Parliament is currently investigating allegations of illegal lobbying, as well as interference by ministerial aides in improperly, and possibly illegally, suppressing information that the government finds embarrassing.
And, despite a lamentable lack of candour from such aides as have testified, revelations of impropriety have indeed ensued. Finding this a further embarrassment, this week the Harper government arbitrarily announced that their aides would no longer appear before parliamentary committees.
Citing that “ministers are responsible for their departments,” they have extrapolated this grain of truth into a beachhead of absurdity. Yes, ministers are responsible and must answer for their departments, but it is an obstinate stretch to claim from this an entitlement to obstruct parliament in its fundamental discovery of the facts and who did what when, so that they can indeed be held accountable.
If this policy is allowed to stand, given that these very ministers who profess that only they will speak, cannot in fact be made to do so, the government can simply ignore the committees and parliament itself. This will cripple parliament’s ability to determine what is going on, and allow the government to blithely walk away from any attempt by parliament to hold them to account.
This, despite the Speaker’s recent ruling that “the role of parliamentarians to hold government to account as an indisputable privilege and obligation – a privilege and obligation that applies to committees.”
As usual, Mr Harper has the tail wagging the dog. It is not for the government to decide what parliament can or cannot do. This is strictly the purview of parliament itself; it is, rather, parliament that determines the boundaries of government action, and, ultimately, whether or not to put the government itself out of our misery.
But, time and again we see this government when confronted with their own misbehaviour, rather than man-up and simply address the problem, circle the wagons and try to deflect, attack, obscure, or just bluster their way through. Careening from proroguing parliament to avoid a vote of confidence, and again to defer and delay awkward questions, to short-circuiting accountability by refusing to release documents to parliament, we now see them suppressing witnesses and suborning contempt of parliament.
Once again this government is taking us to the brink, taunting our democratic institutions and pushing the boundaries of our democracy.
This is a dangerous Prime Minister, and a dangerous government ever vying for more unchecked power. We must be aware, and we must be wary, for it is clear that Mr Harper and his team find this democracy thing and their own promises of honesty, transparency, and accountability that helped bring them to power, are but insufferable nuisances to be avoided at all costs, at least as applied to themselves.