Fragile and easily lost

As many established and newer democracies continue to flail under strongman leaders and populism, Canada is a beacon of hope. But we, too are vulnerable. Our government institutions, rule of law and the free press have been under attack for more than a decade.
Ironically, after all the berating of our appointed Senate since the time of Preston Manning, it and our constitutional monarchy, seem to be performing best in a world gone mad.
Once elected, Prime Minister Trudeau made a gutsy and masterful move to re-establish the work and importance of the Senate. A constitutional change was not necessary to make the Senate an effective House of sober second thought.
All that was required was the appointment of qualified independent Senators, cutting loose the ‘Liberal’ senators from partisan politics and leaving the Senate to function independently on behalf of regions and less powerful Canadians.
The passage of the cannabis bill was just the latest example of an effective Senate. An extremely testy piece of legislation, with huge implications, was examined and questioned extensively as it wended its way to Royal Assent.
More people had input, the public was better informed and the Bill was improved. But most importantly, the input caused the government to delay implementation giving provinces, police and municipalities much needed time.
Our judiciary branch of government was under attack, including personal attacks on the Chief Justice, wn Stephen Harper was Prime Minister. All pretence that Supreme Court justices should be qualified and non-political was abandoned during his selection process. Legislation was passed to throw out selection criteria allowing unqualified, Marc Nadon, to be nominated by Harper.
Ironically, Harper’s strategy backfired on all fronts. His appointed justices, the majority on the bench, might have been Conservative, but they were justices first.
In the case of Nadon, in a 6 – 1 decision, the Supreme Court disqualified his nomination. Further, many of Harper’s attempts to legislatively undermind the Constitution were soundly overturned by the Supreme Court.
In a secure constitutional democracy, the courts and the government must be distinct institutions.
Harper also took guidance from the Republican Party in the US to throw up road blocks to suppress voter participation.
The Liberals have reversed some of those ill-advised changes, but not all. Conservatives have shown themselves to be more aggressive at underminding democratic institutions, but Liberals aren’t immune from using these tricks either.
Protecting institutions of government is one thing, but the sanctity of a free press is absolute in a functioning democracy. It’s just truly horrifying how politicians, unfortunately so often on the right, attack the free press for the sole reason of de-legitimizing it and propagandizing their base.
Fake news and the demonization of the free press go hand in hand. The Rebel in Canada and Fox News in the United States are simply agents of right-wing parties and governments.
A free press presents both sides of a story and holds power to account. Fake news works for and with power.
When steeped in propaganda, a person easily accepts that the sky is green and grass is blue regardless of the evidence. In this post-truth era, there are no responses or arguments to disinformation that will change a person’s mind and that is the essence of democratic fragility.
As we approach Canada Day, Canadians could be prideful as we watch the US tumble into dysfunction, but always be mindful, our democracy is also under attack.
The only antidote to surviving the attacks is an individual’s willingness to be diligent in disavowing fake news and doing the hard work of personally seeking facts and evidence.

B.P. Schimke
ECA Review

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