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The PM’s Pandemic Power Grab

The PM’s Pandemic Power Grab

Trudeau has pushed for lifted restraints, less transparency. Why we should be deeply concerned.

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Had the PM gained the powers he is said to have sought, Canada’s parliamentary democracy would have gone into hibernation, for 21 months a one-party state.

“Never waste the opportunity offered by a good crisis.” — Niccolo Machiavelli

Machiavelli’s words, borrowed by Rahm Emanuel during the 2008 financial crisis when he was Barack Obama’s chief of staff, offer a stark warning about the COVID-19 pandemic: it kills human beings and economies on a massive scale, but it also puts democracy itself in mortal danger.

Everyone can appreciate that things like war, insurrection or disease may require extraordinary powers to manage the risk. President George W. Bush assumed police state surveillance powers over his own citizens in the wake of 9/11. Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau declared the War Measures Act to deal with the FLQ crisis in Quebec. And president Franklin D. Roosevelt placed 100,000 Japanese Americans in internment camps during the Second World War. 

But the current pandemic also shows that an alarming number of leaders know that a crisis allows them to impose transformative change — less because of COVID-19, than their lust to extend and consolidate their own power. We’ll get to the son of Pierre Trudeau, Canada’s current prime minister in a moment. But first, the poster-boy of authoritarian opportunism is Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban. 

Reporting just 700 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in his country, Orban has used the pandemic as a fig leaf to cover his dictatorial impulses. It is not a new story. Since coming to power in 2010, he has fiddled with the constitution, stacked the Supreme Court with loyalists, altered the electoral process to favour his own party, and co-opted the media. As reported by the New York Times, there were just 31 pro-government news sources in Hungary in 2015, including newspapers, broadcasters and social media outlets; that number is now 500.

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