Friday, April 19

Political Rebel with a Cause

At least once a decade, a Canadian or British MP makes the most dramatic gesture available to an elected politician in either of those countries by seizing the Mace. The gesture, which is the ultimate demonstration of parliamentary rebellion, has itself almost become a tradition but is no less shocking for that fact. The effect in the House of Commons is something like that produced by a child at the family dinner table who completely loses his head and swears at a parent, striking his siblings dumb with shock, terror, and more than a little awe. The most recent such outburst occurred yesterday when Dr. Keith Martin "hoisted the Mace in the air, declaring 'Parliament is not a democracy anymore.'" To a devotee of Canadian or British parliamentary procedure (we are a small but loyal band), this is thrilling stuff--a frisson of adolescent anarchy defying the hallowed traditions of the Commons but safely contained within the confines of that chamber. In order to understand the significance of this act, the Mace-wielding MP himself explains it as follows:

"The Mace, the golden staff that sits on the floor of the House of Commons, is a hallowed symbol of democracy. MPs are forbidden even to touch it, out of respect for our democratic institutions. On Wednesday, I broke that tradition . . .. I took this extreme step to draw attention to an unprecedented attack by the government on the rights of every MP and every Canadian."

The rest of the article, available here, is worth reading even for non-followers of Canadian politics. It turns out that the ruling Liberal Party has been gradually restricting the power of MPs to bring traditional private member bills to a vote of the House and that this MP, a medical doctor, was protesting the fact that he has been thwarted in his efforts to bring a bill calling for the decriminalization--not legalization--of the simple possession of marijuana, a policy which he claims is supported by a majority of MPs and 70% of Canadians.