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Dec 11 2012

A mysterious and puzzling mystery

There are some things, for all our vaunted expertise and powerful scientific tools, that we can simply not seem to answer. We may never be able to figure them out. They are the mysteries of the universe. And this is one of them:

A new poll released by the charitable organization Samara suggests Canadians are less satisfied with their democracy compared to eight years ago. Last spring, researchers conducted a poll using a question identical to one used in 2004, asking respondents about their level of satisfaction “with the way democracy works in Canada.”

Seventy-five per cent of Canadians expressed at least some degree of satisfaction in 2004. But when asked again in 2012, the number expressing satisfaction dropped 20 points to 55 per cent.

It’s weird. Why would people’s confidence in the Parliamentary system decline so precipitously since 2004? What has changed since then? Anything? I certainly can’t think of an answer.

The board of trustees of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg is behind a request for more museum content about “positive” Canadian stories, according to documents obtained by CBC News.

In a letter last July, a manager at the museum, which is slated to open in 2014, wrote, “The board, in their role as guardians of the institution’s mandate, recommended that some material changes be made to the visitor experience and asked management to find some solutions.’’ The letter indicates a desire to maintain a “positive, optimistic tone’’ and increased Canadian content in a gallery called the Peace Forum.

CBC News reported last week that the museum has experienced an exodus of employees, amid allegations of indecision and political interference on the part of management and the board of trustees. The board is appointed by the federal government.

There’s just no possible way, no matter how hard we try, to answer this question. Maybe it’s just random fluctuation. Maybe our previous confidence in the system was an aberration, and we’re just supposed to have no faith in our public institutions. After all, it’s not like anything has been going on to cause such a slip:

The federal government has refused to give Parliament’s budgetary watchdog copies of the bids that ultimately won nearly $33 billion worth of work for shipyards in Halifax and Vancouver under the government’s national shipbuilding strategy.

Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page had requested the bids submitted by Vancouver’s Seaspan Marine and Halifax’s Irving Shipbuilding as part of a study into one of the massive National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy’s key projects.

(snip)

This isn’t the first time the watchdog has encountered resistance from the federal government. The PBO also famously engaged in a battle with National Defence after the latter refused to co-operate with a PBO study into the F-35 stealth fighter.

The PBO eventually estimated the fighter program would cost about $30 billion, a figure National Defence vehemently rejected. Several reports this week have suggested that an independent assessment of the F-35 program by auditing firm KPMG has put the cost between $30 billion and $40 billion.

Maybe Canadians are just fickle. After all, the “strong, stable majority” that we enjoy is doing an outstanding job of fulfilling its campaign promise of responsibly stewarding the Canadian economy. And the people support them, if the glowing praises of Conservative MPs are to be believed (and why wouldn’t you believe them?):

The government has consistently misled Canadians and is continuing to hide the true cost of the F-35 fighter jets being considered to replace the military’s aging CF-18s, opposition MPs charged Friday.

“I don’t see how the minister of defence [Peter MacKay] can possibly continue in his job,” interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae said. ”He’s basically been a sales spokesperson for Lockheed Martin, the manufacturers of the F-35, since he took office. He’s denigrated and attacked every person in opposition, in the Liberal Party or elsewhere, who has ever raised concerns or questions about this.”

It’s one of those ineffable mysteries, I suppose. After all, Prime Minister Harper and his team clearly respect Canadian democratic traditions, and have been working closely with the opposition to find compromises that work for all Canadians, not just the handful of reactionary nincompoops who voted for them. And the respect they show their colleagues is palpable:

Government House leader Peter Van Loan apologized in the House of Commons Thursday for using an “inappropriate word” during a heated exchange with his NDP counterpart that led to a brief fracas Wednesday on the Commons floor.

In his comments Thursday, Van Loan maintained the NDP shared blame for Wednesday’s commotion and suggested NDP Leader Tom Mulcair also apologize.

Van Loan said he was upset with a procedural move by the NDP that was based on a mistake made the night before by the deputy Speaker, an NDP MP. ”I thought it was inappropriate for the New Democrats to raise a point of order on which they relied on that mistake and somehow suggest it was the responsibility of the government,” Van Loan said Thursday, adding it put him in the difficult position of trying not to criticize the deputy Speaker while defending the government.

And yet, inexplicably, Canadians don’t seem to trust Parliament to make decisions anymore. But why? It seems absurd. What’s wrong with you, Canadians? Can’t you see that this Prime Minister is doing the best job that he and his people are capable of doing? What do you want, a different Prime Minister or something? Pshaw… in order for that to happen, you’d have to demonstrate that this government is incompetent, has been shutting out the opposition, forcing through legislation without an appropriate consultation process, being openly contemptuous of the Parliamentary process, scoffing at the idea of accountability (let’s not forget, this government was voted in on an accountability platform), endlessly repeating trite talking points in the place of actual rational debate, and entertaining wild conspiracy theories about Brazilian anti-Semites whenever their own history of voter fraud was brought up in Parliament. And that would all have to happen in the span of one week.

No, I think we’re better off just scratching our heads and wondering why poll numbers are magic.

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14 comments

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  1. 1
    Valde

    But will this dissatisfaction translate at the polls?

    I worry that Canadians are too busy watching the Kardashians and engaging in cross-border shopping to really give a shit *what* Harper does. Last election I tried to convince a very liberally minded friend of mine to vote against Harper, and he said “the economy’s good, so I will vote Harper”. He did not have a clue how bad Harper was for Canada, and that thanks to Harper, he could end up in jail for the tiny bit of pot he smokes!

    So I am concerned that in 3 years, as long as the economy is decent, Canadians will just re-elect Harper.

    And then there is the problem of all the new electoral districts (which could give Harper an advantage), and vote splitting between the Liberals and the NDP. We could very well have another 40 hears of CPC unless something disastrous happens to the economy!

  2. 2
    michaeld

    “Like Fermat’s last theorem it’s a mystery we may never solve”

    Also as one of the constituents of Pierre Poilievre I’d like to apologize that we keep voting the buffoon into parliament. He is I assure you a continued embarrassment to some of us at least.

  3. 3
    ischemgeek

    Problem isn’t that it won’t translate at the polls, it’s that there’s 1 right-wing party and 3 left-wing national parties as well as the Bloq splitting up the vote in a first-past-the-post system. Thus Harper wins far more than he should if we had truly proportional representation.

    Don’t blame the voters for a broken system.

  4. 4
    Sivi

    Well, the centrists and leftists (seriously, where are you getting “3 left-wing national parties” from?) could form a coalition, but last time that happened the media decided coalitions were somehow aberrant and undemocratic, and Harper basically called the NDP and Liberals traitors for potentially working with the Bloc.

  5. 5
    ischemgeek

    Well, perhaps I should say centre-right-to-centre-left to be more accurate – relative to the Harper Cons, everyone’s left, but the Liberals are really more centre-right nowadays, with the Greens as centrist and the NDP as centre-left thanks to Mulclair. I’m probably further left than the NDP nowadays, and I’m not even that far left.

    However, my point about first-past-the-post stands: It’s a broken system. That the opposition parties could form a coalition to achieve proportionate representation does nothing to excuse the fact that in a functional system, they shouldn’t have to for us to get representation that even remotely resembles the popular vote.

    And my point about not blaming the voters for a broken system also stands.

    And I say the above as someone who’s hoping for a coalition next election since it’s the only way we have even a shadow of a ghost of a chance of kicking Harper out next election unless manages a serious fuckup. And even if he has a major fuckup, with everyone-left-of-Harper as fractured as they are and the opposition parties trying to race each other Right to compete for the Reformite fringe, I’m not holding my breath.

  6. 6
    ischemgeek

    This was meant to be a reply to Sivi above but the reply thing glitched on me.

  7. 7
    Crommunist

    The “left/right” axis doesn’t really illuminate that much about Canadian politics though. The issue is one of authoritarianism vs. Parlimentarianism. The Conservatives are an authoritarian party, with power highly concentrated in the hands of a very small number of people, and everyone else simply repeating talking points.

    You should look into Joyce Murray’s proposal for a one-time co-operation between parties to turf Harper and open up the opportunity for electoral reform.

  8. 8
    ischemgeek

    That is pretty much what I’m hoping for in a nutshell, actually.

    Because so long as the Tories have even 35% of the popular vote and the opposition parties are fractured, they’re pretty much guaranteed a majority. Which is fucking ridiculous. But that’s our system.

    So my daydream is thus: Opposition parties form a one-time coalition before the next election, run one candidate in each riding, then institute something other than first-past-the-post. What, exactly? Well, I’m no political scientist so I’m not sure what electoral system would be best. I do know that first-past-the-post sure as hell isn’t it, though. :)

  9. 9
    Crommunist

    That’s almost exactly what Joyce is proposing: a run-off prior to the election in ridings that are likely to vote-split, to determine the one non-Con candidate with the most support.

    FPTP has its pros and cons, and the Cons are its cons right now.

  10. 10
    F [i'm not here, i'm gone]

    Mysteries of the unexplained! Numinous and spooky, apparently. Ineffable to the max. Can’t explain it!

  11. 11
    maudell

    I think the Conservative’s big touting of “transparency” in 2004 was a huge blow to democracy here. People now just think accountability just doesn’t happen and “they’re all equally awful”. Because sponsorship scandal. It’s sad. Even I must admit, I study poli sci and I’m waaay more aware of what’s happening in the U.S. Somehow, it’s just too depressing (I know it’s not an excuse). And we don’t even have political theatre to stun us away from the dirt.

    There’s so much that could be changed… I wonder if the Parliamentary system still fits our demographics (not that it will change within the next century). If I had a magic wand, I’d think some sort of semi-presidential system (a la Germany) and a MMP electoral system would be much more representative while remaining stable.

    Baah… At least we don’t have “swing provinces” and electoral campaigns 3 years out of 4.

  12. 12
    John Horstman

    This calls for some Claude Rains.

  13. 13
    Valde

    #5 It is a broken system, and I hope that Joyce Murray’s recommendations do in fact come to pass!

    But I will still blame the voters for apathy. During the election, people whose lives would be adversely affected by Harper were still going to vote for him ‘cuz the economy’!

    Infuriating!

    And now we have this new copyright law (we still pay a tax levy on blank cds and dvds, dont we) – so just wait for the lawsuits to start! Fifty people are already being sued, but apparently there are ‘thousands’ on the horizon (though I do suspect that might just be a scare tactic).

  14. 14
    grumpyoldfart

    The 2004 and 2012 questions may have been identical, but what about the preceding questions? They can nudge people in certain directions and if they were changed then that might explain the 20 point drop. Or it may not. I’m only guessing.

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