is often described as Canada's true national theatre. If this season's
opening performances are any indication, the country is set for
a repertoire of high tragedy and low comedy.
for a party returned to government on its record, the Liberals have
kept to the script of deficit elimination. It is, for the time being,
an appropriate, if quickly realised policy.
The disappointment is that the only reply the
opposition parties have been able to muster is the usual tired chorus.
From the right, Reform and the Conservatives call for tax cuts and
less spending. From the left, the NDP calls for more spending and
higher taxes. Somewhere behind the curtain, the Bloc is rehearsing
This is not a debate of ideas, much less of
competing visions. This is little more than the dull roar of egos
exhaling themselves. The dramatic irony is that the actors seem
blissfully unaware that the more they mouth these lines, the less
attention the audience pays.
The coming fiscal surplus begs far deeper questions
than what incremental adjustments can be made to taxes or programme
funding. It should give Canada pause to re-evaluate the very definition
of the state.
The world is fast changing beyond all recognition.
If our values as Canadians are to survive, to continue finding meaningful
expression in society, the form and function of government will
have to change faster still.
In an era of globalisation and yet of civic
identity increasingly rooting itself at the regional and community
levels, what is the appropriate role of a national government? What
do Canadians need from their government and what do they expect
of it? Where does the government now best serve the public interest
by direct intervention, by regulation, by moral leadership, or by
inaction? How can the government work with the market to achieve
social objectives without distorting either? What national enterprise
can the government constructively embrace that will foster a shared
The country and the government itself need an
intelligent parliamentary opposition to ensure that the answers
are sought in an atmosphere of vigorous and broadly based debate.
By failing to even ask the questions, the opposition parties have
shown themselves unequal to their duty.
The danger to the opposition parties themselves
is that they will tumble further into irrelevancy. The danger to
the government is that its agenda will be shaped by a sterile discourse,
leaving the real business of the nation undone. The danger to Canada
is that Parliament will wake to this reality too late.
In any democracy, we never receive the governance
we deserve; we get the governance we demand. If Canada is to escape
the peril of an irrelevant parliamentary process, ordinary Canadians
must force the debate from which our Loyal Opposition shrinks.
Until then, too many parliamentarians will remain
content with the sound and fury of Question Period, yearning after
little more than the sound-bite that will survive into the evening
news. Outside the windowless theatre of the Commons, the drama of
history is passing them by.