I don’t wish to panic any US citizens living near the northern border, but the Canadian government has collapsed. This is only a temporary condition; a new government is expected to be in place in about six weeks. Still, one hopes the immediate prospect of anarchy doesn’t cause widespread panic — or, Heaven forbid, require immediate US military airstrikes to ensure Canadian “democracy” remains intact.
All kidding aside, today’s collapse, prompted by a 156-145 vote of no-confidence in the House of Commons, brings about the fourth Canadian general election in the last seven years. The past three elections (2004, 2006, and 2008) failed to produce a majority in the House for any political party. Conservative Party leader Stephen Harper formed the last two minority governments, and early polling data suggests he has a chance to win a majority this time around.
The three opposition parties teamed up to defeat Harper’s minority government after claiming “that the government is in contempt of Parliament, which is unprecedented in Canadian parliamentary history.” This refers to an earlier report from a House of Commons committee detailing the government’s failure to answer a number of requests for information about government spending and revenue projections. Among other items, the House wanted the estimated costs of 65 new warplanes, the estimated and final costs of last year’s G-8/G-20 summits; and projections of corporate profits and effective tax rates for the next five years. The Harper government refused to provide all of the requested information, citing “cabinet confidence” — the Canadian equivalent of “executive privilege.” The House Speaker disagreed — citing parliament’s right to receive any information it deems necessary to conduct legislative business — and a majority of the House’s internal procedures committee agreed.
Obviously, the Conservatives disagree. John Baird, the government’s floor leader, defiantly told the House that the contempt report was the product of “an opposition-stacked committee, who used the tyranny of the majority to get the predetermined outcome they wanted.” Baird added that it was the three opposition parties “who demonstrated real contempt for Parliament” by bringing down the government and “forcing an unnecessary election.”
Baird’s complaint about “the tyranny of the majority” emphasizes just how much this was a minority government. As I noted after the 2008 federal election, the “victorious” Conservative candidates only received about 38% of the total vote in an election where only 60% of eligible electors participated. That means 62% of participating voters — and almost 85% of the total Canadian population — never consented to the “tyranny of the minority” represented by Harper and the Conservatives. Yet now Baird complains about being blindsided for his own government’s failure to be held accountable by the majority.
While I have little doubt the opposition parties used the “contempt” issue as a pretext for forcing an early election, it does expose the ongoing problem for all “democratic” governments in the age of open information. “Transparency” is a buzzword associated with all sorts of good-government movements. But it’s something of a libertarian Trojan horse. No government can ever be transparent, for that would rob of it of its very substance. All monopoly government is predicated on the ability to actively mislead and misdirect the majority — the public — away from the truth, whether it’s political truth, economic truth, or personal truth. Even government attempts at transparency are themselves usually little more than misdirection by another name. One can be transparent in such a way as to satisfy most inquisitors while revealing nothing that compromises the basic pillars of the state.
Even the forthcoming Canadian election is a sham. One of three things will likely happen: The Conservatives get a slight majority and reform the government, the Conservatives finish first but are forced to firm the country’s fourth consecutive minority government, or the Conservatives finish first but the three opposition parties form a “coalition” to wrest control of the government. None of these outcomes alter the basic truth: The Canadian political system is heavily fractured between various rent-seeking factions that wish to control the state’s machinery for their own benefit.
Of course, the election will be presented as some great clash of ideas. John Ibbitson of the establishment Globe and Mail is already spinning the contest as a battle of “ideas” pitting the compassionate Liberal Party against the minimalist — and yes, “libertarian” — Harper Conservatives:
Mr. Harper is, in his bones, a libertarian: educated at the University of Calgary, where those minimalist principles are warmly viewed; first elected to Parliament as a Reformer; once the head of the National Citizens’ Coalition. He comes as close as any prime minister ever has to embracing the concept of the night-watchman state.
The term refers to those who believe that the duty of government is to guard the borders, patrol the streets and enforce contracts. In all other matters, the individual should be free to pursue his own ends, unfettered by government restraint. Mr. Harper does not believe those are the only priorities of government, but he does believe they should be its first priorities.
“The first duty of a national government, everywhere and always, is to protect its people, and its territory, from external threats,” he often says.
That is why the Conservatives have spent so much money on rebuilding the military, why they want to acquire the F-35 fighter jets, why they focus so heavily on toughening crime legislation, why they are so keen to eliminate the long-gun registry.
Libertarian readers of this website may be surprised to learn that their philosophy is associated with lavish military spending — especially for a country with a peaceful border and no specific enemies. Harper wouldn’t even qualify as a minarchist/Objectivist; Ibbitson himself notes the Conservatives have increased all types of government spending during its five years in power.
The F-35 issue seems to be a focal point — and not just in Canada. Bob Cox reported today in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that US House Republicans are battling with the Pentagon over the new plane’s development. The Pentagon, backed by noted warmongerer Joe Lieberman, want to award a sole-source contract for the F-35′s engines to Pratt & Whitney. House Republican leaders want the Pentagon to continue considering a rival engine design from General Electric. The prospect of higher costs due to a sole-source contract apparently prompted Canadian legislators to question their government’s commitment to the F-35 in the first place:
[P]olitical opponents of Harper have for months questioned his administration’s plans to buy 65 F-35s beginning as early as 2012. Prodded at least in part by Boeing, they have said a formal competition should have been held to select Canada’s next warplane.
Canada’s F-35 critics received potent new ammunition two weeks ago in a report from the Parliamentary Budget Officer. The report projects that Canada’s costs for buying, maintaining and operating 65 of the aircraft would be $29.3 billion, 66 percent more than the Department of National Defense estimate of $17 billion.
So Harper wants some expensive new toys while making friends with US defense contractors and he wouldn’t answer parliamentary questions about the actual costs. That’s not a libertarian or minimalist government position.
Of course, if the Liberal Party regains power, they’ll just take the money that Harper would have wasted on warplanes and waste it on something to satisfy one of their constituencies. Elections for monopoly governments are not battles of ideas; they’re battles over spoils. Ideally there are only two parties of record, so one side has to “win” a majority and thus manufacture legitimacy. It’s a lot trickier when you have four parties like Canada.