Monday, 20 August 2007

From Washington to Ottawa and Beyond: The Importance of Opposition

Who makes the decisions in a free society? Who are the real “deciders,” as George Bush calls them? And once the decisions are made, who sees that they’re properly put into effect?

The questions are rhetorical, but they've also loomed large in my thoughts this summer. First, I’ve been struggling to assess the results of some grand schemes undertaken by governments: Haussmann’s transformation of Paris and Lee Kwan Yee’s great plan for Singapore are two which in the balance—probably, maybe, I’d like to think—have been worth the effort.

But so often the big plans put forth by leaders—whether or not they’re “democratically elected”—are questionable. They may be poorly thought-out, or they may be the result idealogy that fogs all thinking. The response of the United States to the event so 9/11 and the subsequent invasion of Iraq are clearly examples.

This is where an informed and assertive opposition comes in. Democracies are nothing if there are no voices raise to contest what is going on. This is why protests at Montebello this weekend are so important when Bush, Harper and Calderòn are “chatting.”

And this is why the recent failure of the US Democratic party effectively to counter legislation on secrecy and eavesdropping is so disappointing. The New York Times said on Sunday that what was passed by the US Congress is actually worse than the legislation it was supposed to replace. Good lord, where were you guys? The Democrats have got to be more awake than that if they expect ever again to improve US life.

And that is why I’m hoping that Thomas Mulcair will win in the Outremont by election in Canada. He is a maverick—he fought with the provincial liberals over a number o issue. He lost those battles but it appears that he won’t quit fighting. Good on him!

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