Resisting the pull of cynicism since 1969.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Stick 'em in a room together and make them fight it out

It's hard to think of a more divided society than Northern Ireland. A centuries-old ethnic conflict has split the territory into two separate communities that also divide along religious and political lines. The division even extends to daily life--when I was there in 1992, it wasn't at all unusual for Catholics to associate almost entirely with other Catholics, and Protestants to associate almost entirely with other Protestants. Things have certainly improved since then, with an official ceasefire and a rocky yet steadily improving peace process, but there's still a long way to go.

Northern Ireland has its own parliament, but when the main political parties (which also divide pretty much entirely along the same lines as the rest of the society) failed to reach enough agreement to work together in government, that parliament was suspended. Since then, Northern Ireland has been governed directly from Westminster, but last fall, an agreement was reached to get these parties on the road toward resolving their disagreements. The deck was stacked against them--the two parties are led by Ian Paisley, an arch-conservative Protestant minister who spouts off on the evils of Catholicism from his pulpit, and Gerry Adams, a socialist Catholic who believes Northern Ireland should be part of the Republic of Ireland and who once made common cause with the Irish Republican Army. But as of yesterday, the two parties have agreed to form a coalition government and lead their people side-by-side. So think again, all of you who think Canadian politics is just too antagonistic for coalition governments--if Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party and Gerry Adams' Sinn Fein can do it, anybody can.

In fact, every time I read about this, it occurs to me that what Canada really needs is a similar process. The next time our minority parliament fails to reach an agreement on something important (like, oh, maybe climate change legislation), that parliament should be yanked away from us. We'd be told that we could get it back, but only if our politicians agreed to put aside their differences, play fair, and actually work together to get things done.

If nothing else, there'd be a lot less screaming.


Anonymous said...

Glad to see you're posting a lot again, IP. :)

Unknown said...

Interesting post. I am sure the remarks about "taking our parliament away from us" were entirely ironic in nature.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


Well, since there's no level of government above us to actually take it away, that would be a yes. Although watching the completely partisan Question Period these days, there are certainly times I wish for a Great Hand to come down from the skies and smite them all...

Jacques Beau Vert said...

Actually, I agree - I've said before that in an ideal world, we'd dump the whole Speaker thing, and the centre of the House would be a little pit done up like a cozy drawing room, with the benches looking in like bleachers, and anytime you want to ask a question of a Minister or MP, the two of you have to sit down together, buy each other a drink - brought in by the pages, natch - and tell jokes until you each make the other laugh, and then you get to the question.

I mean, I've got friends who are staunch NDP and diehard Tory - we all get along. Why can't the people we pay get along??

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


To be fair to them, it's not that they *can't* get along, it's that we don't expect them to. We're so used to our parties being at war that we don't even know what it looks like when they try to find common ground, and we're skeptical of any semblance of it. Which means that Question Period is more about partisan posturing and performance art than anything substantive.

I do like your "buy 'em a drink" idea, though. :-)

Jacques Beau Vert said...

That's where I differ from you, then - I *do* expect them to get along. ;)

The really ****ed up thing is that they mostly do seem to get along fine - when they're not in the House. Weird.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


By 'we' I mean we as a country. We're just so used to our politics being antagonistic that we expect no better. It's time for that to change!

Perhaps it's time to remove the cameras from the House of Commons? It's a thought.

Candace said...

IP, removing the cameras from the House would deprive us serfs the ability to see & hear for ourselves what's going on. However, it would also deprive the MPs of their time in the sun, so ... Realistically, I think we, the people of the country, would lose.

I've watched CPAC a few times outside of QP, and things are much more civilized (because they don't think anyone's watching, I guess, that, and they ARE supposed to be getting things done!).

Since we gave up our place as a Dominion, we don't have anyone who can "take our parliament away" so we are stuck with them. But it is an interesting, if rather undemocratic, idea (the mother in me really likes it! Time out for everyone!).

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


Realistically, I think we, the people of the country, would lose.

Yeah, there's the rub. Dammit. It's something to threaten them with, though, anyway. Shape up or LOSE THE CAMERAS!!!

The sad thing about House proceedings outside of QP is that there's essentially nobody in the room to listen to all these speeches our parliamentarians are making. Have you ever been to Ottawa to watch? It's all rowdy during QP, and then after it's like a ghost town. Eerie.

Candace said...

I haven't been there, but I've sure seen it.

"Major" debates with maybe 50 in the House? Appalling (I'm scared to type that after JC screwed it up so well, but I think I got it right).