The rule of law is one of the most important elements of Canadian democracy. It is what separates conscientious collective action from partisan mob rule. Everybody plays by the same rules — including the Crown, and including the government. A lot of blood has been shed over this principle, not always justly of course. But it underlies Canadian democracy just as it does all other British democracies.
Except for Harper democracy, though, which is noted for its contempt for the rule of law. The recent round of contempt rulings and the election fraud (the “In and Out” scandal) are good examples, but a much more relevant one is the Harper Government™’s law fixing election dates every four years. Remember that one? It’s still there. It’s still a law. Which means that for the first time in Canadian history, in 2009 a government decided to cancel an election. Surprisingly this historic moment passed without much comment.
In 2006, the Harper Government™ passed Bill C-16, declaring that an election would be held on October 19, 2009, and that after that date elections would be held every four years in October (beginning in 2013). Bill C-16 passed into law and its provisions are now housed within the Canada Elections Act. Yet Harper did not hold an election in 2009. Nobody appears to have bothered to ask him why not.
Maybe everyone thought it was such a terrible idea it was best to let it die quietly, but it’s worth asking why the government passed a law that it has no intention of following, particularly one as sacred as an elections law. At one point do we draw the line when it comes to openly illegal action by government?
For the record, I think fixed election dates are a terrible idea. Importing American institutions is not a smart way to run Canada. But the law is the law. If the government is not going to follow it, why should anybody else? This is only one symbolic example. The government imagined by the Harper Conservatives isn’t lawless precisely — there will be plenty of police, and plenty of prisons, and plenty of long sentences for violent criminals. But it is a society where the people follow the law but don’t make it, and the government makes it but doesn’t have to follow it. If a government doesn’t like a law, it changes the law — it doesn’t just break it for the sake of convenience.
We have a word for this, and it is not democracy. It is authoritarianism. That Harper says Canadians are more interested in the economy than in Parliament suggests he believes Canadians agree with him that authoritarian rule is preferable to democracy. We were denied the election he promised would be held in 2009, but we have an opportunity now, in 2011, to show him he is wrong in that belief.Tweet