Why Parliament should stay open in a crisis - even this Covid-19 crisis

di Joe Volpe del April 22, 2020

TORONTO - Of course we should focus on today! There is nothing more urgent than the safety of our being, nothing more sacred than the temple we call our body. We must look after it, especially when it appears under duress from elements unseen and not quite yet understood.

We cannot escape the obvious. Covid-19, and our response to date, has altered our perception of what is “essential” and what is “preferred”; what is “fact” and what is “process”; what are our “civil liberties” and what we will accept as “temporary deviation” from “decision-making procedures”.

As much we appreciate the daily situation updates from our elected ožcials and their advisors, they are no substitute for the scrutiny that our elected representatives should be imposing on our leadership. How did they arrive at the decisions they either recommend or ordain? An informed electorate is always right to ask: ”How do you know”? How do you know it will work? What happens if it does or it does not”? Who determines the passing of the crisis?

The Rome of Republican Antiquity struck a particularly interesting solution when the outcomes of strategies flowing from Senatorial deliberations and authorities failed to produce desired results. Citizens ceded all authority to an appointed individual to dictate a course of action. For a limited time – but rarely, if ever, for more than six months.

In our democracy, “the Government (Cabinet) proposes, Parliament disposes”. Even under the Roman Republican model, factions deferred to the process. In these last two weeks, the main theme repeated for public consumption has been that the “matter is too serious for us to demand that our elected representatives explain and justify the “why” of government decisions.

Forgive me, I felt that former colleagues in Parliament were treading on thin ice when the Government House Leader rejected calls for reconvening Parliament because they might have a challenge in respecting social distancing as they were demanding others to obey.

Partisanship aside, anyone who is afraid to confront criticism that “may be” constructive is in a pretty weak position. If the mandated Opposition (the political parties not in government) is unwilling to “go to the battlefield” they are not of much use to anyone.

If government Ministers can only stand up and read reviews of announcement reviewed over the last month, they are not of much help in laying the groundwork for the next steps in the return to normal.

What is worse is that some of them have started to believe their own rhetoric about Canada being ahead of the curve and testing at a rate higher than anyone else. That’s frightening. Canada is testing at the rate of 14,955 per million inhabitants. In the “industrialized world” only the USA, the UK and France have a more deplorable rate.

Italy is testing at 23,895 per million, Spain at 19,896, Portugal at 26,672, Israel at 27,763, Germany at 20,629. Legitimate and internationally recognized tracking dashboards have listed at least another ten that make these numbers pale in comparison.

If testing is the key to understanding the scope of the Covid-19 problem, is it not fair to ask why we are lagging so far behind?

Equally important, if the confirmed cases and fatalities that flow from that rate of testing are inconsistent with what others are finding, should we not be able to ask the appropriate questions regarding the ežcacy of the money our leaders are spending?

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