Perfection or heads on pikes

How can we tell if our system of government is working? In his latest column, Andrew Coyne implies that the health of our democracy depends on the absence of problems. For Coyne, the system only ever appears to work if it runs without error. Alternatively, in an earlier column, Coyne suggests that a corrupted system must make a harsh example of wrong-doers to right itself.

Perfection or heads on pikes. Utopia or bust. These are the hallmarks of democratic vitality.

Forgive me for my cynicism or realism, but that sets the bar fairly high –perhaps unattainably so. In my view, our system of government works when the safeguards we’ve put in place to address shortfalls and errors kick in and do their job. To use an analogy, I’d say that a human body is healthy when its immune system deals with infections. I don’t consider that infections are, in and of themselves, evidence that a body is deathly ill. I think it’s useful to see how the immune system deals with an illness before shopping for a coffin. Likewise, I wouldn’t recommend a blood-letting for every case of the sniffles.

Thus far in the JWR/SNC affair, a number of our system’s checks and protections have been triggered. We’re not just talking about the former minister’s resignation here. We’re talking about the resignation of the prime minister’s principal secretary and the President of the Treasury Board; pressure on the prime minister from his caucus; testimony before a Liberal-majority parliamentary committee that has put the government in the toughest spot it’s ever been; and sustained media and opposition critiques that are swaying public opinion. All this after, what, a month?

I guess this assessment makes me a wet or a maybe a Girondin. Then again, I have the temerity of thinking that Canada is a democracy, so what do I know.

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