowledge the will of the people and the legitimacy of parties that are not his own, he calls into question the essential principle of the Westminster system of parliamentary government. The principle is that a ministry must enjoy the confidence of the majority of the members of the House of Commons. Furthermore, if one ministry does not enjoy the confidence of the House, it is appropriate for the Governor General to seek to form an alternative ministry that does enjoy the confidence of the House.

I can't help wondering if Stephen Harper doesn't know what happened to the Stuarts, missed the Glorious Revolution of 1688, or spent so much time at Reform Party gatherings that he had no time to read Locke.

Canada is one of the few democracies in which there is no formal sharing of power among political parties in the governing of the country. Even in the United States, the country Harper wishes he led, the President of the United States has to share power with the Congress. Consider the plight of Barack Obama having to deal with John Boehner in the House of Representatives. No one imagines that he loves it. But it does it. He does not call into question the constitutional authority of the House to pass money bills.

When one party controls the Presidency while another party controls the legislature or national assembly, the French call it co-habitation, something with which they are familiar.

In the democratic world, Stephen Harper alone wraps himself in the cloak of: "Sans moi, le deluge."

This article was first posted on James Laxer's blog.

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