In the first instance, the Supreme Court, in an unanimous judgement, reminded the government that Canada is a federation governed by the constitution and the rule of law. In its ruling on the Senate, the court reinforced the generally understood fact that in order to make significant changes to the form or structure of a House of Parliament there had to be consensus among Ottawa and most, or even all, of the provinces. Governments, as it turns out, cannot run roughshod over the basic rules the bind our country together.
In the second, the media (in this case the CBC) provided needed oversight on the implementation of the "Temporary Foreign Workers" programme. Forget about the political spin on all sides of the issue. This was a case of a government initiative that had clearly gone off of the rails and was being systematically abused right across the country. This case is not about some sinister, hidden agenda. It is about administrative incompetence. The Cabinet is supposed to ensure the effective implementation of government programmes but two successive Ministers were clearly asleep at the switch. As soon as the media reported what was going on, Canadians were justifiably concerned and the government quickly scrambled to catch up with public opinion.
The third example began to percolate this week when the interim federal Privacy Commissioner revealed that the government was making over one million personal information requests each year from the major telecom companies, most without any kind of legal warrant. Most of the data may have been innocuous, but that was really not the point. This was coupled with action taken by another arm's-length officer in Toronto where the ombudsman wrote a scathing report outlining abuses in the municipal housing commission, and the city council stepped up and fired the CEO over the protestations of the Mayor who appointed him.
Three examples of effective oversight - unfortunately, none of which were government initiated. It is, however, a very positive reflection of how Canadians protect their democratic and personal rights and freedoms. We count on the courts to stand above the political fray and to tell us what can and cannot be done under the law. We expect our media - especially the government funded one - to expose abuses and to hold office holders to account. And, we appoint independent officers of Parliament - the Privacy Commissioner; the Chief Electoral Officer; the Parliamentary Budget Officer; the Auditor General; etc. - to make sure that governments are publicly accountable for their actions.
There is sometimes a knee-jerk reaction by governments to shoot the messenger. We witnessed a particularly heinous example of that this week when the PMO attacked the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. However, most people see those smear tactics for what they are. Canadians believe strongly in institutional oversight. Unlike the United States, our Constitution does not have a system of checks and balances built in, so we depend on other strong institutions: the courts; the media; and, independent officers of Parliament or the Legislature or municipal council to do the job for us.
Society understands and appreciates the need for oversight and good governance. It's time that our politicians caught up to them!