A requiem for our Democracy?

The other day, one of the more interesting progressive bloggers was discussing what he perceived as the three eras of Canada’s democracy. To discuss the three eras that interested him, he really needed to start with Canada at the end of the First World War. The reality is that Canada left its childhood behind when dispensing with R.B. Bennett and came of age under the leadership of William Lyon Mackenzie King.

But the writer was absolutely right to key his eras of democracy to prime ministers John Diefenbaker, Lester Pearson and Pierre Trudeau. Mackenzie King only laid the groundwork. Maybe neither of us is old enough to remember what Mackenzie King accomplished for this country. We are both old enough though to remember John Diefenbaker and the great populist that he was. He tended to drive Mr. Pearson to distraction but he was the best opposition leader this country ever had.

Having met and talked privately with the three leaders is part of an interesting life. Mr. Diefenbaker was old-school and a very courteous gentleman. Mr. Pearson was also very much a gentleman and he had a warm sense of humour. It was Pearson, more than any other, who created the favourable world-wide reputation of Canada that Harper and his Conservatives are trying so hard to destroy.

Mind you, helping with many of Pierre Trudeau’s public functions in the Toronto area when he was prime minister was a special delight. He was by far the most intelligent of Canada’s leaders and always fun to talk with.

But what the blogger was addressing was the tearing down of our democracy in the Mulroney era. Mind you the seeds of that destruction came from Pierre Trudeau’s Royal Commission on Economic Union and Development Prospects for Canada—The Macdonald Commission.

Prime Minister Brian Mulroney was something of a blow-hard who used subterfuge and guile to destroy and replace Joe Clark and he was leading Canada nowhere other than under the economic control of the Americans. It was right-wing Don Macdonald who saw his chance to convince Mulroney of free trade with his report. Maybe Thumper (as we called the Trudeau’s former finance minister) was not to blame for the mess Mulroney made of the deal but he should have recognized the incompetence.

To accuse Mulroney of neo-liberalism is to give the guy too much credit. He might not understand the term. And it is almost impossible to define Jean Chrètien as he always seemed to be a populist—a French Canadian version of John Diefenbaker.

If we understand the term ‘illiberal’ that the writer used, we will certainly apply it to both Paul Martin and Stephen Harper. They have set Canada on a path of increasing discomfort for Canadians. If we progressive liberals really believe in democracy, we have to fight for it.

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