Saturday, 19 November 2011

The meaning of "responsible government"

Do you remember that Canadian Heritage Moment clip on "responsible government"? If you haven't seen the clip here is a link:

One of the books I'm reading right now is John Stuart Mill's, On Liberty, that has got me thinking on many different issues but most importantly on how, in my view, the Western public institutions have slowly but surely been hi-jacked by monied lobbyists and corporate interests, to wit: how the deliberate absence of good public policies is being used against the long-term interests and sustainability of our Western democracies.

What I'm referring to here are examples like politicians in the US and insider trading piece that I saw recently in one of American investigative reportage tv shows (I forget which); the lack of a national energy policy in Canada (the oil companies in Alberta have an ideological allergy to the word "policy" and prefer "strategy" instead, but they would like it better if there was no discussion what-so-ever on the issue) and the "crisis" brought about by Obama's decision to hold off on a decision on the Keystone xl pipeline project; the deregulation of air travel safety in the interest of cost-saving initiatives at the federal level; the second- and third- chances for envornmental impact reviews of resource extraction like BC's prosperity mines; the perpetual inaction on the third world conditions in most aboriginal communities (provinces say that it is the federal gov't's responsibility and the fed.s say it is a provincial matter, while both suggest that the aboriginal issue is a fiscal black-hole); etc. etc.

John Stuart Mill talked about "oppression" through [unexamined] public opinion. I put "unexamined" here because I think he also suggested that "public opinion" itself is not an evil but the type that is not open to public debate and challenge. The lack of discourse on a national policy on energy is an example of a creeping in of sleep-walking through public policy by default. NDP sent its representatives to Washington but the neo-cons raised cain saying that NDP has no right to represent Canada on the matter - these "anti-pipeline, eco-socialist-nutcases". The NDP took pains to point out that it is not anti-pipeline but that the discussion should include and be side-by-side with "green energy" policy considerations.

Mill suggests rightly that the tyrannical impulse is best kept in check by active engagement in the political discourse not the silencing of divergent and dissenting voices: "The steady habit of correcting and completing his own opinion by collating it with those of others, so far from causing doubt and hesitation in carrying it into practice, is the only stable foundation for a just reliance on it: for, being cognizant of all that can, at least obviously, be said against him, and having taken his position against all gain-sayers -- knowing that he has sought for objections and difficulties, instead of avoiding them, and has shut out no light which can be thrown upon the subject from any quarter -- he has a right to think his judgement better than that of any person, or any multitude, who have not gone through a similar process."

I think that public policies, especially of a "responsible government" as Canada's, deserve the same considerations as what a "wise person" actively subjects his thoughts and opinions to as above. The Harper government is a dangerous development in Canadian politics, the same as the rise of the Tea Party in the US, not because it is, in its own eyes, "militaristic", and "exceptional" and "privileged" in its place in history but because for the self-same reasons of tyrannical and oppressive opinions that is a corporate bubble of reality, self-justifying and self-reinforcing as it is. Even the catholic church "the most intolerant of churches" has a "devil's advocate" in the canonization of its saints: "The holiest of men, it appears, cannot be admitted to posthumous honours, until all that the devil could say against him is known and weighed."


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