Not Interested

  • National Newswatch

Witnessing the speech of newly-appointed House Speaker Greg Fergus became a painful exercise in despondency, not democracy.  Everyone knew in advance that he would ask for a greater degree of respect and decorum in the House, and in such tumultuous times, there is clearly the need for a more effective kind of collaborative politics in our national capital.  The constant Conservative party interruptions on points of order represented one of the lowest points of this session of parliament.  The Opposition's attempts at repeated disruption ironically confirmed why Fergus was calling for a higher level of conduct.Greg Fergus is the first person of colour to occupy the Speaker's chair.  Voted in by his peers, he has generally been seen as genial and collaborative.  Above all, he is respected.  For the Conservatives to take such an important moment in parliamentary history and lecture Fergus in the way they did reveals once more that the only colours that matter in the House are the party colours.  They take precedence over everything else.For Canadians in general, there was a kind of sick feeling about it – a response registered by many.  In an era when Canadians are making strides in their efforts to embrace diversity and to forge new relationships with the country's indigenous peoples, it was a jarring note.  It was enough to make people place their hands over their ears.But maybe that's the point.  In most places Canadians look, they get the sense that democracy is in deep trouble.  They're not wrong.  What they are witnessing is an attempt to end politics itself as the legitimate means of solving our differences and struggles.  For those with more extreme temperaments, democratic politics is increasingly frustrating because it's tough to bypass it.  There are rules, procedures, checks and balances, oversight, and legal stipulations that are designed to ensure that political practices don't stray too far from the peaceful sentiments of the Canadian people.Elections are the ultimate arbiter of political function.  It's frustrating for disrupters not to gain the upper hand as they continue to lose elections.  We now see in America and other nations how the enemies of peace, order, and good government attempt to rebel against the legitimacy of elections, even speaking out against democracy itself.Fortunately, Canadian politics has not reached such a stage, but we are sliding in that direction.  Instead of partisanship being a battle of ideas and progress, it has become a weaponized system that seeks to obliterate other parties rather than collaborate with them.  There's no desire to leave the ultimate decisions to Canadian voters.In 2008, political commentator David Frum, concerned about the Republican Party's movement to the extremes, wrote an essay titled “Comeback: Conservatism That Can Win Again.”  He encouraged conservatives to become less rigid and to move back towards the middle of the political spectrum where most Americans were situated.  On everything from the economy to climate change and social issues, he pressed them to embrace legitimacy once more by working with others to achieve real progress on such issues.  It was the way back to government.For about a minute, Frum's thoughts carried weight.  But as a fellow commentator, David Packer noted, “Frum's thoughts were overtaken by the party's rabid reaction to its 2008 electoral defeat and Obama's Presidency.  Instead of moving to the sensible middle, it doubled down on its own extremism, both ideologically and as a matter of strategy.”This country usually moves a decade or two behind the developments south of the border.  Many Canadians, at least according to some polls, worry that the dysfunctions of American politics are finding their way into Ottawa and provincial capitals.  Democracy is designed to constrain and legitimize power so that the state doesn't self-destruct because of private interests bent on delegitimizing the democratic process.The deplorable display of pettiness by the Conservatives last week at the Speaker's opening remarks are a sign of more disruption to come.  Nevertheless, three realities stand in their way: the middle-of-the-road sentiment of the Canadian people, the Parliament of Canada … and now Greg Fergus.Some social media posts emerged claiming that such actions against Fergus were racially motivated.  There is no evidence of it, and we must be careful of overreach.  But what Canadians did witness was the degradation of parliament itself through purposeful actions.  Greg Fergus was attempting to rescue the House of Commons from itself.  He knows well enough that most Canadians are so frustrated by Ottawa politics that they are growing less inclined to even vote.  High rents and accommodation costs, artificially high food prices, poor employment wages – Canadians have had enough of it all.There was an era where we taught our children that the answer for a better world was politics.  Those days are gone.  In their place is a growing bitterness that one of the great countries of the world can't feed, house, or properly pay its people.  Our malfunctioning politics only leads to increasing disillusionment.  As author John Fowles notes:   “We all want things we can't have.  Being a decent human being is accepting that.”  That's the decency Fergus was looking for, and effective politics is supposed to understand that. Fergus, elected by his peers, has watched this decline and is respectfully attempting to correct it.  What he got instead last week was a rousing Conservative chorus shouting that it wasn't interested.Glen Pearson was a career professional firefighter and is a former Member of Parliament from southwestern Ontario. He and his wife adopted three children from South Sudan and reside in London, Ontario. He has been the co-director of the London Food Bank for 35 years. He writes regularly for the London Free Press and also shares his views on a blog entitled “The Parallel Parliament“. Follow him on twitter @GlenPearson.