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Calling Harper "Not Canadian" Makes Elizabeth May Ignorant

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I'll give Elizabeth May credit for one thing: she puts her opinions on the record. Since her 2006 election as Green Party boss, she's written a couple books and dozens of editorials -- including many for this site. You can tweet her and she'll likely tweet back. She updates her own Facebook page and runs her own blog.

In short, she's one of the least guarded figures in contemporary Canadian politics. Which is great for her critics -- we'll never be starved for ammunition.

Last Thursday Elizabeth May wrote an editorial for HuffPo Canada that's so appallingly hateful, ignorant, and just plain dopey it has to be read to be believed. To say it's beneath the dignity of a supposed "major party leader" would be too generous. It's beneath the stuff you find under rotting linoleum.

Its origins were classic May. During a Wednesday interview with Global News, the Green leader stated (in an obvious moment of flippancy -- I had " virtually no sleep," she later lamely explained) that the prime minister of Canada was "not Canadian" because his political ideas differed from her own. This casual bit of chauvinistic name-calling prompted an immediate backlash on social media. But May doubled down and penned a 1,200 word defense of the Harper-ain't-Canadian thesis.

May's line of reasoning -- to the extent her argument is linear or contains reason -- goes like this:

When the PM was a university student, he once attended what May describes as "Young Republican summer camp south of the border." This formative experience filled lil' Harper's soft head with the glories of Americana, and caused him to be "drawn to a different system" than our own. And now his American dream motivates him to run Canada as a dictatorship.

Seriously, that's her argument.

May presents a lengthy list of Harper's crimes against the "Westminster Parliamentary system," most of which are either flatly untrue ("Harper was found guilty of contempt of parliament in refusing to turn over the documents in the Afghan detainee matter" -- no, this never happened), naive ("first prime minister to run a system of rigid party discipline in parliamentary committees"), or completely insane and unprovable ("first prime minister to visibly chafe at the reality that he is not head of state" -- who keeps the stats on prime ministerial chafing?), on the pretext that that good, patriotic, Canadian prime ministers never engage in such tyrannical behaviour -- only traitorous closet-American ones.

Or something. Drawing on her status as an American émigrée (a background she claims to be unashamed of, but almost never mentions unprovoked), May gushes that she's always "loved that we have a system of government premised on respect for traditions."

"If not for self-restraint in the exercise of powers," she adds, "a prime minister could become a virtual dictator." This is a bizarre caveat, but more on that later.

Like him or hate him, it's breathtakingly ignorant of Canadian political and constitutional history to assert that Harper's authoritarian style of rule reflects a unprecedented break from the Canadian norm, as opposed to the norm itself.

In his 2001 book on Canadian government, unambiguously titled The Friendly Dictatorship, Jeffrey Simpson described an "imperial prime ministership"  in which the PM "is the Sun King around whom all revolves." His main frame of reference was the Liberal administration of Jean Chretien.

A few decades earlier, Peter Brimelow's 1986 book The Patriot Game, observed the Mulroney and Trudeau governments presiding over "a relentless reduction in the powers and privileges of Parliament" in which "the balance between the executive and legislative branches that so impressed the philosophes has also disappeared."

Hell, back in 1891 the traveling Scottish essayist Goldwin Smith summarized in his book, Canada and the Canadian Question, that the political system under John A. MacDonald was a "government of the Boss, by the Boss, and for the Boss."

While we can debate specific tactics of the Harper government, the fact that our PM heads a autocratic administration that undermines MP independence, suppresses parliamentary debate, rams through legislation, and channels executive power to a narrow clique of unelected sycophants is simply the standard reality of Canada's poorly-designed and excessively top-heavy political system.

 The underlying root of such dysfunction is not undue veneration of the United States, which possesses (and it's absurd one even has to emphasize this) a constitution that starkly separates presidential power from that of Congress and requires legislative approval for most executive desires, but rather the gushy fantasies of parliamentary fetishists like May, who hype the superiority of an alternative system any five-year-old could foresee is doomed to fail: a self-policing tyranny in which the benevolence of the man at the top represents the only safeguard against misrule.

May's romantic dream that Canadian government is based around honoring "fundamental notions of the supremacy of Parliament, constitutional monarchy, representative democracy in which every MP is the equal of the other and the prime minister is merely 'first among equals'" is not, nor has ever been, an accurate summary of how the Canadian constitution actually works.

It wasn't true when Lester Pearson imposed cloture on the House of Commons to change the flag, it wasn't true when Pierre Trudeau put Quebec under martial law, it wasn't true when Brian Mulroney stacked the Senate to pass the GST, it wasn't true when Jean Chretien prorogued parliament to escape heat from the Somalia inquiry, and it wasn't true when Paul Martin ignored a vote of no-confidence to dodge an election.

Indeed, for all of May's ugly anti-Republican conspiracy theories, it's her exaggerated veneration of her adopted homeland that embodies the American mentality that actually threatens this country; the self-loathing idea that the United States is a nation so monstrous and wicked it has nothing to teach, and that "checks and balances" are a hideous Yankee heresy, rather than the sort of practical reform Canada's system desperately needs.

In that sense, Harper's greatest sin may be that he's not American enough. 

Elizabeth May sure isn't.

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