As Peter MacKay said at a press conference this week, Parliament Hill is “the beating heart of…uhh…our democracy.” For average Canadians, MacKay’s droning “uhh” sums it up quite nicely. Parliament Hill exists and things happen on it, but the substance and value of Parliamentary activity is often questionable. This week, as allegations of MP harassment “rocked Parliament off its moorings,” it was once again abundantly clear that Canada’s beating heart needs a quadruple bypass.
What’s the deal with the harassment allegations? According to the CBC, almost every detail of the story is unclear or unknown. What we do know is that two female NDP MPs accused two male Liberal MPs, Massimo Pacetti and Scott Andrews, of harassment, and that Justin Trudeau has since kicked both men out of the Liberal caucus until an investigation into their alleged “misconduct” is complete. What do we know about the investigation? At this point, the details of the story swing from unknown to plain stupid.
The Board of Internal Economy, a secret committee that meets behind closed doors to do whatever politicians do (yikes), is conducting an investigation. The committee consists of four Conservative MPs, two NDP MPs, and one Liberal MP, and is tasked with making a non-partisan judgment on a partisan issue. Thankfully, self-proclaimed lame-duck Andrew Scheer is on the committee. The CBC reports that he is “seized with the issue,” so we know that he’ll be as important in committee meetings as the kid who plays a tree is in the elementary school play. Will Conservative MPs use this as an opportunity to smear the opposition parties? What will a man who can’t bring himself to lift a finger in public do behind closed doors? The sad part is that we will never know.
In the wake of these allegations, what we do know is that Parliament is not the saintly institution we never thought it was. According to NDP MP Megan Leslie, it’s a place where “sexual harassment and harassment in general is an issue.” Leslie also says that Parliament is “dusty and dried up,” and that it feels like the institution is “back in another decade.” These are strong words from a strong MP, but they leave one big question unanswered: which decade? It seems appropriate to travel back to the 1620s, when British monarch King Charles prorogued and later dissolved Parliament because he didn’t want to listen to MPs question his policies. Sound familiar?
Despite Leslie’s vague testimony, Peter MacKay isn’t convinced that harassment is so commonplace. He claims that he hasn’t seen harassment on Parliament Hill, and adds that he hasn’t witnessed harassment within the Conservative Party. Of course he hasn’t, because he has never referred to Belinda Stronach as his dog. Obviously, she was no longer in the Conservative Party at the time of an event that never happened. Sure, it probably would have qualified as harassment had MacKay done so, but who are we to police the conditional? Don’t we have a Speaker to do so for us?
No, we don’t. In fact, no one is in charge of this sort of thing. Today, when an allegation of harassment surfaces, the almighty party leader can summarily terminate an MP before referring the matter to a secret tribunal led by a party with an interest in seeing that MP and his former leader take a fall. This is not to say that harassment didn’t happen, but rather that this is not justice. It is unjust because the public has no way to learn the truth, and therefore no way to know if anyone was held accountable for actions that may or may not have taken place. Journalists, starving for facts, must cut through a veil of secrecy in order to learn the most mundane details of what are, by all accounts, serious allegations. Try explaining how this system makes sense.
As serious as it may be, harassment is not the biggest problem here. It is symptomatic of a greater issue: Parliament has become a sort of professional sports league in which people can do things that would be completely unacceptable under normal circumstances. Moreover, these politicians rarely face normal consequences. Our Parliament masquerades as the voice of the people while its members behave in ways that would see most Canadians fired. This is no way to run an office and certainly no way to run a country. Do Canadians value the beating heart of their democracy? If so, with an election on the horizon, it might be time to see a doctor.