When it comes to reforming our decrepit political institutions, many Canadians are desperate enough to endorse any proposal slid under their nose. As usual, it pays to read the fine print.
Justin Trudeau is getting a lot of good press at the moment for a booklet of “fair and open government” proposals he released last week, as part of a slow rollout of his 2015 election platform. The 30 initiatives tackle a variety of different realms, all clearly calculated to salve specific anxieties about the supposed authoritarianism of the Harper government. As useful repairs to what we used to call Canada’s “democratic deficit,” however, most are worse than flawed — they’re actively destructive.
The most glaring sin is hypocrisy, in the form of a backwards-forwards attempt to institute a more competent, meritocratic governing class while not sacrificing any tenants of liberalism along the way.
“Stephen Harper’s Conservatives have allowed ideology to trump common sense, good policy, and evidence about what works,” asserts the introduction to a chapter labeled “Evidence-based policy.”
“A Liberal government will ensure the federal government rebuilds its capacity to deliver on evidence-based decision-making.”
Fine, whatever. But a few pages later, we are told with equal fervor that “A Liberal Cabinet will have an equal number of women and men” and the federal bureaucracy will be rigged to ensure “more Indigenous Peoples and minority groups are reflected in positions of leadership.”
Now, the Public Service Employment Act already mandates government to pursue a civil service that is “representative of Canada’s diversity” (which the Public Service Commission has expanded into a sprawling and detailed policy of its own), and anyone who follows the cabinet appointment process knows things are already heavily slanted towards gender balance uber alles. Prime Minister Harper’s cabinet, for instance, is around 30% female though only about 18% of his parliamentary caucus is.
It’s in this context that Trudeau promises to place his thumb even harder on the scale, and push an already rigged system towards even stricter quotas. Since it’s not just the Conservative Party who find women generally unrepresented in their parliamentary caucus (only ten of the Liberals 36 MPs are female), such a promise would almost certainly sacrifice executive branch competence at the alter of identity politics.
Things get even worse when it comes to the Supreme Court, where Trudeau says all future appointments must be “functionally bilingual.”
Like everywhere else in the Canadian public sector, bilingualism is already a criteria considered when prime ministers evaluate Supreme Court judges, and by law, three of the nine must be from Quebec, which unto itself guarantees the court a bilingual faction considerably larger than the 17% of the Canadian public who claim fluency in French and English. I’ve written extensively about Canada’s enormously anti-democratic cult of bilingualism, and the collision course it runs with inclusive, representative government. Precisely how Trudeau expects a lawyer in an English-speaking province to complete law school, serve a substantial career on the bench, and learn all his profession’s terms and jargon in a foreign language is an mystery his sheltered Ottawaified mind has not shown signs of being able to comprehend.
This progressive paradox of demanding fixed answers within a supposedly “more open” political system appears in numerous other corners of Trudeau’s package of promises.
He promises more “free votes” in Parliament, yet qualifies that they cannot be on questions that involve “significant budgetary measures,” campaign promises, or anything Trudeau deems contrary to the “shared values embodied in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”
An earlier promise that future Liberal Senators would be selected by an expert panel is downgraded into said panel merely helping “advise” the prime minister.
A vague promise is made to ensure “2015 will be the last federal election conducted under the first-past-the-post voting system” though changing the way Canadians vote will not be subject to a national referendum, unlike every prior proposal of the sort. As Kelly McParland noted in the National Post, should the Liberal leader be elected prime minister, “the system Trudeau wants to dump would be the basis of his power to impose a new one of his choice.”
That there are problems with Canada’s present political system does not make it axiomatic that every proposed reform is an objective improvement. Since fashionable progressives like Trudeau view government as a tool whose worth is measured by its ability to generate specific outcomes, they are not the sorts of people from whom we should expect meaningful change over how these outcomes are decided.