When Justin Trudeau said last week that he had a “level of admiration” for China’s “basic dictatorship,” the understandable knee-jerk reaction from some politicians and pundits was to kick the federal Liberal leader.
But while that gaffe was reprehensible, it was hardly incomprehensible given the structure of our own political system, the parties within it and how some Canadians feel about dictatorships.
Don’t misunderstand me: the extreme repressiveness of China’s government — with its fetters on rights, freedoms and expression — is indefensible and, I believe, foreign to our values.
But even at first blush, the temptations of a dictatorship for some Canadian politicians should be obvious.
For Trudeau, its a political system that he believes is allowing China to “turn their economy around on a dime and say ‘we need to go green fastest…we need to start investing in solar.”
It’s a system where a government and its leaders can potentially act without being frustrated by or even considering public opinion or political opposition.
That’s why it’s so seductive.
Nevertheless, in response to Trudeau’s statement — which was first reported by Sun News — NDP leader Thomas Muclair was quoted by the news outlet as saying, “I’m not a big fan of dictatorships. I rather prefer democracies. I don’t understand how someone can say that their favourite government was a dictatorship, frankly.”
But, frankly, I can’t understand how Mulcair — just one of many who piled on the Liberal leader — can’t understand that.
To be sure, the abuses that China’s government has inflicted on its own people have been denounced by governments and human rights advocates worldwide.
But we should also consider the defects and deficiencies of our own political system, which Mulcair and Trudeau are part of.
Canada’s leaders often enjoy extraordinary powers within their own parties — punishing dissent, rewarding loyalty, making decisions in private and expecting obedience in public.
For example, according to the Canadian Press, when NDP MPs Bruce Hyer and John Raferty voted to abolish the long-gun registry, interim party leader Nycole Turmel punished them.
Postmedia News described those punishments as being their removal from any critic roles or committee memberships, as well being muzzled from making statements or asking questions in the House of Commons.
Thanks to that kind of party discipline, majority governments enjoy extraordinary powers in Canada’s legislatures — circumscribed by the rule of law and regular elections.
Of course, there’s an extremely long march between the polite problems of our own political system and the brutality of China’s administration, which has tortured, jailed and executed dissidents rather than just suspending or expelling them from caucus.
Still, if Mulcair really can’t understand how someone can say that their favourite government was a dictatorship, he must not know how Canadians feel about that subject.
A case in point: in 2006, the World Values Survey found Canadians overwhelmingly believe it’s important the country is governed democratically.
But the survey’s 2,059 respondents were also asked, during in-home interviews, what they would think if experts — rather than the government — made the political decisions in this country.
Almost 40 percent said they thought it would be a very good or fairly good way of running Canada.
But, perhaps even more surprisingly, 21.2 percent gave the same response when asked about having a “strong leader who does not have to bother with parliament and elections.”
And that’s just counting those who answered the question honestly.
After all, if we were to be honest with one another, just how much of a democrat are you?
Would you cast aside public opinion and political opposition if it meant bringing into law a bill that would dramatically reduce pollution, crime, terrorism, unemployment or homelessness?
What happens when the will of the people compromises another principle you believe in?
Just how much of an admirer would you be of “basic dictatorship” then?
So. Did the NDP have those dissidents on the long gun registry arrested in the night and shot? For an independent investigative journalist, you’ve made a textbook (and gross) case of false equivalency.
Thanks for the comment Peter. But in the column I clearly state, “There’s an extremely long march between the polite problems of our own political system and the brutality of China’s administration, which has tortured, jailed and executed dissidents rather than just suspending or expelling them from caucus.” So, by no stretch of the imagination am I suggesting a direct equivalency between the NDP’s actions and what happens in China.
For me the process of how we get to decisions and laws is much more important than the results.
People see what the problems are in our system but do not see the extent of the problems in a dictatorship. In the case of China, the country refuses to allow free reporting of conditions in the country, it also will not allow accurate statistics to be kept.
There are no good examples of dictatorships being able to govern well, to govern as well as a democracy. Dictatorships may make political decisions ‘easier’ but people forget they are inherently corrupt and there is no recourse for fair justice. Governance is so much more than just the elected politicians.
Every time a dictatorship comes to an end we find out that conditions were much worse than expected and that the public image of the dictatorship was no more than propaganda.
The worst democracy remains a better place for honest people to live in than the best dictatorship.
I couldn’t agree more Bernard.
The polite problems our system has simply beg for a different system (PR, mixed PR, etc). While I can agree that its a long-march to make such a direct China/NDP comparison, few will care. The fact that you put ‘dictatorship’ and the NDP on the same plain is flatly inappropriate. One, the regime the NDP is being compared to (in your “long march” interpretation) murders dissidents, crushes opposition, bully’s its international neighbours (Taiwan?) and doesn’t play fair in international trade/commerce matters. How on earth is that on the same plain as the NDP? Its not a long march, its not even the same path.
I truly appreciate your comments Peter…and I can see your perspective. But all I can do is reiterate my original position. In addition, speaking specifically about the NDP’s decision to punish Hyer and Raferty, please don’t mistake me. I would strongly argue most of Canada’s political parties have behaved the same way at one point or another. So I’m not meaning to imply the NDP is alone in taking such actions.
I just thought of something Peter – and perhaps this will make things clearer (or not).
The intent of this column is to explore some of the reasons why Trudeau said what he did, as opposed to just ridiculing his gaffe.
After all, he’s far from the first politician to make controversial comments about China’s form of government.
Consider this example, courtesy of Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson.
I think that may some something about who we are as a people, as well as the system under which our politicians operate.
Trudeau’s opinion didn’t just come from nowhere and I think it does a disservice to treat it that way – as Mulcair and others appear to be.
Our young Canadian boys were shot and blown into fragment so, we wouldn’t have Harper’s Fascist Dictatorship government. Then these so called Conservatives, had the gall to show up at our Armistice Day Services. Shame on Harper.
Harper has pretty much handed Canada over to Communist China. Harper is a traitor to Canada, doing acts of treason. Communist China is one of the most despised countries on this planet. BC has almost been totally given to Communist China. Such as 800 hectares, China paid for at Prince Rupert. China also wants, the timber and the mines on Vancouver Island, which is being made ready for China.
So, if Harper and Trudeau favor Communism, coming into our country? Both of them will be shunned.
Perhaps true Canadians should read of? Mugabe, China and the Red China Army and their blood diamonds.
No wonder Harper signed a deal with, the Communist China Army.
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