Friday, 28 December 2012

The Chief and the Prime Minister: Competing Conceptualizations of Sovereignty and the Canadian State

**Disclaimer** This post deals with an incredibly sensitive issue and, as is often the case, there is the potential for misunderstanding or, more often, blind misinterpretation. My intention here is not necessarily to take sides but to understand each of the sides in turn. There is more involved than simply the personalities of leaders. Rather there are fundamental differences between two conceptions of the Canadian state and the relationship between governments. This post merely attempts to elucidate these historic positions as a way to explain the reluctance of the Prime Minister to meet with Chief Theresa Spence and of the Chief to meet with the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs.These are differences which are fundamental yet, I think, entirely overlooked by both sides and the media.

There is much hyperbole explaining the reasons why Prime Minister Stephen Harper has – continuously – refused to meet with Chief Theresa Spence. The facile response has been to hurl invective or to make broad accusations of racism. This is entirely unhelpful. Certainly the Prime Minister operates within a political system resting on a foundation of colonialism and racism. These structures cannot simply be torn down. Moreover, there are more fundamental and practical reasons. Not everything can be reduced to racism. Indeed, it is not a sufficient factor. There is more going on here.

Thursday, 27 December 2012

"Democracy or Harper" or: why are you still listening to that page?

In a culture where Malcolm Gladwell is a bestselling author, the bar for whom or what captivates our attention is set considerably low. A host of figures are lifted up as authorities quite inexplicably. Their status provides a soapbox from which these individuals speak and a ready-made audience willing to hang on every word. They suddenly have access to a range of media outlets from print to television. Their musings are transmitted via blog and disseminated via Twitter. Status gives weight to the message.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Peter MacKay and the Slow, Agonizing Death of Responsible Government

At the core of the Canadian system of Parliament government is said to be the basic principle of responsible government wherein the political executive is held to account for its conduct before a popularly elected legislative assembly. The Canadian experiment with responsible government emerged largely out of a desire to seize control of the public purse by taking discretionary spending decisions out of the hands of the appointed governor – then responsible to the Imperial Parliament at Westminster – and placing them more broadly within the democratic control of the colony’s assembly. In short, while the concept has since morphed and expanded to encompass a broader conceptualization of accountability, it remains at its core a system primarily concerned with ensuring accountability over spending. Funds for the executive and its programs are issued from Parliament and it is here that a ministry must account for itself.