Opposition needs a leader of consequence

By Labour Day, Canada will have a leader of the official Opposition. We haven’t had one, really, since Dec. 12 last year, when Andrew Scheer, having lost the Oct. 21 general election, saw the writing on the wall and announced his resignation.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 04/05/2020 (827 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

By Labour Day, Canada will have a leader of the official Opposition. We haven’t had one, really, since Dec. 12 last year, when Andrew Scheer, having lost the Oct. 21 general election, saw the writing on the wall and announced his resignation.

That’s a long time for the country to limp along without a key element of our parliamentary government. In the meantime, the needs of the coronavirus emergency have transformed Canada into a deeply-indebted executive state, run by its federal and provincial ministers and its public-health authorities.

Mr. Scheer dragged his feet after the election, hoping for an upsurge of support within the Conservative Party to help him carry on, but when reports of his personal use of party funds started surfacing he saw the game was up. Then the party acted like it had all the time in the world, scheduling a leadership convention for June.

These accumulated delays left the party at the mercy of events. As a result, the Conservatives gave the ruling Liberals the gift of 10 straight months to run the country without facing a properly authorized and empowered leader of the Opposition.

Adrian Wyld / The Canadian Press Files
Conservative Party of Canada Leader Andrew Scheer dragged his feet after the election, hoping for an upsurge of support within the Conservative Party to help him carry on

The Conservatives will choose their new leader by mail-in ballot in the days after Aug. 21. By the time that leader pulls an administrative team and an inner circle together and begins to have an impact on the national debate, the Liberals will have enjoyed a year in the clear.

The need for an Opposition leader is not entirely evident until the country doesn’t have one. Scattered voices can always be found up and down the country to nag and niggle about the government’s faults and failings. The precious service provided by the leader of the Opposition is to read the mood of the country, sift through the information filtering out of the administration and crystallize the criticisms most Canadians will find legitimate.

When that job is done well, the government has to listen and respond. When it is not done well or not done at all, the government is free to bury complainers under bafflegab, which the departments can generate by the tonne. In this new time of executive government — a parliamentary democracy with no functioning parliament — the public may begin to suspect that the policy imposed upon the country would not stand up to careful scrutiny.

The organized parliamentary opposition is the main protection that stands between the public and arbitrary rule.

The United States achieves limits on the executive by dividing power between the president and Congress, with the Supreme Court arbitrating between them. No such division applies in Canada, because the prime minister commands both the House of Commons, through an electoral majority, and the executive branch.

The organized parliamentary opposition is the main protection that stands between the public and arbitrary rule. Never did Canada need a well-organized, well-directed opposition as urgently as it does now, as more and more power and money falls into the hands of the government.

There is no remedy now for the Conservatives’ long delay in releasing Mr. Scheer and choosing his successor. The party should, however, recognize that it is not just picking an entertainer or an astute tactician. It must find a person of national consequence who will ride herd on the government during the months when the current executive power will be dismantled and parliamentary government will be restored. Canada needs the Conservative Party to rise to this great occasion.

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