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?