X-posted from Crown, Rod and Mace.

In light of my recent post on the subject of the legislative process in contrast to the democratic process in Canada, I thought it would be appropriate for a post on the procedure for dealing with conflicts between the two houses of parliament. Most Canadians, I am sure, would be surprised to learn that there is in fact little formal procedure in the way of dealing with a conflict between the elected House of Commons and the appointed Senate, especially considering the fact that our large cultural influence to the South, the United States of America, actually has constitutional provisions to ease a deadlock between their two houses and executive branch (the President). Let’s examine the process in Canada more in depth.

There are no provisions within any Constitutional document to deal with a deadlock between the Senate and the House of Commons. Within the legislative process, bills which originate in the House of Commons (which can be either public or private in nature) are sent to the Senate for concurrence and approval prior to receiving Royal Assent. Conversely, bills that originate in the Senate are sent to the House of Commons for approval, again, prior to receiving Royal Assent. This process of having each house propose, debate, and approve legislation opens up the possibility for either house to propose amendments to legislation that could reasonably be opposed by one house or the other, by the government of the day or sponsor of the bill itself. All of these situations would create a scenario where each house could be seen to be in conflict with one another and thus create a legislative deadlock. The question then becomes who would “win” between each House and how would the bill proceed to becoming law in Canada?

When a disagreement arises between the House of Commons and the Senate as to the amendments to be made to a bill, there are two possible ways of proceeding: the disagreement may be communicated in a message (this is normally the first step taken), or a conference may take place. (House of Commons Procedure and Practice 2nd Ed)

Messages can be passed between the houses of parliament between the Speakers of each house. Individual rules within each house govern the conduct of these messages, the crux is that they must be read in a timely manner to the members/Senators by the Speaker. It is interesting to note that the conference method cited in the Procedure and Practice manual has fallen into disuse in parliament. In fact, it has not been used since 1947 and only 16 times since 1903. The exact procedure around these conferences has changed since they were formalized in the Standing Orders of the House of Commons in 1903. Prior to 1903, these conferences were considered “closed” in that the House of Commons and the Senate each sent specific delegates who could only voice the concerns of each house without debate or discussion. In 1903, provisions were put into place within the Standing Orders (and Rules of the Senate) which permitted “open” conferences where delegates (referred to formally as managers) would be sent to a conference between the two houses and were allowed to discuss the issues and were empowered to come to a solution. There have been 13 “free” conferences since the provision was introduced but again none since 1947.

Turning to the Standing Orders of the House of Commons, Rule 77 under the heading of Senate amendments, there exists provisions for the Commons side of arrangements for the messaging and a potential conference between the two houses.

In cases in which the Senate disagrees to any amendments made by the House of Commons, or insists upon any amendments to which the House has disagreed, the House is willing to receive the reasons of the Senate for their disagreeing or insisting (as the case may be) by message, without a conference, unless at any time the Senate should desire to communicate the same at a conference. (Standing Orders of the House of Commons, Order 77)

The pre-text of this particular provisions describes a situation where the House of Commons and Senate disagree. However, it could be argued that this provisions does not exactly settle a dispute between the Commons and the Senate but merely provides two avenues for further recourse. The rule goes on the state that any conference between the two houses shall be “free” (as explained above) and that reasons for a conference shall be provided to the Senate (and visa versa in accordance with protocol).

The Rules of the Senate certainly do not offer any additional helpful guidance. Under rule 16 which is reserved for instructions pertaining to messages to and from the Senate, there is a provision regarding the messaging between the House of Commons and the Senate regarding disagreement and protocols regarding the formation of a conference.

When the House of Commons disagrees with amendments proposed by the Senate to a bill that originated in the Commons, and the Senate insists on any of its amendments, the message accompanying the bill to the Commons shall state the reasons. The Senate shall receive by message the reasons for the House of Commons either disagreeing with Senate amendments to bills or insisting on Commons amendments, unless the House of Commons at any time wishes to communicate these reasons at a conference. (Rules of the Senate, Rule 16-3(1)(4))

The Rules of the Senate also contain the same clause as the Standing Orders of the House of Commons which require that any conference between the two houses be conducted in a “free” manner.

The Senate of Canada amends a surprising amount of legislation that originates from the House of Commons. In this role they are fulfilling their mandate articulated by Sir John A. MacDonald in being the “sober second thought” of parliament. The vast majority of amendments are technical in nature (amending legal wording, uniform formatting of the bill, etc) and are accepted without hesitation from the House of Commons. However, there have been historical moments when the House of Commons and the Senate have been at odds over the pith and substance of a particular bill. When Progressive Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney attempted to introduce the Government Sales Tax, it was blocked by the Senate until he took extreme measures granted to him within the constitution to appoint additional Senators (thus allowing him to overcome the partisan deadlock within the Senate Chamber). Recently, we saw an empowered Senate review and propose amendments on the pith and substance of bill C-14 which sought to extend the right of assisted dying to Canadians. It is during these moments that the procedures and processes surrounding the deadlock between houses of parliament become even more important.

Amendments proposed by the Senate on legislation originating in the House of Commons are sent back for debate and approval (or rejection). The debate concerning these amendments is restricted to the scope of the amendment question itself, meaning MPs cannot begin a new debate on the merits of the bill as a whole, for example. Each amendment is voted on individually in the order that it would appear in the bill (reasonably presenting the bill in a logical fashion). The House of Commons can reject or accept all amendments, or can approve and reject some but not all amendments from the Senate. If all amendments are accepted, a message is sent to the Senate to this effect and the bill is scheduled for Royal Assent. If some of the amendments are accepted, but not all, the same message communicating this fact is sent to the Senate, but the Senate is given a chance to reply to this message. If the Senate cannot agree to the provisions than a conference may be formed between the two houses. In the case of C-14, after the bill was read and approved at Third Reading in the House of Commons, the Senate sent amendments back which were then rejected by the House of Commons (being controlled by the majority Liberal government). However, after the rejection of their amended version of the bill, the Senate then approved the final text of the bill, from the House of Commons, essentially backing down and avoiding a protracted deadlock.

If the conference fails, the matter is closed and the bill simply remains on the Order Paper where it dies at the end of the session. During that time, no new bill may be introduced in the House in respect of the same subject matter and containing similar provisions. (House of Commons Procedure and Practice 2nd Ed)

At the end of the day, if the House of Commons and the Senate cannot agree and no movement is made through the options available in a conference, than the bill sits on the Notice Paper for the remainder of the session and is, for all purposes, dead. Furthermore, a legislative void is created because no bill on the same subject can be presented during the session until the similar bill on the Notice Paper is resolved. This was the case during the GST debate for a short period of time prior to the Prime Minister appointing additional Senators and reviving the legislative life of his taxation bill.

On a final note, and related to my last entry, the Senate understands it’s inherent democratic deficit. Because Senators are appointed on the advice of the Prime Minister of the day by the Governor-General collectively they do not possess the same democratic mandate as the government or the House of Commons as a whole. This does not impact their legal authority within the legislative process (as I have alluded to in my opinion piece) but it does inflict soft power over the Senate by the House of Commons. Often during debate, Senators who support the government can be heard calling on fellow Senators to speedily approve matters originating from the Other Place because they have no democratic right to hold up priorities of the duly elected government. And to some extent there is some truth to this statement, however, the Senate does have a legitimate role in the legislative process to review and scrutinize legislation, including government legislation. This is a key component of what little exists to resolved a dispute between the two houses of parliament. It is important to note, that no House can have authority over the other as they are each sovereign entities within parliament in union with the Crown. The executive, being embedded in the House of Commons, does not enjoy a carte blanche over legislation proposed within parliament and therefore the role of the Senate in being that sober second thought often becomes more powerful during periods of majority government rule in the Commons. It is therefore dishonest to simply cast the Senate away as an undemocratic institution with little or no value in the legislative process. On the same token, it could be argued that there exists a statutory nadir with regard to provisions for dealing with a deadlock between the Houses of Parliament which lends itself to relying on the false assumption that the House of Commons has authority over the Senate through their democratic legitimacy.

(Featured image credit.)

X-posted from [personal profile] penlessej.

The House of Commons Procedure and Practice Ed 2 defines the official opposition (also know as Her Majesty's Opposition) as "...the opposition party with the largest number of seats" in the House of Commons. The leader of this party is also conventionally styled the Leader of the Official Opposition (LOO). Every parliament since confederation has had an official opposition despite the fact that the institution itself is never once mentioned in any constitutional document. The existence of the official opposition is drawn from the preamble of the Constitution Act, 1867 which calls for a parliament "similar in Principle to that of the United Kingdom." And while there is no mention of the official opposition in any constitutional document, special rights and privileges are granted to the institution through the Standing Orders of the House of Commons. These special rights and privileges include the right for the leader (or another member of the official opposition) to have unlimited time during debate to respond to the prime minister and the privilege to ask the first question during Oral Questions.

Three Contributing Factors

Interestingly, while we have had an official opposition in Canada for as long as we have had a House of Commons and parliament, very little has been written or explored specifically about the institution and its role in parliament. David E. Smith in his seminal work on the opposition in Canada titled Across the Aisle: Opposition in Canadian Politics scratches the surface of the role and function of the opposition, including opposition members of third and fourth parties in the House of Commons and concludes that the institution itself is unique from parliament to parliament and its role is largely driven (1) by the current composition of the House of Commons (majority or minority government, for example), (2) the issue at hand and (3) the personalities of the leaders within the House and government.

The Role of the Official Opposition in Canada

The first and obvious role of the official opposition in the House of Commons is to hold the government to account on all measures presented within the House and advanced by the government. It does not follow however that the opposition is forced to oppose all measures of the government despite the fact that such a situation would appear to undermine an institution charged with opposition. An example of such a situation would be a minority government being sustained with the support of a third party or, in the extreme, members from the official opposition. In order to maintain a degree of value of opposition in such an instance, official opposition leaders have advocated a vote abstaining from supporting or rejecting the government (and thus continuing confidence within the House). This is exactly what happened in 2005 when Stephen Harper (at the time the LOO) changed his stance on the budget presented by the governing Liberal Party and along with the NDP and Bloc abstained his caucus from voting, effectively allowing the government to advance in confidence of the House of Commons (notably, this was the largest abstention on any piece of legislation in Canadian history). However, for the most part, these moments are few and far between and more often than not the official opposition will oppose government legislation and initiatives. The mechanism by which the official opposition can constructively oppose the government is through amendments to legislation which are often tabled shortly after the prime minister or a minister presents a new piece of legislation. Another mechanism is through the presentation of minority reports from committees which are presented by the leader or a member of the official opposition immediately after the tabling of a report from a parliamentary committee. These minority reports often capture issues which the opposition drew from the investigation surrounding a piece of government legislation or initiative and may or may not propose an alternative course of action. And of course, the most direct means of opposition toward the government at the official opposition's disposal is voting against government motions and legislation when divisions are called.

David E. Smith asserts in Across the Aisle that the "practice of opposition in the Canadian Parliament has never conformed to the theory of opposition found in political science textbooks" (p. 101). And this statement is strikingly accurate. As mentioned earlier, what drives the role and effectiveness of an official opposition are not the laws and conventions which enable it, but the composition of the House which contains it, the issues which drive it and the personalities who lead it. The official opposition has been as colourful, if not more so, than that of the government-of-the-day since confederation.

Case Studies: Medicare and the Afghanistan Engagement

A contemporary example of the changing role of opposition in Canada can be derived in the passing of a national health insurance program in Canada, known as Medicare. In was under a minority government parliament that medicare was passed with the support of the governing Liberals under Lester B. Pearson, the official opposition under the leadership of Progressive Conservative John Diefenbaker and the third party NDP under the leadership of T.C. Douglas. It was through previous legislation introduced by Diefenbaker for a national hospital insurance programme that modelled the provincial medical insurance programme introduced in Saskatchewan while Douglas was the CCF premier that was instrumental in providing the framework for a more robust federal programme. Also, the opposition found support among key government ministers, especially Paul Martin Sr. who was a long-time supporter of a national healthcare plan for Canadians. In this instance, the government was able to secure support from opposition parties in a minority government parliament and medicare was introduced. We see how the composition of the House of Commons (a minority government requiring the support of opposition parties in order to advance legislation), the issue of the day (an almost universally supported concept of a federal medical insurance programme) and the personalities (support from key government ministers) articulated the role of the opposition and enabled the creation of one of the most popular government programmes in Canadian history.

The detailed article on the official opposition in the Compendium of Procedure explains that "by law, [the leader of the official opposition] must be consulted before certain important decisions are taken by the Government" and this was made evident in the lead-up to sending Canadian soldiers to Afghanistan in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on 9/11. Prime Minister Paul Martin Jr. (as he then was) sought support from the Leader of the Official Opposition Stephen Harper (as he then was) prior to sending troops into combat. The logic in gaining such support was driven by the importance of the issue at hand. The belief was that since sending Canadians into combat had been such a contentious issue in the past especially in the passage of conscription legislation during World Wars One and Two, it was important for the government to seek support from all parties in the House of Commons. Such an initiative on the face seems to go against of the role of the opposition to oppose the government, but realistically it provides the opposition parties a chance to influence federal policy. However, the question of when and how such action by the government is deemed so important as to warrant support or consolation from the opposition benches is left to the government itself and is a cause of disagreement among parties in the House of Commons themselves. This was evident in 2014 when Stephen Harper did not seek unanimous parliamentary support to authorize the use of CF-18s for airstrikes against Libya. The justification from the government was that the mission did not constitute a direct "boots-on-the-ground" campaign and thus was not important or grand enough to require all-party support. In this case study we again see how the role and effectiveness of the opposition is driven by the composition of parliament, the nature of the issue at hand and the personalities of the leaders within the House of Commons.


Smith is absolutely correct when he concludes that three main factors contribute to a changing role for the opposition in Canada. He is even more correct when he points out that no political science textbook can capture this changing role. However, despite this, there is no question that the role of the opposition is key to the democratic function of parliament. Or, as Sir Wilfred Laurier succinctly explained,

… it is indeed essential for the country that the shades of opinion which are represented on both sides of this House should be placed as far as possible on a footing of equality and that we should have a strong opposition to voice the views of those who do not think with the majority.

Thoughts on Responsible Government

  • Aug. 13th, 2015 at 11:46 AM
X-posted from [personal profile] penlessej.

When Canada became a confederation of provinces of the British Empire, the Fathers of Confederation envisioned a system of government that was to be responsible in nature. This concept of a responsible government was not born specifically out of the Confederation conferences, but rather was born out of decades of struggle between the provinces of Upper and Lower Canada as well as the United Province of Canada. Before we can understand what a responsible government look like in Parliament, one must understand the historical and legal concept of responsible government as a whole.

In broad political science terms the concept of responsible government states that Westminster democracies are accountable to Parliament. This is in contrast to a system where executive members of government are accountable to the monarch (often through an appointed representative). In Canada, responsible government has been linked with the concept of self-government. The idea that functions of the executive, such as the administration of monetary bills, be conducted by members elected by citizens rather than elites appointed by the Governor-General. The first executive Council of a Canadian colony to first achieve responsible government was in Nova Scotia on 2 February 1848. The government of Joseph Howe was formed by members of the elected legislature. In the Province of Canada the structure of responsible government was put to the test under the strains of relations with French-Canadians from what was formerly Lower Canada. These tensions became particularly evident in 1849 when the Rebellion Losses Bill was passed in the legislature. Despite having misgivings over the bill due to the fact that it had enraged English Canadians by compensating so-called rebels, the Governor-General, Lord Elgin, gave Royal Assent. Regardless of the opposition of a large segment of Canadian society, the Governor-General gave way to the concept of responsible government.

In modern terms, responsible government in Canada manifests itself in several ways. First of all, members of the government are selected among elected members of Parliament. The person who selects these members is themselves selected among elected members of Parliament. This person is invited by the Governor-General as a result of them being able to form a government which could maintain the confidence of the legislature. Once a government is formed in Canada responsible government is maintained through ministerial accountability to Parliament. What this means is that ministers are accountable for their actions before elected representatives. This has traditionally manifested itself in ministers making announcements within the House of Commons and subjecting them to scrutiny. The daily period reserved for Oral Questions in Parliament is also a manifestation of responsible government and ministerial accountability. Another aspect of responsible government while a government has been formed is that the Governor-General will not refuse to grant Royal Assent to legislation which is been duly read and ratified by Parliament. In order for a government in Canada to remain in power it must maintain the confidence of the House of Commons. That means that at any time during the ministry the government can face a motion of non-confidence which would trigger the resignation of said ministry (which may or may not lead to an election). There are also certain pieces of legislation which are considered matters of confidence in and of themselves, these include the annual budget and the Address in Reply to the Speech from the Throne which opens Parliament.

One can see with a simplified explanation of responsible government in Canada that it is possible that today we do not have responsible government. This potential fact is not unique to the ministry which is currently in power nor is it unique to the ministry directly before it. The alleged slide away from responsible government within our parliamentary system has been gradual and started when the Prime Minister’s Office established regional desks in the 1960s and began to take parliamentary responsibilities away from Members of Parliament. It has been assisted with the growth of the party apparatus away from a system of patronage and towards a system of concentrated control power. Again, this is not unique to any one ministry or any one party in Canada at this time. Members of Parliament are asserted no longer act as representatives for the people who elect them. There are no longer incentives in place for representatives to serve the interests of the people but there are rather strong incentives or Members of Parliament to bend to the wills of a select few in exchange for a piece of the consolidated power.

Dissolving the Ministry

  • Aug. 13th, 2015 at 11:44 AM
X-posted from [personal profile] penlessej.

Both section 5 of the Constitution Act, 1867 and section 4(1) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms limit the duration of a Parliament to five years (with the exception of times of war or insurrection). These sections translate into a system of democracy whereby elections must happen at least every five years. However, typically elections happen at more regular intervals as the governor general is bound through constitutional convention to dissolve Parliament at the request of the prime minister. The prime minister themselves may resign his or her government at any time or is bound to seek dissolution from the governor general after a no confidence vote in the House of Commons. Furthermore, specific to the current election campaign, Parliament has bound itself to fixed election dates through a 2007 amendment to the Canada Elections Act which made provision for a general election “on the third Monday in October every four years.” (Note: even under the amendments, the convention for the prime minister to seek dissolution in the event of a loss of confidence stands).

The mechanism whereby a Parliament is dissolved is central to responsible government in Canada. The heart of a ministry is the cabinet which provides advice to the Sovereign, controls the public service, and remains collectively responsible to the legislature. Governments in Canada are appointed, not elected, and their membership is drawn from the legislature. This is fundamental in a system of responsible government. This appointment does not last for a set term but stands until the minister dies, resigns or is dismissed. The sections contained within our constitutional documents which provide for a dissolution every five years, binds the prime minister to resign the government and thus exercise one of the three conditions upon which a ministry comes to an end. The appointment cannot be made possible without the individual first being elected as a member of the legislature. Thus, the minister also has an individual responsibility to the House of Commons. It is generally accepted that a minister is responsible for their ministry and is accountable to Parliament for their actions while in power. This personal responsibility generally guides how and when a minister should resign and when and how it should be asked for by the legislature.

The overarching theme of ministerial responsibility is its collective nature. The formation of the ministry rests on the concept of a collection of people having the ability to command the confidence of the legislature. Its continued existence rests on its ability to pass legislation and measures within the House of Commons. And its dissolution comes about through collective resignation. It would be absurd to permit a government to continue to function within a democracy when it is unable to pass a budget measure or advance its mandate. The ministry can only continue to function after a loss of confidence within the House of Commons if it is sustained by the electorate in a general election.

Democracy demands that executive governments be elected by the people. This concept emphasizes the formation of a democratic government which can claim legitimate power within society. Key to this concept is the function of terminating a government in order to permit democratic elections and thus enable the formation of a representative government. Constitutional documents in Canada limit the extreme length of parliamentary terms to five years and through convention provide expectations for governments in the event of a loss of legitimate authority. This is the essence of responsible government. A democratic government must be responsible in its formation, execution and dissolution.

Parliament Reform and Electoral Reform

  • May. 8th, 2015 at 11:02 AM
X-post from [personal profile] penlessej .

There is a lot of talk post-UK General Election about the first-past-the-post (FPTP) electoral system and its democratic nature. UKIP, for example, received only one seat despite receiving 13% of the votes across the entire United Kingdom. The debate over electoral reform away from FPTP has significant linkages to Canadian politics because we have the same electoral systems and the same types of arguments are made concerning the need for reformation.

In my opinion, before we can talk about electoral reform we need to talk about parliamentary reform. We need to decide how we want the government to be formed, what role the Prime Minister (and other party leaders) will play and how the legislature will be used to determine the government-of-the-day. As it currently stands, Canada is a parliamentary democracy with a bicameral system at parliament. The system is similar to that of the United Kingdom, in that individual constituencies hold elections and send representatives (in Canada called Members of Parliament) to the House of Commons under various party banners. Once those elections are complete across the country, the total number of representatives from each respective party in the House of Commons is tallied up and the leader of the party with the most seats in the House of Commons is asked for form the government by the Governor-General of Canada. There are two important aspects of this system that stand-out from other systems around the world; first, we do not elect our head of government directly and secondly the government is formed out of the legislature (not separate from the legislature). The current FPTP electoral system supports that mechanism for the formation of government. Individual electors elect their representative in a race within their own riding. What is happening collectively across the country is irrelevant because each riding is a separate election.

The explanation above captures how the system is designed to function. In reality, most Canadians will tell you that they plan on voting for “Justin Trudeau”, “Stephen Harper”, “Thomas Mulcair” or “Elizabeth May” when they do not live anywhere near the ridings those leaders stand in for election. And party campaigns are geared to focus on the so-called leadership tour. In most cases, political parties refer to their teams by the leaders’ name just to emphasis their important role within the party. The individual candidates running in each riding essentially become irrelevant from a personal perspective because all most Canadians care about is the party name listed after the candidates name on the ballot and the leader of said party. This has profound implications for the political system and how we understand its function.

In post-election analysis you will often here that such-and-such party received x number of seats and x number of the popular vote. The popular vote being the total number of votes cast across the entire country for that particular party. However, in FPTP, the popular vote is irrelevant because General Elections are not conducted across the country as a whole but across the country in each individual riding. Thus, the NDP may pick up a significant number of the popular vote across the country, but have their seat count translate much lower than a direct translation from just the popular vote. On the flip-side, majority governments in Canada can be achieved with %35 of the popular vote. Democrats (not the New kind) will point out that this is an undemocratic system because a minority of collective voters are essentially ruling the country with a majority. However, under FPTP that observation is flawed because it assumes that the popular vote is the means to measure support across the country, and in reality that is not the case. In fact, FPTP should rightly be seen as the most democratic form of elections because it breaks down the nation into more closely geographically defined boundaries and permits Canadians to become more engaged at a personal level with their MP.

The problem exists in how our political system functions; which is why I stated earlier that what we need to do is rethink our parliamentary system before we talk electoral reform. Individual MPs that are elected to the House of Commons are essentially placeholders for each respective leader and represent their pull within the legislature. Because of strongly whipped voting, a political culture that sees voting against the party as disloyal and a very powerful Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) we have essentially over three hundred people who are elected and paid by the people of Canada to listen to what a handful of other elected people have to say and nothing more. That is a problem. To add insult to injury, a Prime Minister with a majority government wields power beyond comprehension in any democratic society. The PMO coordinates government activity within the House of Commons, within the Senate and pressures the Head of State, the Governor-General as required. The PMO also guides the Privy Council and oversees the vast majority of federal appointments without any oversight or input from the legislature. The PMO also takes a strong role in the formation of the governing party as a whole, including directing backbench MPs. This is a problem. While having your government embedded in the legislature has become a defining feature of responsible government in Canada, it has hindered the ability of the legislature to effectively keep the government accountable. Members of the governing party who are elected to the House of Commons, but do not sit in government, should not be blindly following government direction simply because it is their party who is in power. That is the opposite of what the primary responsibility of every MP is and that is to keep the government to account on all of its activities.

So we have an electoral system that is supposed to, in theory, run one way but, in practise, run another. And we have a parliamentary system that is supposed to, in theory, run one way but, in practice, run another. The reason we need to discuss parliamentary reform before we discuss electoral reform is because we need to decide what kind of a parliament we want so that our electoral system can complement that system. So if we want the PMO and respective party leaders to have so much power over their MPs, than maybe we need a national system for electing party leaders and the Prime Minister. If we are content to disregard local representation and instead move toward a system that counts ballots pan-Canada.

My personal opinion is that we should not reform our electoral system. Rather, we should reform our parliamentary system to get back to the roots of traditional parliamentary democracy. Party leaders and the PMO should not hold the amount of power that they do over MPs. An elected Member of Parliament should never be coerced into voting one-way or another and the MPs from the governing party should never blindly follow the government-of-the-day. Canadians should demand greater power and great autonomy from their MPs and should not be so quick to chastise MPs who vote against party lines and vote in accordance with their electors. For me, FPTP is the most democratic form of elections because it brings this vast country close to home. The more democratic a government is, the closer it is to the people. And it is because of that closeness that it becomes democratic, not the other way around. For that reason, any system that implements party lists or candidate tables cannot be more democratic than FPTP because these lists are put together hundreds of kilometers away from the electors it affects. That is a problem for me. The first step to speaking of reform requires an understanding of the system. That being said, any quote of the popular vote in a FPTP electoral system should be rightly corrected as being an improper figure to use to determine the democratic nature of the election. FPTP rightly never factors what is happening in the rest of the country. This is reflective of how parliament is designed to work, now we just need to reform parliament and it will all make much more sense.
X-posted from [personal profile] penlessej.

While the trial for Senator Mike Duffy is underway on Ottawa, another battle is heating up in federal court on the other side of the country. Aniz Alani has requested that the federal court rule on whether or not Prime Minister Stephen Harper's public statements not to appoint any new Senators is unconstitutional. In a reply to federal lawyers seeking to dismiss the case outright, Alani argues that he is not seeking the court to rule against the Crown, but is merely requesting a statement that the Prime Minister is required by the Constitution Act, 1867 to advise the Governor-General on Senatorial appointments within a reasonable time.

The federal government is arguing that the advice the Prime Minister gives to the Governor-General is constitutional convention and thus should not be ruled upon by the federal court, making the reply from Alani mainly about jurisdictional issues.

A question that comes to my mind is whether the Governor-General could reasonably appoint a Senator without the advice of the Prime Minister. It would certainly undermine responsible government to some extent, but would be less dramatic, in my opinion, than dismissing the Prime Minister outright for not giving advice in the first place. At any rate, scandal is being brought against the Crown each day that the Senate remains vacant. I simply cannot bring myself to accept Stephen Harper's implied logic that the Senate exists solely to pass government legislation.

"Economic Treason"

  • Apr. 16th, 2015 at 2:28 PM

Steven Harper sells Canadian Wheat Board to Saudis

and Canadian farmers down the river

Photo of Prime MInister Steven Harper with unidentified Saudi, captioned by Geoffrey Dow: 'Ready, aye, ready!' Canadian Prime Minister sells Canadian farmers to Saudi Arabia.

More info at The Winnipeg Free Press.

[ X-posted from [personal profile] penlessej. ]

Michael Den Tandt's recent piece in the National Post provides an explanation as to why Canada should abolish the Indian Act and the reserve system entirely. This particular editorial has sparked considerable debate on the subreddit r/CanadaPolitics. Using that forum as a metric, the debate concerning such a proposal assumes that abolishing the Indian Act is a logical necessity, implies a new system of funding First Nations is required and that a so-called 'special status' should not (re: no longer) be applied to First Nations peoples. The editorial itself is mostly misleading and simplistic, and the conclusions drawn in the debate on Reddit are baseless and not rooted in the realities of international and common law.

Any attempt to discuss abolishing the Indian Act should immediately trigger the White Paper Statement of the Government of Canada on Indian Policy. It was presented in 1969 by then Minister of Indian Affairs, Jean Chretien during Pierre Trudeau's first term as Prime Minister. From a UBC website project entitled Indigenous Foundations the 1969 White Paper proposed to:
  • Eliminate Indian status
  • Dissolve the Department of Indian Affairs within five years
  • Abolish the Indian Act
  • Convert reserve land to private property that can be sold by the band or its members
  • Transfer responsibility for Indian affairs from the federal government to the province and integrate these services into those provided to other Canadian citizens
  • Provide funding for economic development
  • Appoint a commissioner to address outstanding land claims and gradually terminate existing treaties
The proposed policy was met with skepticism among aboriginal populations which was articulated in the so-called 'Red Paper' entitled Citizens Plus published by the Indian Association of Alberta. The Red Paper took issue, among other things, with the lack of consultation from the federal government in the lead-up to the 1969 White Paper, the removal of Indian status in Canada and the repeal of the Indian Act itself. The criticism was so powerful that it prompted Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau to step-in and reverse government direction before any of the proposals could be enacted. Since that time the jurisprudence surrounding aboriginal affairs in Canada has continued to develop but the proposals outlined in the 1969 White Paper have never been mentioned in a serious political context. I take issue with Den Tandt's failure to even mention the 1969 White Paper or the subsequent Red Paper in his editorial calling for the abolition of the Indian Act and the reserve system. Especially in light of the fact that aboriginal affairs in Canada is rooted deeply in historic conflict, De Tandt cannot begin a discussion on this topic without mentioning the 1969 White Paper.

Any discussion on how to move forward from the Indian Act and the reserve system must first be based on existing jurisprudence and should take place within the context of international law and agreements. The Supreme Court of Canada has on numerous occasions upheld the sui generis rights of aboriginal people in Canada (see Delgamuukw v. British Columbia). When discussing the relationship between Canada (Canadians) and First Nations (aboriginals), it should be conducted under the same pretense as discussing the relationship between Canada and the United States of America, for example. First Nations in Canada are equal and separate political entities in the same manner as any other states that exist in the world. This is not a mere statement of fact contained within the Indian Act nor it is not a policy of the department of Indian Affairs, rather it is a right that exists simply because of the relationship between the Crown and First Nations that has existed before Canada was a country and transcends all jurisdiction of the federal government. It is a sui generis right that has serious implications for the relationship between First Nations and the federal government.

Understanding the legal basis for the relationship between First Nations and the federal government, we can now discuss the sticky issue of aboriginal social welfare programmes and their sources of revenue. Just the same as it would be terribly out of line to suggest that Americans be granted a waiver to unconditionally inspect our budgetary finances in Canada, so too is it out of line to suggest that Canadians be granted permission to inspect the financial affairs of aboriginal people. This is rooted in the inherent right of nations through sovereignty and it is the same right which we as Canadians exercise when we govern ourselves within our own lands and comport ourselves in other lands. And furthermore, to argue that because the source of the funding is from the federal government and the Canadian taxpayer, and therefore an inspection is justified is not useful. The federal government has a fiduciary duty to ensure that a system is in place which permits First Nations to co-exist within the boundaries of Canada. This duty again does not stem from an act of Parliament but from internationally recognized rights that are unique to the relationship between the Crown and First Nations in Canada. The system which is currently established does not permit aboriginal people to raise revenue through traditional means typically exercised by a state. This system has been upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada provided that it continues to, in good faith, provide for the needs of the communities it seeks to serve. Thus, through our obligation to ensure that First Nations communities can co-exist in Canada, we have established a funding system as the sole source of income for aboriginal nations. Simply because the system involves the exchange of funding does not mean that one state entity has the right to follow-up on spending and order or direct spending schemes within another state. Or to use a more personal analogy; you would not permit the federal government to inspect your bank account simply because they backed your mortgage. And nor should an example of international aid come into play unless we are dealing with a situation where a state is in such a dire need for assistance that they request said assistance (as if often the case for international aid programmes). That is not to say that a funding scheme could not be proposed that would seek to follow-up on spending programmes within each nation, but such an agreement would have to be settled between the federal government and each respective nation. Again, respecting the rights of each political entity as separate and equal nations.

When we can understand the position of First Nations within the context of a relationship with Canada and the federal government we can better understand why arguments that seek to have aboriginal people integrate within Canada are illogical and oppressive. Again, just the same as Canadians would be revolted at the suggestion that we begin integration with the United States because said integration is inevitable, so too might First Nations be revolted at the idea of integration with the nation they have arranged to co-exist alongside. As a separate nation, we are masters of our own house and have the right to self-determination, which extends to cultural self-determination. Integration is simply not possible in any form as a government policy without being unconstitutional and worse against the spirit of international law.

At the end of the day, I do not have a solution to the relationship between the federal government and First Nations. I can agree that there is a problem and that it needs to be fixed sooner rather than later. I can also agree that the current provisions of the Indian Act and the reserve system are out-dated and require a complete overhaul. I reject the idea that the Indian Act can be abolished outright because Canada will always have a fiduciary duty to First Nations in Canada and thus a policy of some form will always exist at the federal level. Micheal Den Tandt simply avoids this discussion outright which only lends to an oversimplification on his part. In order to move ahead on this issue in Canada we must acknowledge the rights of aboriginals and bring the negotiations under the right terms. The Crown plays a positive role in this as the great mediator who has established this system in their wisdom, now at least Canada and First Nations can come to the table as brothers from a common mother.

Boom. Boston went Boom

  • Apr. 16th, 2013 at 11:17 AM

The return of The Droz Report:

No prayers for the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings

Photo by The Phantom Photographer; image manipulation by Geoffrey Dow.
Boston Marathon bombing aftermath

April 16, 2013, OTTAWA — Whenever my Facebook newsfeed starts filling up with prayers and expressions of shock and sadness about tragedy halfway around the world, I find myself wanting nothing more than to scream at all those well-wishers to shut the fuck up with their ritual grief, whether caused by a tsunami, a famine, a school shooting, a bombing in Boston ...

You got me. I'm already sick to death of hearing how you feel about the bombs that went off in Boston yesterday afternoon. Yes, it was an awful thing, but if you don't live there, or know people who were directly involved, I would prefer you keep your ostensible pain to yourself.

Offering up your prayers or good wishes might make you feel a little better, but it doesn't do any tangible good. And it's not like these things occur in a vacuum. Most of the major problems facing women and men in this world are caused by men and women. Even the damage caused by hurricanes usually has a human cause in there somewhere. And since that's almost always the case, platitudes aren't the answer, nor are prayers going to help.

Thinking might help. Political activism might help. Even donating to the Red Cross might help.

It's not the sincerity of the well-wishers that bothers me, but the lack of seriousness.

If you want my take on yesterday's terror attack, without a platitude in sight, click here. Comments, arguments and calls for my head are welcome here, or there.

Dear Leader meets Only Leader ...

  • Sep. 8th, 2012 at 4:32 AM


Dear Leader meets Only Leader ...

This entry was originally posted at http://ed-rex.dreamwidth.org/241963.html. Comment there using OpenID, or here as per normal.

Can we say cronyism, ladies and gentlemen? Can we say corruption? Can we say rewarding one's friends?

A mere four and a half months into their majority government, the Harper Government hoists its true colours — the real Joly Roger.

The federal government is paying a high-powered management consultant firm almost $90,000 a day for advice on how to save money.

It's probably not criminal, since governments write the laws, but it is blatant theft from the citizens to the very thieves whose genius for self-dealing has been destroying the working and middle classes of this country for decades.

Who wants to bet that the final report won't include the following points among its top five recommendations?

  1. Fire several thousand civil servants and replace most of them with contract workers (which will turn out to cost more, once the contracting firms' profits are (re)calculated)?

  2. Cutting back on and/or eliminating several departments which serve the public good — perhaps environment, or science or education?

  3. Funding more prisons, but as for-profit, non-union institutions?

If you can stomach it, the full article is at http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/story/2011/09/20/harper-cuts-consultant.html?cmp=rss

The brothers Ford reveal the naked neocon truth

July 29 2011, OTTAWA —It sounds like a skit from a Marx Brothers movie. On the one hand, the Mayor of Canada's largest city is said to have given the finger to a six year-old girl and her mother while at the wheel of his van and while talking on his cellphone; and on the other, the Mayor's brother (and also a City Councilor) falsely claims there are more libraries than Tim Horton's coffee shops in his part of the city and tells Canada's leading novelist to butt out of municipal politics unless she gets elected to city council.

Yes it's farce, but it's also deadly serious politics, that reveals volumes about neo-conservative attitudes and the triumphalist agenda the radical right-wing. Read the full story here.

Fair Vote Canada

  • May. 5th, 2011 at 12:49 AM
Now is the time to tell Parliament you want electoral reform.


The Droz Report #5

  • Apr. 14th, 2011 at 3:05 PM


Kim Campbell's revenge



(Nothing new in the boys' room)


Same old boys' club.

After two debates and an in-person attendance at a rally, I'm finding myself kind of depressed about the election, enervated instead of energized. Though I still think the choices facing us are important — Very Bad versus Not Very Good — it's not easy to get excited by the latter.

And it's not easy to get excited by canned rhetoric, by half-truths contending with lies, lies with half-truths, or by the fact the most inspirational actor in either the French- or the English-language debate was a separatist whose primary goal is to destroy the most successful and successfully complex civilization in the history of the world (ask me what's good about Canada some day!).

Tuesday and Wednesday nights saw me staring at the television, and Wednesday morning hopping on my bike for a hurried ride into downtown Ottawa, where Jack Layton was holding court at a Bank Street eatery at the ungodly hour of 8:00 o'clock in the morning.

Layton was introduced by my local MP who got predictable cheers for asking the partisan crowd of maybe 150 people who won the previous evening's debate.

Layton himself was, more or less, the same as what I've seen on television. Clear and concise, kind of funny, and a just a little stiff, as if even after decades in politics he's still not entirely comfortable speaking to a crowd. He stuck very close to his script; aside from a joke about the political points to be made from kissing "ma blonde" after the debate, I had already heard everything he said at breakfast almost verbatim on Tuesday night.

The NDP, it seems, is pro-family and pro-small business, anti-Senate and anti-credit card companies; pro-environment and pro-health care, against over-paid bank CEOs and, er, Stephen Harper — the rhetorical specifics are already fading, as are those from the "debates" themselves.

So I'd best get on with it. Click here for more if you're up for some ennui. I'll try to keep it short.

Harper's self-serving 'apology' exposes the cowardly venality lurking beneath his unbutoned shirt

"... if anybody is kept out of any of our events that's there to hear our message we obviously apologize to them. Our interest is in having as many people out to hear our message as we can. We're having huge meetings, we had another huge one last night and we want people to hear our message." — Stephen Harper 'apologizes' after being asked if he would take responsibility for a teenager's eviction from a rally because her Facebook page included a photo of herself with Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff.

Incriminating evidence: Awish Aslam's Facebook profile phto.
Incriminating evidence: Awish Aslam's Facebook profile phto.

On April 3rd, two young women, students at the University of Western Ontario, attended a Conservative Party rally and were taught a valuable lesson about Conservative values and ethics.

About a half-hour after being admitted, both Awish Aslam and an un-named friend were hustled out of the meeting, publicly berated and had physically stripped of the stickers pinned to their shirts — all because they had both had the naive temerity to post a photo of themselves taken while meeting Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff on their Facebook profiles.

The London Free Press broke the story on April 5th.

"A week ago, Aslam, readying to vote federally for the first time, attended a Liberal rally in London where she and a friend snagged a photo with Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff. Both made it their Facebook profile pictures.

"A few days later, the pair attended Harper’s rally, for which they signed up in advance online.

"But about 30 minutes after arriving, Aslam says, they were ordered out by a man who accused them of having "ties to the Liberal party through Facebook."

"He ripped Conservative stickers off their shirts, tore them up and ordered them out, Aslam says."

Note that no one accused Aslam or her friend of being disruptive in any way. They weren't demonstrating, or passing out leaflets or even asking questions — they were just, y'know, watching.

Further note that the Conservatives consider it an efficient use of their time to stalk the Facebook pages of attendees at their rallies, that they consider public humiliation of teenagers appropriate behaviour (Ms Aslam was reduced to tears) and that, as we'll see, Stephen Harper himself sees nothing wrong with any of this.

The Globe and Mail ran the story and followed up with the Prime Minister Who Would Be President himself.

Harper ducked the issue. "The staff runs our campaigns," he said, "and I can't comment on individual matters like that," typically passing the buck of blame to those below him.

See An apology means never having to say you're sorry for more.

Edited to fix really embarrassing typo.

The Unsinkable Elizabeth Green

  • Apr. 6th, 2011 at 7:01 PM

It's not easy being Green

For Elizabeth May, it's debata-vue all over again

Tuesday was a good news/bad news sort of day for the Green Party.

On the one hand, Elizabeth May's band of political upstarts lost their bid to have the Federal Court make an emergency ruling giving her a seat at the table for next week's televised leaders' debates.

On the other hand, if the results of a poll commissioned by the Globe and Mail are to be believed, a significant majority of Canadians either "strongly" or "somewhat" support her presence at the boys' table.

Now May is calling for a boycott of next week's debates by the other party leaders and hoping for a repeat of 2008, when an enormous public outcry more or less forced the broadcasting consortium to let her in (and, don't forget, for Jack Layton and Stephen Harper to rescind their threats to withdraw should she be permitted to take part).

But should the Green Party have a seat at the table? After all, they've never elected a Member to the House of Commons and the party managed only 6.77% of the popular vote last time out.

Read the full article at Edifice Rex Online.

Leaders debates

  • Apr. 2nd, 2011 at 2:18 PM
As you may know, Harper challenged Ignatieff to a one-on-one debate, Ignatieff accepted with an "any place any time", and then Harper backed down. The consortium that runs these things also kiboshed the idea saying they'd do only all leaders debates (minus the Greens). But, Don Newman offered to chair a one-on-one debate between Ignatieff and Harper independent of the consortium, as has Rick Mercer.

Anyway, would you like to see a one-on-one debate between the only two leaders who have an actual shot at being PM?

A spectre is haunting Canada

  • Apr. 1st, 2011 at 7:10 PM

The main issue of this election is personal


"This government is willing to sacrifice Canadian soldiers to bring democracy to Afghanistan and Libya. But it cavalierly dismisses democracy at home.

Cynics hold that Canadians don’t care about such abstract matters, that as long as our bellies are full we will put up with anything. We shall see. The cynics have been surprised before." — Thomas Walkom, in The Toronto Star, March 25, 2011.

It's been a week since the Conservative government of Canada (also known as "The Harper Government", about more of which anon) was finally defeated in the House of Commons. Stephen Harper had decided to roll the dice and put Thomas Walkom's claim that Canadians do care about such abstract matters as integrity and democracy to the test.

Having survived two and a half years, there was no great surprise that the government was defeated on a motion of non-confidence; what was (or should have been) a surprise was that that motion also declared that the Harper government had not just lost the confidence of the House but that it was in contempt of Parliament, an historically-unprecedented occurrence.

Some have no doubt argued that the charge was strictly political — and maybe it was — but sometimes the strictly political is based in reality.

In this case, the opposition had insisted — quel horreur! — that the Harper Government provide cost estimates for its proposed "anti-crime" bills (I use the quotation marks deliberately, and will return to Harper's "tough on crime" posturing in a future column). Contemptuous of Parliament indeed, the government of the Prime Minister Who Would Be President simply refused to tell the House of Commons — and by extension, the people of Canada — what the new prisons and guards, etcetera, would cost, insisting the measures be approved on faith.

Such a patently unreasonable stance can only mean that Stephen Harper wanted the election, no matter how much he protests otherwise. Harper was gambling that he could campaign his way into that ever-elusive majority government at last — at which point, if it happens, the gloves will come off and the spectre haunting Canada will will solidify into a very real neo-conservative nightmare.

Click here for more at Edifice Rex Online.

Protest like an Egyptian

  • Feb. 6th, 2011 at 7:25 PM

Lessons from Egypt

Barack Obama is the probably the best possible President the United States could have, but all of his genuinely good qualities don't make a damned bit of difference in terms of U.S. foreign policy. There is a very simple reason for this: He's not the boss. The real boss, of course, is all of that fucking money, all of the profits to be made, and which have to be made because that is the criteria according to which corporations — and hence the U.S. economy itself — lives or dies. Profit must be made, and it is not made exclusively, or even primarily within the U.S. but outside of it, all over the world. That is the necessity that governs U.S. foreign policy. Not morality, not justice, and not Obama. In that sphere he, like any other President, more closely resembles Stepin Fetchit. Thomas Dow, via email.

It's been getting harder and harder for anyone in the Western world to pretend we live in a genuinely democratic society. Ironically — but also tellingly — our rulers have felt in ever-less necessary to hide the fact that they hold "the people" in contempt, just as they hold in contempt the idea of democracy itself.

As a Canadian, last summer's government-sponsored riots in Toronto (see "Dominion of Fear" from last July) tore a lot of the proverbial wool from my eyes, but not all of it. I think it Tony Blair's calmy racist para-logical contortions in support of anything but democracy for the Egyptian people to bring home to me the fact our own democracy is little (if anything) more than a potempkin voting booth.

Which prompted the following, an editorial first published in this past Friday's True North Perspective. Long story short, there are two lessions for those of us in the West to learn from the courageous men and women facing down the thugs in the streets of Egypt.

First, it's not our place to manage Egyptian affairs. Even if we accept the myth of Good Intentions, the result is almost always a torturer like Mubarak.

And second, we need to take back our own democracy; the men in black body armor are at the ready any time we step out of line.

Click here for the rest (behind the fake cut).

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