Resignations and rationality in government

Canada's conservative establishment witnessed two major tremors within days of each other over the past week.

Canada’s conservative establishment witnessed two major tremors within days of each other over the past week. The perennial Jim Flaherty, Finance Minister of the federal government abruptly resigned saying he would go into private sector. Political pundits quickly tied the resignation to Flaherty’s differences with Prime Minister Stephen Harper over the issue of income splitting, an election promise that would benefit wealthy families at the expense of lower bracket taxpayers, another ideologically driven initiative of Mr. Harper’s.

That Mr. Harper immediately replaced the finance minister with Joe Oliver, who is understood to be a better “yes man” from his first interview (in which he said he would implement income splitting measure although he admitted that he didn’t know how it would work) is no surprise. Because Mr. Oliver knows a lot on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline project and the prime minister appears intent on remaining at the command centre during the initiation and construction of that pipeline project so that he could be in a position to decide who takes how big a slice from the cake.

Closer to home, the resignation of Premier Alison Redford brought a sigh of relief to many within the Progressive Conservative leadership and the PC caucus at the provincial legislature. Despite being credited for being a great ambassador for the province at the international stage, her intensely personal and often temperamental leadership style was the target of severe criticism over the last few months, something that led to two resignations from the ranks of the PC, one being a junior cabinet minister.

The big question here is how the Progressive Conservatives, with a four-decade history of governing the province cannot groom individuals for leadership and have to rely on competition among inexperienced politicians to give them the responsibility of governing Canada’s fastest growing province.

Danielle Smith, leader of the main opposition Wildrose Party, put the question succinctly, although not in as many words, in a dinner speech she gave to supporters in Calgary last week: After 43 years in power, how could the Progressive Conservatives come to a point whereby they had to change two premiers in three years?

It is only natural that in a province like Alberta with strong growth prospects, young and energetic politicians will have their chances to make contributions to the progress of the society in more than one ways, but one cannot help wonder where the institutional memory is to be found to guide transition processes during leadership changes and prepare incoming leaders to the difficult task of managing unexpected challenges.

Of course, there is a bigger question.

Winston Churchill is famously quoted with his statement that “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.”

For his part, Karl Marx said “Reason has always existed, but not always in a reasonable form.”

If one takes the Cromwell Revolution/Revolt of 1648 in England as the first serious effort to institute a system of checks and balances in the process of parliamentary democracy, it is fair to say that we have managed to incorporate some considerable amount of reason and wisdom into the workings of governance processes over the last 370 years or so. Yet, our governmental functions are still hostage to humanly acceptable but socially destructive shortcomings of those who hold the reins of power, be it the hot temper or ideological zeal of a head of government.

Getting back to the question: Will we ever be able to rationalize government in such a way that it will still be humane in essence but function as a purely reason-based computer?