TORONTO - “Old Stock” follows the political practices of “new stock”.
High stakes political drama in Europe yesterday. Two of the world’s largest economies and mainstays of Western democratic institutions – Italy and Britain - handled domestic crises differently, going in opposite directions. Ironically mere hours after a G-7 Summit in which both participated.
Believe it or not, Canada figures prominently in both.
Italy’s Lega, a right-wing (pro-regional autonomy, sovereigntist, secessionist, separatist) party, with 17% voter support in last year’s general election tried to cash in on what seemed to be a rising populist support for their “dig the trenches, build the walls, blame Europe” rhetoric.
During Canada’ last referendum, in 1995, the Lega (then, Lega Lombarda) sent delegations of observers to assess how the Bloc Quebecois and its provincial counterpart, the Parti Quebecois, were handling the campaign for secession and how to deal with the eventual outcomes.
In Canada’s parliamentary, firstpast- the-post, winner-take-all system of government, the country survived the referendum vote – just barely – thanks to 55,000 ethnic voters. The secessionist movement has subsided, only to be raised by right-wing populists who threaten its revival if they don’t get their way.
In Italy’s proportional system - where the underlying principle of governance is “power-sharing” - regionalism, autonomy, sovereignty is an always present threat to stability. That threat is magnified by the inter-relationships the country must maintain with the European Union and its component countries.
Those relationships are binding for commercial, political, military and refugee issues, among others. Hence the sigh of relief that the outrageous gambit by the Lega to prompt an early election – which it stood a good chance of winning and obtaining for its leader desired “powers to close ports, erect walls and begin the process to exit Europe” - has fallen short of its mark.
The rallying cry for parliamentarians and the President, Sergio Mattarella, was and continues to be “respect for the institutions”, in other words, observance of the parliamentary process and the Constitution.
Former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi put it thus: today what seemed impossible a month ago is now a reality for those who believe that politics should be about civil discourse and not a forum for venomous spewing of verbal hate. Italy and Europe have “dodged a bullet” for now.
Britain seems to be headed in the opposite direction. It bombastic Brexiter, now Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, is determined to lead Britain into a “splendid isolation of the past” by ushering an exit from the European Union at any cost, including potential secessionist votes by Northern Ireland and Scotland.
It has already begun to see the cancellation of long-term projects by global corporations, relocation of others, a virtual collapse in the value of the pound relative to major currencies and the emergence of hateful social messages against the free mobility of goods, services and, above all, people. European immigrants accustomed to free movement in search of labour engagement will no longer be welcome in Britain. Sound familiar?
Johnson has seen a bump in personal popularity in this last month that suggests he could win a majority in a snap election. He could turn it into a “referendum” on Brexit. Rather than negotiate in Parliament or present his plan to Parliament, he has decided to offer a “prorogation” of the House until October 14, two weeks before Brexit is scheduled to take place, come what may.
He took everyone by surprise, including the English Press: it’s just not done, in England; it’s what English colonials do. Former Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, facing certain defeat in the House after the 2008 election, prorogued the opening of the House Commons to avoid a vote of confidence. He should never have been allowed to get away with it, but a malleable Governor General at the time permitted what was essentially a coup d’etat.
Johnson has refined the manoeuvre slightly; he has given notice that prorogation will take place September 6. If he is defeated in the House before then, he will call an election. Enough debate about Brexit or anything else.
He is confident he will win either vote, no matter what the stock markets, money traders, the 1.3 million citizens who signed an anti-Johnson petition within hours of the announcement or the hundreds of thousand of them who have started to take to the streets in protests.
There is no “fixed”, single document guiding Britain’s Constitutional Monarchical government. The Queen has consented to the manoeuvre.