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Daniel D. Veniez Headshot

Is Democracy Alive and Well in Canada?

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In April, the Harper government fell because they were found in contempt of Parliament. Never before in our history had that occurred. It came on the heels of five years of parliamentary obstruction and obfuscations.

Winning office on a promise of openness, accountability, and transparency, Mr. Harper's government is widely acknowledged to be one of the most secretive and inaccessible in Canadian history.

Harper ignored his own fixed election date call in 2008, prorogued Parliament twice, made a mockery of his own Accountability Act, made a joke of Access to Information laws, and presided over an unprecedented increase in government spending on flagrantly partisan purposes featuring large cheques with the Conservative Party logo on it.

Harper's government ridiculed independent officers of Parliament, such as Kevin Page, the Parliamentary Budget Officer, and fired heads of arms-length Crown Agencies that refused to tow the line. We lost a seat with Canada's name on it -- to the bankrupt Portugal, no less -- at the United Nations Security Council, diminishing our standing in the world.

And to top it all off, the five year spending spree of the Harper government has left Canada with record deficits and debt and a bloated government.

Sixty-three per cent of Canadians eligible to vote did so, and only 40 per cent of voters elected a majority government on May 2. Many cast ballots for people that they had never heard of and whose qualifications and experience they never bothered to consider, much less investigate.

During the campaign, there were numerous reports of Conservative Party candidates who did not show up for debates. In others, I personally saw incumbents receive one-liners via their Blackberry from campaign handlers in the audience, or stick religiously to their prepared scripts.

In the days following his election triumph, Stephen Harper did something else he promised he wouldn't: He appointed three defeated candidates to the Senate. Two of them had left the Senate only two months before to run for aseat in the Commons, promptly lost, and were immediately reappointed to the Red Chamber.

In the constituency where I ran, nine people stood as candidates. Besides the main parties, the global Green, Marxist and Libertarian "movements" were represented, as were four other single-issue candidates.

The NDP and Green parties did not have a chance of winning, but ran candidates so they could benefit from the perverse incentive of $2.00 per vote subsidy they receive. All of them were given equal time in all-candidate meetings. Voters clearly did not vote for the candidates with their names on the ballot -- notwithstanding their relative fitness for office -- but for the leader and the party they represent.

So next week, our House of Commons -- the paramount institution of our democracy -- will greet new Members of Parliament that had never stepped foot in their ridings, are not fluent in the language of a vast majority of their constituents, have never held a full time job, and who wouldn't know a public policy if their lives depended on it.

The media and others hailed the new configuration of the House of Commons as "refreshing" or finally representing the true make-up of the country.

Canadians often lament the fact that quality people do not stand for public office. Yet they chose to defeat Michael Ignatieff, Martha Hall-Findlay, Gerald Kennedy, Ken Dryden, among many other outstanding Canadians.

If we believe that in a robust democracy we get the government and Parliament we want and deserve, then we should have every reason to feel very content with our collective judgment. But I don't hear anyone cheering with glee at the make-up of our new Parliament. In fact, I detect a degree of detached discomfort and melancholy in the result.

We know that this federal election is far from being a shining illustration of a healthy democracy in action. No one can pretend that it comes close.

Mr. Veniez is a Vancouver-based businessman and was the Liberal Party of Canada's candidate for West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country