Since returning home in early January my interest locally has been occupied by the discussions and debate surrounding the proposed Muskrat Falls (Hydro development) project. My interest is somewhat different than most, as there appears to be many more competent individuals addressing the financial and technical issues. My concern, as always, is for the lack of democratic process within and by government.
I would point out that in our current and modern world this is not something unique to Newfoundland and Labrador. It is pervasive in Canada and is growing in other parts of the democratic world. The arduous struggles of the past (including two world wars) to gain and protect the various forms of democratic governance that led to a better life for many appear forgotten.
The economic collapse and subsequent fear caused by the dictatorial behavior of private and financial leadership, appears now an excuse for political leaders to gain advantage and their own political leverage and control.
In Europe we are witnessing democratic governments being dismissed and replaced by unelected technocrats having almost complete control and little accountability to their countries citizens. In the United States the democratic process, or what is left of it, has been hijacked by those who favour autocratic control by the wealthy.
In Canada our Parliamentary Democracy is being overridden by a Prime Minister and his political hacks and minions. Most decisions are being made without due process and proper debate, simply because in their definition of democracy, a majority government has cart blanche to make such decisions. Their argument is, why debate such issues, when they have been on our agenda for five years as a minority government. They neglect to recognize that they weren’t approved because most of the country and their representatives opposed such measures.
The Senate, which is supposed to provide a balance to such dictatorial approaches, has now been stuffed with appointees who have to swear allegiance to the Prime Minister and his ultra-conservative ideology rather than to the Queen and Canada. Mr. Harper appears to fully understand that to eradicate anything that is living you must attack its roots, this not only applies to the senate, but to health care and other aspects of government that doesn’t fit his singular ideological view of the world.
But, for me, it is in Newfoundland and Labrador that the demise of Parliamentary Democracy is most visible and vivid. The current Premier has publicly indicated that she doesn’t believe in parliament at all; and that any discussion or debate inside the House of Assembly, its legitimate home, is just a waste of time. Obviously, like many other current leaders, she knows best. The citizens whom she governs and those who they elect to represent them, have little of intelligence to offer.
The Muskrat Falls issue epitomizes this attitude. The fact that many within and outside government have concerns, is irrelevant. The decision has been made, so what is the use to discuss or debate its merits. What is the need for the duly elected government, which includes the opposition, to vote on such a significant issue; even though this decision will affect this province and its citizens for generations?
In Newfoundland and Labrador, this approach resembles many decisions by past leaders for which its taxpayers are still paying for dearly; most significantly; it’s parallel to the Upper Churchill decision. The people of this province have sacrificed much of their past prosperity, and their future well being because of that decision. It was made by another leader who was into domination and control and who knew best.
Having lived and worked in a number of countries where autocratic, even dictatorial leaders are in control, this attitude appears very familiar. It is not one that fits with my belief system or my values. It is an attitude that belittles, impoverishes and degrades humanity and leads eventually to civil unrest.
Leaders, in democratic countries, abandon the fundamental basis of democratic principles, processes and practices at their peril. While it might provide a modicum of security in the short term; over the longer term their control will be challenged and their leadership ended to their own chagrin.
The fledgling occupy movement, which was quickly squashed, is an indication that people are not yet willing to sacrifice their freedom and democracy. They have found their voice, now they need to find a form and build a foundation to take their power back from those who have hijacked it for ideologically purposes.
I have long argued for a more participatory form of democracy and the need to revitalize the basic values of a democratic process based on respect, honour and trust.
It is obvious from the tenor and sophistication of the dialogue and debate that is being witnessed in Newfoundland and Labrador that people are ready for such a democratic system. It is the political parties, more importantly, their leaders who fear democratic governance the most. They apparently mistrust the people they govern and obviously fear losing their perks, power and control. They need remember that democracy is fundamentally about power to the people not power over people.
Written by Bill Pardy
January 30th, 2011