Fate of Canadian democracy in the hands of Conservative backbenchers

Well, Stephen Harper finally got what he wanted: a strong Conservative majority with himself firmly entrenched at its controls. No longer will the opposition parties be able to gang up on him and find his government in contempt when it refuses to explain what it’s up to.

It’s the scenario that Harper’s foes have dreaded for years. As long as every one of his 166 fellow Conservatives votes with him, Harper can pretty much do what he wants between now and the next election. There’s certainly nothing opposition MPs can do to stop him.

Now, I don’t buy the caricatures of Harper. I don’t think he’s going to turn out to be some sort of demon who was just waiting to unleash his devilish plot on an unsuspecting Canada. Rather, my worry is that old maxim about how absolute power corrupts absolutely.

So here’s hoping  -now that he has the power he so desperately craved- that Harper wields it responsibly and takes care not to let it go to his head, lest he start abusing it.

But in case Harper does develop an emperor-complex or a Liberal-like sense of entitlement to the spoils of the prime minister’s office, the other 166 Conservative MPs who prop him up in the House of Commons need to be prepared to stand up to him. Because the only way a Harper initiative can be defeated is if 13 Conservatives vote against him.

Now I grant you this is an unlikely scenario. It’s also quite undesirable. Its probably something Conservative MPs want to avoid at all costs as it would bring their government tumbling down and throw their party into disarray. But I do hope that those backbenchers who didn’t make it into cabinet realize they have a role to play in making sure the absolute power bestowed by a majority is used responsibly.

It’s up to them to keep the PM and his inner-circle in check, by not acting as a rubber stamp and subjecting government proposals to scrutiny. Admittedly most of the time that will have to mean quiet, respectful and private scrutiny, but scrutiny nonetheless.

I know it sounds corny but Conservative backbenchers really are the guardians of Canadian democracy. While they were given a mandate to implement the Conservative platform, they were ultimately elected to represent the interests of their constituents, not the interests of the Prime Minister.

And if at some point those interests should clash, it will be up to them to make the right choice.

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