The Globe and Mail today reports two decisions which are blows for democracy. I will add links to the decisions once they are available on Canlii (or elsewhere).
The first involves Stephen Harper and a defamation (libel and slander) law suit that has been brought against him by a disgruntled Conservative candidate. A master (a type of administrative judge) in Ontario has ruled that the principle of parliamentary privilege protects the Prime Minister from having to testify at examinations for discovery (pre-trial interviews) until Parliament has been in recess for a period of at least forty days. The master mused whether or not the principle made sense in the modern era, but ultimately held that it was the law. Jean Chretien benefited from a similar ruling a few years back when he was excused from testifying about his spell as Indian Affairs Minister at a major aboriginal trial until after Parliament recessed.
The reason behind the principle is simple: a sitting member of Parliament should be tending to Parliament's business, not the Court's. The practicality of that adage should be evident from the experience of Bill Clinton (who was held not to be protected from discovery by the American executive privilege) and as result got significantally distracted (as did the whole American body politic) by the Starr investigation, the Lewinsky Affair and, ultimately, the impeachment hearings and trial. Similarly, when Mr. Chretien did testify he spent several days in court (and undoubtedly several days preparing) to essentially testify to nothing. One strongly had the feeling that the calling of Mr. Chretien was nothing more than a 'Hail Mary' pass which fell short and ended up looking like a stunt. If done while he was in office it would have been a fiasco.
While it might be said that these are infrequent occurrences, that, of course, would change if such law suits could be brought. At present there is no point in bringing such cases as Parliament rarely is in recess for forty days during a Prime Minister's term. Thus the desire to drag a sitting politician into court to testify cannot be satisfied (there are other methods for challenging government actions) and so such actions are not brought. If such actions could be brought we would see a lot more of them.
The second blow for democracy came from Justice Paul Perrell of the Ontario Superior Court who ruled that the forfeit of deposit rules for Federal elections are unconstitutional. The Federal Liberals, with the support of all of the existing parties, brought in a variety of election reforms designed to streamline the election process and make it more serious. These laws operated largely by penalizing parties that did not cross certain thresholds at the polls. These penalties included loss of party status, seizure of party assets and loss of deposits. The Rhinoceros Party (along with the Communist Party of Canada and a number of small Christian parties) was the first fatality but the wounded include the Green Party.
In practice what this regime (which has been struck down a piece at a time by the courts) has done is serve as a significant impediment for new parties to emerge. Thus it has entrenched the role of the existing parties and makes it close impossible for smaller parties or issue oriented parties (say like the Reform Party) to build momentum over a series of elections. I may not particularly have liked the late lamented Reform Party or like the various right-wing Christian outfits that spring up around a variety of issues and I certainly know many who detest the Green Party, but if our democracy is to work properly they and the people who support them have to have their shot. Too my mind, the health of a democracy is not just measured by the ability of such groups and their supporters to run and win, but it is also reflected in their ability to run at all and to have their views put forward without impediment. They may be marginal but they should be given an equal chance to prove that they are not or, if they are, to change that. If that means a few rhinoceros run through our polls on the frivolous fringe, well, so be it.