Monthly Archives: May 2008

The private lives of politicians matter

Maxime Bernier burned his way through a promising political career amazingly fast. I don’t know what this former future prime minister and sexiest MP in the House will do next. Maybe go tell his old Parti Québécois friends Anglos are too uptight, especially about sex. If so, list me among them.

I shed no tears for Mr. Bernier. And as for his ex-girlfriend, Julie Couillard, now playing the wounded innocent, if this is a babe in the woods, the bears better look out. But what has me really bent out of shape is that, having sanctimoniously denied that it mattered who a senior national security minister was getting naked with before the business of the sensitive documents came up, the prime minister still insisted in accepting Mr. Bernier’s resignation that “This is not to do with the minister’s private life.”

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Protecting the throne

The Victoria Day long weekend produced the usual outburst of ill-mannered resentment at the monarchy. I’d say just ignore it, except for the harm three decades of presumptuous ignorance have already done to our constitutional order.

Last Thursday Toronto Star columnist Bob Hepburn wondered why we “continue to set aside a national holiday to honour a foreign monarch who died 107 years ago,” in a country where people “can celebrate their unique heritages while at the same time being proudly Canadian.” Simple: because if there’s nothing common for us to celebrate we’re going to have problems being proudly Canadian, and a heritage of good government is among the most important things we do have in common.

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New heights of hypocrisy on Burma

My enthusiasm for an amphibious assault on the Irrawaddy delta is extremely limited. I appear, once again, to be the weirdo.

On Tuesday former Liberal foreign minister Lloyd Axworthy surfaced in this newspaper calling for us to exercise the so-called “responsibility to protect” (R2P) in the Myanmar formerly known as Burma. What? Are you still talking? How could anyone take seriously the proposal to send an army we haven’t got to an Apocalypse Now up-river to Rangoon?

Sorry, that would be Yangon now. I bet they even changed the name of the river. Yup, it says online the Irrawaddy is now the Ayeyerwady. But it’s still wet. Look at a map. The starting point of Mr. Axworthy’s “plan” seems to be a massive amphibious assault on a steaming, immense, swampy river delta half-way around the world. About the level of practicality one had come to expect from him.

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Curbing authority, the old-fashioned way

Donald Savoie’s new book on the breakdown of government in Canada will leave you both wiser and more worried. It’s a worthwhile trade-off. But please also leave room on your bedside table for Jean Louis de Lolme’s The Constitution of England. Not quite so hot off the presses; my final edition dates to 1784. But when a book this old is this relevant to modern problems you may be sure its author, too, got the fundamentals right.

As the Citizen reported Monday, Mr. Savoie’s central concern is that we now have “prime ministers who rule like monarchs surrounded by a tight circle of courtiers.” In that sense Canada today resembles Britain eight hundred years ago, when the “curia regis” or king’s personal court combined legislative, executive and judicial functions in a system as devoid of effective checks as of formal procedures. But if the problem is familiar maybe the solution is, too.

It was not easy to make the executive accountable under the rule of law without crippling it. But it was accomplished. Due to legislative control of the power of the purse, the otherwise formidable Crown in 18th century England was, as de Lolme put it, “like a ship completely equipped, but from which the Parliament can at pleasure draw off the water, and leave it aground — and also set it afloat again, by granting subsidies.”

This exclusive power of Parliament to levy taxes, which amazingly dates to the late 13th century, remains the core of its power in Canada today. Surely it’s worth trying an old remedy before adopting some novel expedient that might, instead, prove to be an old mistake.

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Expecting too much from Obama

Barack Obama has done the right thing in the right way by dumping America-hating Rev. Jeremiah Wright. True, he did it at the wrong time, but in politics you take what you can get.

When I read about Rev. Wright’s self-immolating performance at Washington’s National Press Club on Monday, my immediate reaction was that, whatever else might be said about this man, his theology is fatally flawed because he peddles hate. And Barack Obama singled out precisely that failing the next day. He didn’t just call himself “outraged” and “saddened.” He described Rev. Wright’s comments as “giving comfort to those who prey on hate.”

Exactly right. But years, even decades too late. So what is left of Barack Obama’s political appeal as a healer, especially of racial divisions? (Which, parenthetically, he’d better be after his outburst of snobbery about God, gays and guns left him an extremely dubious healer of cultural ones.) Here I would caution against the unreasonable expectations habitually raised in politics by partisans, commentators and candidates including Mr. Obama himself.

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