He’s known as one of the most unscripted politicians and as he departs his post as interim Liberal leader, Bob Rae is speaking out against the tight control in Parliament – an issue that came to a head this week as Conservative MPs spoke out against their lack of freedom in the House.
“It’s a terrible abuse of democracy generally and I think our whole political culture is suffering badly as a result,” Rae said during an interview on the Global News program The West Block with Tom Clark.
“It’s very, very unhealthy.”
Rae made the comments in relation to how scripted Parliament has become, and his own belief that question period should be more of a conversation.
“It’s all based on the premise of deep control, of an effort to control message but also control response and muzzle people,” Rae said.
Rae said the controlled nature of Parliament also affects the media, who in a sense repeat the messages of control they are hearing.
“You become the messenger for the government. You become the messenger for who’s ever trying to give you a spin,” he said.
The most important thing for the public is to try to decode those messages, Rae said, adding he’d like to present the other side on important issues such as the budget.
“This is why every critically-thinking citizen has to think about what’s happening to the political process,” said Rae.
“What’s happening in Parliament is just a reflection of that; the scripted questions, the scripted answers.”
He also referred to members’ statements, one of the parliamentary rights currently under scrutiny after Conservative MP Mark Warawa told the Commons this week he was barred by his party from speaking about his motion on sex-selective abortion.
Rae, a career politician, said 30 or 40 years ago, Parliament was less scripted, more spontaneous and more engaging.
And while government has always been adversarial and, at times, personal, the way messages are decimated through the media has become part of the Parliamentary conversation, he said.
“Our committees are not very independent. We don’t have a lot of independent centres of critical thought. They’re taking away the power of the Parliamentary Budget Officer. All these things are going and I think that’s bad,” said Rae.
“I know that people say well you’re just saying that because you’re in opposition. And actually it’s not true. I think that it’s bigger than us. It’s bigger than our position as leaders or parties or even the interest of our parties. It’s about the interest of the public and the interest of something called democracy.”
Rae added that he enjoyed his time as interim leader and he wants to continue to participate in public debate. And even though some people encouraged him to run for leadership in 2011, he’s glad he didn’t.
“Running for the permanent leadership was a much bigger deal you know at my stage in life and also, knowing what else was going on in our own party and all the other people who were interested in running, I felt that it wouldn’t be a great unifying event to run for leader at that point and it wouldn’t have worked,” he said.
“I still think it was the right decision.”
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