Spirit Quest

Spirit Quest

Harper should follow Israel's example of government

By The Rev. Dr. Hanns F. Skoutajan
True North Perspective

01 February 2014 — I received my first lessons in civics in a little red school house (36 pupils, 8 grades, one teacher, one room with potbellied stove in the centre) in the wilds of Saskatchewan north of the prairies. As was the practice with most schools in the province the teacher set up a branch of the Junior Red Cross.

This organization was not to teach how to roll bandages or to administer a variety of minor medical procedures but to raise a few funds and to teach the students the rudiments of parliamentary procedures. Thus at the age of 11 or so I had some sense of how a meeting was to be conducted, to pass motions and, yes, even to amend them. So why is it that most Canadians are still blissfuly ignorant about rules of order insisting that motions be passed before amended rather than the other way round?  At this point I need to emphasize that the Canadian parliamentary system is not run by the American Robert’s Rules of Order but by Burniot, and there is a difference. The latter rules of order are the authoritative manual of parliamentary procedure originally published in 1884.

As university chaplain I often visited the meetings of other ethnic organizations on campus. Attending a meeting of students from Latin America I was impressed by the fact that few had any understanding of parliamentary procedure and indeed, all business seemed to be accomplished by “coups d’etat.”  Undoubtedly that is what they had experienced back home where they did not have a Junior Red Cross.  

Canadians elect their government by the antiquated “first past the post” system of elections, still in effect in the UK, Australia and India, and to some extent in the US where it is complicated by the votes of the Electoral College.

Having just returned from his “love in” with Netanyahu Prime Minister Harper is undoubtedly aware that Israel from its very inception 75 years ago has had a system of proportional representation and thus has never had what Harper has so much coveted, a majority government which can run rough shod over all those other political parties and their opinions.

There are, of course, many different kinds of proportional representation. Roughly stated it means that when 30 per cent of votes are cast for a particular party that party receives that same percentage of seats in the House.

All political leaders long for a majority to institute their unwatered-down agenda, the platform on which they campaigned in the elections. In a minority government there has to be compromise. Parliament has to become a place where members debate the issues rather than grandstand and call each other names and in the end get what the “ruling” party wants.

The recent death of John Matheson, best known as the inventor of the Maple Leaf Flag, reminded me of an incident which I witnessed when he was a member of parliament. One day my spouse and I sat in the visitors gallery of the House. It was on that momentous occasion that the infamous name “Gerda Munsinger” was voiced from across the aisle and pandemonium broke out.

The Munsinger Affair was Canada’s first national political sex scandal. It focused on Gerda Munsinger, an alleged East German prostitute and Soviet spy living in Ottawa who allegedly had slept with a number of cabinet ministers in John Diefenbaker’s government and thus was political dynamite when called to mind in what seemed like a cat-call from the ranks of the opposition.

Later on our way home I saw the lone figure of John Matheson looking very crestfallen on the steps of parliament. I knew him somewhat from our mutual association with Queen’s University. As I approached him I noted that tears were coursing down his cheek. He was devastated by the spectacle in the House and called the episode a “travesty of democracy.”

In many ways what we see in the Commons these days, especially in Question Period, is but a “travesty” of which Canadians can be ashamed.

I do not mean to suggest that any system of proportional representation will solve all problems, sexual or otherwise, but it does mean that parliamentarians and particularly their leaders must be cognizant and respectful of the opinion of other members and their parties. Gone should be such aberrations as the so-called omnibus bills which, like Skylar’s pipe bomb, contain many “goodies” that can wreak mischief by bypassing parliamentary scrutiny and sanction. Gone also should be the government’s heavy handed rule by the Prime Minister’s Office.

My fervent hope is that Prime Minister Harper will have been so impressed by Israel’s democracy, a fact which he reiterated on many occasions in the Knesset and elsewhere, that he will have become an advocate of their system of governance. I look forward to his standing in the House and announcing boldly that “it is crystal clear” our great nation is lagging far behind the political system of Israel, and that at the next election Canadian voters will be truly represented by a system of proportional representation, and to hell with majority rule. (ha!)

I shall not hold my breath until that time. I nevertheless hope that Canadians will find a new and better way of being represented in government soon. I believe that it will resolve many if not all of our problems of governance and make us a more truly democratic nation.

Other writings can be found at MYQUEST

NB: Change of address  fj735@ncf.ca