Is it Harper or Trudeau run­ning the Hill?

Metro Canada (Toronto) - - CANADA/WORLD - Chan­tal Hébert Metro Views

A stalled ap­point­ment process, a botched at­tempt at in­stalling a mem­ber of the Lib­eral fam­ily in a post that re­quires to­tal in­de­pen­dence from the gov­ern­ment, a uni­lat­eral bid to change the rules of the House of Com­mons. If Stephen Harper, and not Justin Trudeau, were run­ning things on Par­lia­ment Hill, he would stand ac­cused of in­sti­tu­tional malev­o­lence.

Ex­hibit A: Al­most half­way through his man­date, Trudeau has yet to fill a sin­gle par­lia­men­tary watch­dog va­cancy. Most of the po­si­tions of agents of Par­lia­ment are held by in­terim ap­pointees or by com­mis­sion­ers whose terms have been ex­tended. Some, such as the ethics and the in­for­ma­tion com­mis­sion­ers, are on their sec­ond or third ex­ten­sions.

A full year af­ter chief elec­toral of­fi­cer Marc Mayrand gave his no­tice, the gov­ern­ment has not yet come up with a per­ma­nent re­place­ment. Un­der Harper, a prime min­is­ter whose re­la­tion­ship with Elec­tions Canada was far from cor­dial, the tran­si­tion took place over a mat­ter of days. The job of run­ning Canada’s ever-evolv­ing elec­tion sys­tem had tra­di­tion­ally been con­sid­ered a sen­si­tive one that re­quires a steady hand at the helm.

Ju­di­cial ap­point­ments have been pro­ceed­ing at a glacial pace. And with ev­ery pass­ing week, more Crown cor­po­ra­tions are op­er­at­ing un­der skele­ton boards. As of next week, for in­stance, the CBC/ Ra­dio-Canada board will be down to half its 12-mem­ber ros­ter, leav­ing it with the bare min­i­mum re­quired to meet a quo­rum. A spokesper­son for Her­itage Min­is­ter Mélanie Joly told Le Devoir last week that a selection process would “soon” be in place!

Con­nect all these dots and the re­sult is an across-the­board weak­en­ing of fed­eral and par­lia­men­tary over­sight func­tions. By ne­ces­sity, dayto-day man­age­ment is be­com­ing a sub­sti­tute for strate­gic plan­ning.

Ex­hibit B: Trudeau jus­ti­fies the un­prece­dented de­lays in the ap­point­ment chain by the quest for a merit-based sys­tem.

But, if the prime min­is­ter thought the Harper-ap­pointed agents of Par­lia­ment, whose terms he has ex­tended, were cho­sen on a ba­sis other than com­pe­tence, would he not have been in a hurry to re­place them?

Trudeau’s own first (failed) at­tempt at ap­point­ing a par­lia­men­tary watch­dog — the nom­i­na­tion of for­mer On­tario Lib­eral min­is­ter Madeleine Meilleur for of­fi­cial lan­guages com­mis­sioner — did not pass the non-par­ti­san smell test.

Had Harper pro­posed a re­cently re­tired Tory min­is­ter, pro­vin­cial or fed­eral, for the po­si­tion, the Lib­er­als in op­po­si­tion would have been the first to ac­cuse the Con­ser­va­tives of sab­o­tag­ing Canada’s of­fi­cial lan­guages in­fra­struc­ture.

Ex­hibit C: Speak­ing of par­lia­men­tary watch­dogs, the in­for­ma­tion com­mis­sioner re­leased her an­nual re­port ear­lier this month. Suzanne Le­gault found that, not­with­stand­ing Trudeau’s prom­ise of greater trans­parency, this had ac­tu­ally de­clined since the Lib­er­als came to power.

Among oth­ers, she gave the RCMP, Rev­enue Canada and Global Af­fairs Canada an F for their per­for­mance and put a red alert on the de­part­ments of Na­tional De­fence and Health. Given that Harper was rightly de­picted as hav­ing set the bar low on trans­parency, one might have ex­pected the Lib­er­als would find it easy to do bet­ter.

Ex­hibit D: Trudeau promised to be more col­le­gial in his deal­ing with the op­po­si­tion par­ties. Yet no re­cent gov­ern­ment has spent as much en­ergy try­ing to uni­lat­er­ally change the rules of the Com­mons. Based on a gov­ern­ing ma­jor­ity ac­quired with a mi­nor­ity of votes, the prime min­is­ter would dic­tate the terms of en­gage­ment un­der which he and the op­po­si­tion par­ties are to in­ter­act.

Lib­eral in­sid­ers ar­gue that the fun­da­men­tal dif­fer­ence be­tween Harper and Trudeau’s ap­proaches is that the lat­ter’s heart is in the right place.

From their per­spec­tive, the big leap for­ward on gen­der par­ity and di­ver­sity that they hope to show­case in the next elec­tion will make all the wait­ing for fed­eral ap­point­ments worth the while.

Meilleur may not have passed the smell test but, surely, they say, no one would doubt that a prime min­is­ter whose last name is Trudeau wishes Canada’s of­fi­cial lan­guages sys­tem well?

And don’t the Lib­er­als, they ask, have a man­date to im­ple­ment uni­lat­er­ally, if need be, changes to the House of Com­mons rules they cam­paigned on in the last elec­tion?

On the way to power, ev­ery prime min­is­ter in re­cent decades has promised to run a more trans­par­ent, more col­le­gial gov­ern­ment than its pre­de­ces­sor.

All of them sub­se­quently moved the line in the other di­rec­tion.

One can only hope the Lib­er­als will re­mem­ber their self-serv­ing ra­tio­nale when their party is sit­ting in op­po­si­tion, across from a prime min­is­ter who sets out to build on some of Trudeau’s dam­ag­ing prece­dents.


Is Stephen Harper still lurk­ing?

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