Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Is It Time For a Canadian Magna Carta?

After reading about Karzai's latest power grab in Afghanistan, I find my attentions turning back to Canada's parliamentary democracy and find myself musing about the concentration of power in the PMO, and the way that Stephen Harper has abused his access to these powers.

I find it intriguing that Nanos has just released a poll looking precisely at the perceived distribution of power in various aspects of our government. The Nanos poll shows 41% of Canadians think that the PMO has too much power, and 40% think it's "just right", which is for all intents and purposes a statistical tie.

However, in light of a Prime Minister whose record for acting capriciously has been astonishing to many, and rumblings from all corners of the political spectrum about the growing concentration of power in the PMO, perhaps it is time to consider restraining the powers of the PMO in law.

The original purpose of the Magna Carta was to constrain the powers of a monarchy that often acted in its own self interest rather than that of the people the monarchy was ostensibly governing. While Harper is certainly not the first Canadian Prime Minister to manipulate the levers of power purely in his own self interest, he is certainly the first to act in a manner that is arguably seriously damaging to the principles and purposes of our parliamentary system.

I'm not talking about just 'fixed election date' laws (and we all know how effective Harper's attempt at that really was, don't we?), but a comprehensive re-evaluation of the powers vested and concentrated in the PMO. It's time to place some constraints on the office itself, and in doing so, force the PMO to delegate actual authority outside of itself.

- Things like the ability to request the dissolution of parliament must be done with the consent of the House of Commons, except at the end of the parliament's five year maximum life.

- Appointments to various arms of government must be subject to review outside of the PMO decision making process

- Greater independence for the ministers of the crown. Under Harper, the cabinet hasn't dared say anything without it being vetted in advance by the PMO. It is my belief that this has dramatically weakened the effectiveness of the government by restraining all of our leadership to the abilities of the PMO.

- Discretionary powers of the PMO must be enumerated and reviewed. Where appropriate, legislative constraints limiting the exercise of those powers should be imposed.

- A similar exercise should be undertaken with respect to the office of the Governor General.

In short, we have a PM who is running amok with the powers vested in him. In doing so, Harper has shown us that the same problems that led to the Magna Carta being necessary are now present in our PMO. It is time to codify the powers and responsibilities of the PMO - and the PM - and constrain the office itself.

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