In response to concerns raised about the recent introduction of mystery bills in the Manitoba legislature, Premier Pallister had this to say:
We’re ready to play nice, but we’re also the elected government of Manitoba, so I would encourage the Opposition not to try to pretend that they are the government. They are not.Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister
The statement gives us some insight into Pallister’s approach to governance and his disrespect for our electoral and government systems.
The Pallister administration has introduced 19 bills that have no content save for titles. The bills were tabled in early November, 2020 and are due to go to second reading later this month. Pallister justified this by blaming it on the NDP because they “blockaded” (Pallister’s words) last spring’s budget process. Apparently, in order to get their current agenda through, the PCs need to reduce debate by not publishing the content of the bills.
Read that again. The Progressive Conservative Party is intentionally undermining our democracy because they don’t like debate.
The bills cover some important ground including healthcare, education, and childcare. To pass the bills through the legislature they will have to be revealed at some point before the second reading but it isn’t clear when they will be published. It leaves very little time for debate, both in public and in the Legislature.
Manitoba’s laws do not specify when a bill’s text must be published but it is traditional at all levels in Canadian governments to make bills available well in advance. This is a disturbing precedent.
What is “government” anyway? Colloquially we use the term to identify the body that has been elected to govern an administrative region. That is a convenient shortcut to describe a more nuanced situation and Pallister’s simplistic interpretation of government is a serious problem.
Government of the people, by the people, for the peopleAbraham Lincoln
Government, the political system by which a country or community is administered and regulated.Brittanica
We often forget this one simple truth; We, the citizens, are the government and this is what “by the people” means. Those that we elect to govern are our representatives in the act of governance and we do not surrender power to them.
The 18 NDP and 3 Liberal members of Manitoba’s Legislative Assembly are, as representatives of people of this province, just as much a part of the government as are the 36 PC members. They have a responsibility to their constituents to read bills, get feedback from constituents, debate, and contribute to good governance.
In two sentences Mr. Pallister has revealed what he thinks of democracy. Disenfranchising over half of the province’s electoral body (the PCs received 47% of the popular vote) while claiming absolute power isn’t acceptable.
How is this Helping?
Mr. Pallister claims that he wants to play nicely but the NDP are making it to hard to get the work done. Yes, it is very possible that the NDP have made things difficult for the PCs, but that is their job.
We need to ask Pallister how he expects this to help? If the NDP have become more vocal as part of their role as the opposition, how is creating secret bills and limiting debate on bills going to help tone down the partisanship?
The short answer is that it isn’t.
This is a direct attack on democracy. It stifles discussion. It makes the public suspicious about what is in these bills and it damages trust. This is an experiment in anti-democracy that will increase hyper-partisanship and that will, in turn, increase voter apathy.
Speaking of Trust
Don’t. You can’t trust any administration that believes they have a right to pass legislation without public scrutiny.
There are persistent rumours that the Pallister administration is looking at selling off chunks of Manitoba’s public trust. We hear rumors of privatizing some or all of Manitoba Hydro, bits and pieces of Manitoba’s Provincial Parks, and further privatization of our healthcare system.
People in southeast Manitoba are looking on at the CanWhite Sands proposal with concern. Pallister’s administration seems to be doing everything they can to help CanWhite move forward without an independent environmental review from Environment Canada.
These things belong to the people of Manitoba and not to the Progressive Conservative Party. Hydro was built and paid for by generations of Manitobans. Manitoba’s cherished Provincial Parks have been built and nurtured by Manitobans. Our healthcare system is part of that public trust and the security of our drinking water should be in our hands.
These things are not Pallister’s to dispense with as he pleases without scrutiny and debate.
A Wider Perspective
We’re facing a crisis in trust in democracy and it is a fragile thing. Mystery bills, the WE scandals, the SNC-Lavalin debacle and the growing depth of hyper-partisanship. We just have to look across our southern border to see how bad it can get when a democratic system slips into arrogance and self-service.
It is our opinion that the top-heavy systems that regularly awards majority governments with minority votes are a serious problem. They encourage the kind of thinking that makes Mr. Pallister think it is okay to abuse the principles our systems are founded on.
It is further evidence that we need serious reform in our electoral systems so that every vote counts. We need to pull the power out of the siloed offices of Premiers and Prime Ministers and put it back in the hands of our representatives and, thus, to the voters. We need proportional representation so that an arrogant leader can’t simply claim the government belongs to him.
It doesn’t and it never has.
The government belongs to us.