Months ago, the CRA began auditing environmental charities that it claimed might have violated rules limiting political activity. Sure, they could have gone after the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, but that would have been incredibly counter-intuitive in this political climate. Orange is the new black, and black is the new green, so it made sense to target the anti-pipeline folks exclusively. Whether logical or not, orange wasn’t too fond of that decision. The NDP suspected that the CRA’s audit orders might have had political ties, so the party introduced a motion to launch a probe into the CRA’s activities. On Tuesday, the House of Commons finance committee rejected the motion. Go ahead and breathe a sigh of relief- that was democracy in action.
Where would we be without democracy? Likely somewhere back in the 8th or 9th century, eking out a meager existence punctuated by wars, famines, plagues, and periods of bad leadership (at least now we only need to deal with…many of them). Democracy, which any Canadian can infer comes from the Greek demos, meaning “rule by”, and kratia, meaning “virtual dictator”, was our ticket out of that mess. Anyway, democracy is great! It’s the reason why Canadians enjoy trivial formalities like opposition motions in secret committees, and limited debate of omnibus legislation that will dramatically alter the fabric of our society. But don’t take it for granted. We could lose all of this.
Still, as good as all that sounds, democracy also has a darker side. For example, in this case, it allows a small majority of MPs to exercise total control. Simply because they hold a majority of the seats in the House of Commons, Conservative members form the majority of the House finance committee. They can support or reject motions as they like, whether for legitimate or illegitimate reasons, and they don’t even have to consider having a meaningful discussion before doing so. The committee meeting about the NDP motion lasted only 30 minutes. Call it whatever you like: efficient, a big load of BS, or democracy obstructing justice. That isn’t to say that the CRA is conducting politically motivated audits, but rather that it seems odd that the CRA can conduct audits of charities when it has no evidence that they are out of line, yet the citizens of Canada can’t hire an independent investigator to see if the CRA is out of line. Worse: we can’t even expect a Parliamentary committee to entertain the request.
In our Parliamentary system, we elect one of two houses of government. If a particular leader charms our pants off, we elect a majority government, and it can do as it pleases for four or five years. For it’s part, our current majority government thinks it is “shameful” to consider that the CRA’s activities were politically motivated. It’s smart and savvy to investigate environmental charities, but shameful to investigate the investigator. Call it faith-based governance…it’s a synonym for dangerous, and it seems to be the status quo in Ottawa until October 2015 or later.
According to a CBC report, Conservative MP Gerard Keddy tried to put the matter to rest by reassuring everyone that there was no need to worry about the audits. If anything, he said, the audits were a good thing because, “the fact that some entities are being audited shows the system works,” and “the whole system is set up with checks and balances to make sure the integrity of the system is intact.” Forget that he didn’t address the real issue here- Keddy speaks wise words. If only we could apply them to Parliamentary committees, our government, and our democracy.