Seamanship Quotation

“In political activity, then, men sail a boundless and bottomless sea; there is neither harbour for shelter nor floor for anchorage, neither starting-place nor appointed destination.”
— from Michael Oakeshott's
Political Education” (1951)

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Michael Ignatieff’s fantastical free-wheeling rhetoric

It’s been a matter of faith in Canada that wild rhetoric is an alien phenomenon and that extravagance in the pursuit of political power is strictly an American right-wing vice.  Canada’s Liberal Party leader Michael Ignatieff puts paid to that cozy notion.
He’ll likely succeed in his quest to win a no-confidence vote against the Harper government. His case for an early election must have been long deliberated and carefully considered. Here’s what he and his most experienced advisors have come up with:
“I think it’s absolutely hilarious that the Prime Minister is trying to persuade Canadians we can’t have an election because it would destabilize the economy,” the Liberal Leader said. “This is a democracy, for heaven’s sakes. This man showed flagrant disregard for democracy. It’s time to bring democracy back to Canada.”
The Obama haters and Tea Party birthers would be impressed. Bring back democracy to Canada from where?
Twice, standing in the House of Commons, Michael Ignatieff has endorsed Stephen Harper’s decision to send Canadian troops to foreign wars—most recently this Monday.  Furthermore, on numerous occasions he’s supported Conservative budget votes and passed on opportunities to vote no confidence in the Harper Government.
Obviously, he’s changed his mind and seems to have succeeded in getting a majority of Members of Parliament to agree with him. Fair enough. In practical terms, a Parliament is poisoned when a majority of its members can’t stand the government. This recent change of heart, however, is his decision—a decision arrived at by himself, not forced on him by outside events or the possibility that Harper is literally about to turn his embattled government into a dictatorship.
Enjoying self-government, only the people can decide whether their democracy is in serious danger. (Courts uphold the law; they don’t judge the law makers.) The Canadian people will have that opportunity to make their democracy the election issue. However, they’ve never come close to doing so before and will take some convincing to do so today.
In 1957, John Diefenbaker, a Progressive Conservative prairie populist, civil libertarian did succeed in making managerial arrogance and contempt for Parliament a powerful issue against an incumbent Liberal government. However, the Liberals had been in office for 22 years, with majorities throughout. The public was receptive to the accusation because the public was already broadly convinced that it was time for a change.  
Michael Ignatieff is free to confess that he can’t stand Harper or his latest two and a half year old minority government.
 He’s welcome to insist that he can do a better job right away. But, Ignatieff would be wise not to burn his bridges as a visiting professor by claiming that even in this crazy world Canada’s democracy is at stake.

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