Tomer Avital in the wake of the approval of the 2023-24 budget For the sake of the journalists and presenters…
Canada: Government & governance 2014 -15
Written by Diana Thebaud Nicholson // October 14, 2015 // Canada, Government & Governance // 2 Comments
See also: Canada (Politics) in 2015; Canada anti-terror Bill C-51
Stephen Harper: The Survivor
CBC National Affairs Editor Chris Hall looks back on the Harper years and forward to what might be ahead for him. (22 January 2014)
Post-election possibilities for a minority Parliament
In the social-media age, will Canadians have the patience next week to see how things play out? This was a serious concern raised Tuesday at the University of Ottawa, where a panel of seven of the university’s academics held a public discussion on “post-election possibilities” for a minority Parliament.
Prime Ministers have sometimes taken days to decide how they would respond to a minority result. News cycles move far more quickly now and academics wonder whether Canadians today would have the same amount of patience as in the past. Their common message: Deep breaths, folks. This may take some time.
“We live in a Twitter age. We live in an age of instant response,” University of Ottawa law professor Adam Dodek said. “If an announcement [on the next government] is not made on Oct. 19, that doesn’t plunge us into a crisis.”
Progressive Conservative prime minister Joe Clark waited 142 days after winning a minority in 1979 before calling Parliament to sit for what would be a very short-lived government. That kind of delay would not be allowed today. Rule changes passed in 1997 have the effect of requiring Parliament to convene within 60 days of the return of the writs, which works out to Jan. 8, 2016. Until then, a government can operate in a limited capacity under what are called “caretaker” rules.
Ultimately, Mr. Harper will have to inform Governor-General David Johnston of his plans. The first confidence vote after the election, which would normally be on a Speech from the Throne, is the key factor in determining which party forms government.
The job of sorting out any confusion as to which party should govern belongs to the governor-general. Some potential situations would be trickier than others.
Strong Conservative minority
This scenario is a hot topic of debate. From a constitutional point of view, Mr. Harper would have every right to try to stay on as prime minister. Yet, in terms of numbers in the House of Commons, it’s not clear how he could survive. The Liberals, NDP and Bloc have all said they would not act to support the Conservatives remaining in office under any circumstance.
Minority government could be good for our democracy
Professor Maxwell Cameron
(Globe & Mail) As the distinguished political scientist Peter Russell says, our first-past-the-post electoral system often creates “false majority” governments – governments that have more than half the seats but fewer than half the votes. If such a government only represents its base, it can be unresponsive to the majority.
Many voters will head to the polls thinking they are choosing the next prime minister. In fact, we elect our local Member of Parliament. The prime minister will be the party leader able to earn the trust and confidence of the House of Commons.
If no party wins a majority of the seats in the House, the Governor-General will invite the party with the most seats to form the government.
Such a government might negotiate a “supply and confidence” arrangement with other parties to ensure the government survives votes of non-confidence and passes money bills. Or it could form a coalition in which cabinet and other appointments are shared.
Minority governments are commonplace in Canada. In the 28 elections since and including 1921, 11 have resulted in minority governments. They tend to be brief, lasting less than two years, but they can be very productive. In fact, minority governments intentionally co-operating across party lines brought us the Canada Pension Plan, bilingualism, the new Canadian flag and Medicare.”
Open letter to Canada’s public servants
The Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, Justin Trudeau, today released the following open letter to Canada’s public servants:
(Liberal Party of Canada) Today, I am writing to you concerning the Liberal Party of Canada’s position on several issues that may be important to you – as a federal public servant – during this election. Respect and trust for our public servants by the federal government has never been so low, and I want to take this opportunity to assure you that I have a fundamentally different view than Stephen Harper of our public service.
Where he sees an adversary, I see a partner. I believe that in order to have a public service that is valued by Canadians, and a source of pride for its members, it must be valued by its government. That begins with – and necessitates – respecting the labour rights of public servants, and trusting in their ability to provide effective, independent, and professional services for Canadians.
Stéphane Dion: Justin Trudeau did more to reform the Senate than Stephen Harper has in a decade.
(Policy Options) Justin Trudeau has developed a responsible and immediate plan to remove partisanship and patronage from the Senate, through the introduction of a truly nonpartisan nomination process. The Trudeau plan consists of two phases.
The first phase was completed on January 29, 2014, when Trudeau removed all senators from the national Liberal caucus. No longer do these senators have formal or organic ties with the Liberal caucus, nor do they have any organizational, financial or other formal responsibilities within the Liberal Party. Instead, they are able to focus on their legislative work as independent parliamentarians.
The second phase of Trudeau’s Senate reform will be implemented if Canadians elect a Liberal government. We will create a new, nonpartisan, merit-based, broad and diverse process to advise the prime minister on Senate appointments. We will also work to implement the recent recommendations of the Auditor General regarding parliamentarians’ expenses, including with legislative measures where necessary.
… the new process would search out those of exceptional competence, an indisputable connection with their province, a history of outstanding service to their communities, an excellent work capacity, flawless honesty and integrity, open-mindedness, the wisdom and sound judgment expected of a legislator and full understanding of the role of a chamber of sober second thought: proposing improvements to legislation without disputing or usurping the legitimate lead role of the elected House of Commons in a democracy.
Policy Options asked the Conservative Party of Canada for a statement on its intentions for the Senate. It did not respond. Following are recent public statements the Prime Minister and the Justice Minister have made about the Senate.
Vanishing Canada: Why we’re all losers in Ottawa’s war on data
Records deleted, burned, tossed in Dumpsters. A Maclean’s investigation on the crisis in government data
(Maclean’s) Disappearing data is only one part of a larger narrative of a degradation of knowledge—one that extends from federal scientists being prevented from talking about their research on topics as mundane as snow to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission being forced to take the federal government to court to obtain documents that should have been available under Access to Information. The situation has descended into farce: Library and Archives Canada (LAC), entrusted with preserving historic papers, books, photographs, paintings, film and artifacts, was so eroded by cuts that, a few years ago, author Jane Urquhart was unable to access her own papers, donated to LAC in the 1990s.The result is a crisis in what Canadians know—and are allowed to know—about themselves. The threat this poses to a functioning democracy has been raised over the past several years, most recently, in the massive, damning June 2015 report “Dismantling democracy: Stifling debate and dissent in Canada” produced by Voices-Voix, a non-partisan coalition of more than 200 organizations and 5,000 individuals.
Conservative government’s character revealed in Duffy affair: Hébert
The last thread of Stephen Harper’s version of the Mike Duffy cheque affair is now so frayed that it speaks to his lack of an alternative explanation that he is still hanging on to it for dear life.
(Toronto Star) … two questions to ponder between now and the Oct. 19 election.
If Harper’s most trusted aides — many of whom are still in place — were willing to use every lever at their disposal to lie their way out of an embarrassment to the Conservative party, how far would they go to sway public opinion on a matter of central importance to the government and the country?
And if voters — upon being presented with undeniable evidence of a high-level cover-up designed to mislead them — are content to look the other way, how can they expect future governments to think twice about the risks of fooling Canadians into believing whatever best serves their partisan purpose?
Ottawa’s accountability problems start at the top, in the PMO (2)
(Globe & Mail editorial) Last week, we wrote about how the Prime Minister’s Office has become far too powerful. Where once it was a relatively small office that handled the prime minister’s correspondence, helped him keep abreast of government doings and served as a link between the leader and his party, it has morphed into a 90-person juggernaut of political strategists, “issues managers” and party enforcers who exercise strict control over cabinet, the houses of Parliament and the bureaucracy.
So how do we rebalance our system? The first thing to do is to remember how it’s supposed to work. … In reality, the PMO gains strength by weakening the institutions around it. So the better fix is to empower its competitors – the public service and above all the elected members of Parliament. The Gomery commission on the Liberal sponsorship scandal suggested ways of inoculating against an overbearing PMO in its follow-up report in 2006, as did a report in 2012 by the Commons standing committee on government operations and estimates on reasserting Parliament’s “power of the purse.”
Andrew Coyne: If the Duffy affair was no big deal, why all the effort to hide it?
… if there’s no scandal here, then why is everyone connected with the government acting as if there is? That would include, among others, Stephen Harper. The line he has maintained since a week after the story first broke — that is, after a week of praising Wright as a dedicated public servant — is not that this is all a big yawn, or even an honest error, but a shocking breach of trust. Not only did he not know, he has hotly insisted throughout, but he would have put a stop to it if he had. At times he has even claimed that Wright “deceived” him.
If the matter of Duffy’s expenses were no big deal — at worst, a case of an errant senator, and besides, the rules were unclear — it would seem hard to explain why a dozen or more senior officials in the Prime Minister’s Office and the Senate spent three months fussing and fretting over it.
Some kernels of truth in this piece, BUT …
Konrad Yakabuski: Harper hysteria a sign of closed liberal minds
Yes, the Conservatives have made some questionable policy choices in the name of stroking their base. Killing the long-form census was one. The form had been a long-standing bugaboo among conservatives who felt the state has no business knowing the granular details of their lives. Its demise has inconvenienced some researchers, but it has hardly led to a “subtle darkening of Canadian life.” Somehow when it comes to critiquing Mr. Harper, all perspective gets thrown out the window.
Nothing infuriates the critics more – and this is where their slip shows – than his success at usurping the political tools their side once used to corner the market. He’s turned the Liberals’ invention of multiculturalism against them. He’s wooed suburban couples with kids away from the Liberals with an array of dubiously useful family-friendly tax credits.
The truth is, Mr. Harper does not play to his base any more than the NDP’s Mr. Mulcair or the Liberals’ Mr. Trudeau play to theirs. But because elites in the media and academe have deemed Conservative supporters a less evolved species than the progressive subclass to which they themselves belong, they are beside themselves at the loss of their own influence.
Research library’s closure shows Harper government targets science ‘at every turn,’ union says
Latest closure affects the Agriculture and Agri-Food Lethbridge Research Centre in Alberta
(CBC) The Agriculture and Agri-Food Lethbridge Research Centre was created in 1906 and provided scientific information to scientists with Agriculture Canada, as well as technicians and students.
The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC) — which represents approximately 15,000 federal scientists — says the closure brings the number of federal science libraries lost due to cuts, closures and consolidations to 16 since 2012.
“The Harper government continues to target government science at every turn,” PIPSC president Debi Daviau said in a release.
“It is time Canadians understood the cumulative loss to federal science — and this week to agricultural science, in particular — of a government whose priorities are clearly out of step with both public scientists and the public interest.”
The union claims the change will make access to relevant research more difficult for scientists studying beef, soil chemistry and ecology, rangeland, wheat, canola, potatoes, beans, insect pests and greenhouse gases.
“While some items appear to have been shipped to government facilities in Ottawa, on Monday most of the library’s contents had been either discarded in a dumpster outside the building or sent to recycling,” said PIPSC in its statement.
Andrew Coyne — Sympathy for Stephen Harper: Imagine that everyone you trusted had lied to you
And yet, this good man, deceived, humiliated, betrayed on all sides, found it in his heart to forgive them. You or I, had we found ourselves in the same position, might have taken the most foul sort of revenge: fired the lot, paraded them in front of the media, forced them to answer for what they had done. But that is not, we can see now, Harper’s way: this supposedly ruthless autocrat, this cold, vindictive brute of caricature, responded to this monumental breach of trust with comprehensive mercy. No one was fired, though some were allowed to leave. Some are even travelling with him on his campaign. He was even going to forgive Wright, and would have, had it tested better.
Jeff Sallot: The Harper article that taught us to get angry again
A deeply passionate and serious debate about Canadian politics emerged last weekend with the publication of a Sunday New York Times op-ed piece provocatively titled, “The Closing of the Canadian Mind”.
(iPolitics) The article, by Toronto writer Stephen Marche, holds up Harper’s anti-democratic and anti-intellectual record for the world to see. Reaction to it lit up the Internet. Turns out this was the start of the wide public debate we’d been waiting for.
Jonathan Manthorpe: The hallmark of a smart leader is quitting while you’re ahead
(iPolitics) … even in parliamentary democracies without any legal limits on prime ministerial tenure, its amazing how consistently the 10-years-and-you’re-out rule applies. Thatcher and Blair in Britain; Jean Chretien, Pierre Trudeau and Brian Mulroney in Canada; and Howard in Australia all found the exit sign looming as the 10-year clock ran down. Running a finger down that list, one can make the argument that 10 years is probably too long. In several of the cases cited, the final years in power were pitiful times — when the leader’s analytical abilities became badly eroded by excessive familiarity with power.Eight years at the helm is probably the most citizens should expect from their elected leaders these days — and in some cases even that would be ambitious.Many bad consequences flow from that late-term putrefaction of a leader’s judgement — not the least of which is neglecting the question of what happens next. By and large, leaders who become accustomed to power are very bad at preparing for the succession, at bringing in a crop of younger ministers skilled and experienced enough to take the reins.
Harper also is being cavalier about the succession. A notable feature of the run-up to this election is the number of Conservative MPs who are not running again — including most of the small number of people qualified to take over the leadership of the party. It’s hard to pick out anyone on Harper’s front benches who shows signs of possessing the skills and gravitas to be party leader, let alone prime minister.
The only serious adornment to Harper’s administration — and the only person who appeared to be able to disagree with the boss and outlive the experience — was the former Finance minister, Jim Flaherty.
When future historians come to look back at the Harper era, they’ll probably conclude that the beginning of the end was Flaherty’s resignation from cabinet in March 2014 — and his death three weeks later.
Carissima Mathen: Gaming the Constitution
(Ottawa Citizen) Calling the Senate “undemocratic” and “unaccountable”, the prime minister announced a “moratorium” on future appointments (so long as his government is able to enact its preferred legislation).
No doubt, the Senate has seen better days. This latest move may well be sound political strategy. But in terms of the law, it is untenable.
Under our Constitution it is the governor general, and not the prime minister, who makes Senate appointments. Because we adhere to the principle of responsible government, the governor general acts on the “advice” of the prime minister. The prime minster is now refusing to provide the advice required by the governor general to perform his constitutional responsibilities. Should that refusal continue, the governor general eventually may have to decide whether to: follow the convention and not act; obey the Constitution but act without advice; dismiss the prime minister; or resign.
For Canada’s young global citizens, voting rights matter
By Ilona Dougherty
(iPolitics) If we have any hope of engaging the next generation in our national affairs, we will need to expand our concepts of what it means to be a Canadian citizen and not limit them. As young Canadians set off around the world with Canadian flags on their backpacks, or as our young talent spends more time working globally, online or abroad, we should be valuing their global experience and perspective, not limiting it.
Expat voters’ rights battle costs Harper government $1.3M so far
(CBC) A decision by the Ontario Superior Court last spring said preventing Canadian citizens who’ve been living abroad for more than five years from voting was unconstitutional. [May 2014 Voting rights restored to Canadians living abroad long-term]
The legal challenge was started by two Canadians living in the United States who said they had no opportunity for employment in this country, but still wanted the chance to vote while living abroad.
The case is awaiting a decision at the Ontario Court of Appeal, meaning more legal costs may come.
Justice Russell Brown of Alberta named to Supreme Court
Brown has been a judge for 2½ years, will replace Justice Marshall Rothstein
Brown has been a judge for 2½ years. He was appointed to the Alberta Court of Appeal and the appeal courts of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut in March 2014 after serving a year on the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta. … According to the PMO statement, Brown’s legal experience is in the areas of commercial law, medical negligence, personal injury, trusts and estates and competition law. Not a constitutional scholar. (Globe & Mail) [He] is a former member of the advisory board of a conservative legal group in Alberta, the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms. Its website says its core views include a belief in “economic liberty,” including property rights as part of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms – which has never been accepted by the Supreme Court. It also says equality before the law means “special privileges for none,” which also runs counter to the Supreme Court’s view that the Charter’s equality clause is primarily for individuals from historically disadvantaged groups and its second part permits affirmative action for the disadvantaged.
“Current events remind us that the notion of limited government – particularly as it pertains to freedom of conscience and freedom of expression – can never be taken for granted in Canada,” Justice Brown said in a website endorsement of the JCCF and its executive director, John Carpay, a former candidate for the Wildrose Party in Alberta.
Supreme Court unfair to Harper government, new Ontario justice wrote as professor
(G&M) The newest judge on Ontario’s top court has an explanation for the Conservative government’s well-known losing streak at the Supreme Court of Canada: The court’s reasoning process is unfair, making it almost impossible for the federal government to defend its laws, such as those involving assisted suicide, prostitution and the war on drugs.
Ontario Court of Appeal Justice Bradley Miller, whose appointment was announced last month, is part of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s vanguard on the bench – a leading dissenter, along with fellow appeal-court Justice Grant Huscroft, from much of what Canada’s judges have said and done under the 1982 Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Harper’s constitutional disobedience a dangerous game to play
In announcing a moratorium on further Senate appointments, the Prime Minister is committing an act of constitutional disobedience. His justifications simply do not pass muster. The asserted cost savings of $6-million annually does not compare well with the bevy of spending on government advertising and other government initiatives. The other assertion is that the moratorium will force the provinces over time to come to an agreement regarding reform or abolition. Considering that the Prime Minister has never met with the premiers to discuss Senate reform, let alone made any concerted effort to find common ground with the provinces, this justification is similarly baseless.
Rick Blue: Could senate scandal all be the work of a mastermind Harper?
(Montreal Gazette) … just imagine, if Stephen Harper was as devilishly cunning as some of his enemies seem to think he is. Imagine if he had not given up but had instead orchestrated the drama that went on all last fall, winter and spring. He appointed these recalcitrant Senators. And it was his office that brought about the scandal. All he had to do was lead them to the trough and let the opposition parties and the press do the rest.
There is an old saying that some occupations are a thankless job but an appointment to the Senate is a jobless thanks. But perhaps our PM found a real job for his appointees. And that job would be to destroy the Senate from inside.
Stephen Harper’s courts: How the judiciary has been remade
(Globe & Mail) Mr. Harper’s battles with the Supreme Court are well known. … But while those public conflicts were playing out, the government was quietly transforming the lower courts. The Conservative government has now named about 600 of the 840 full-time federally appointed judges, or nearly three in every four judges on provincial superior courts, appeal courts, the Federal Court and Tax Court.
These are the courts that, at the appeal level, decide how the government’s crime crackdown is to be implemented. At the trial level, they decide high-profile cases like Mr. Khadr’s. In constitutional cases, they rule on what are called social and legislative facts – anything that establishes the real-world context in which a law plays out, such as whether prostitution laws endanger sex workers. Higher courts, including the Supreme Court, do not change these facts, unless they view them as wildly wrong. Constitutional rulings depend on these facts.
The judges, who can serve until they are 75, may be sitting long after other governments have come along and rewritten the laws. They also are a farm team or development system for the Supreme Court. They are Mr. Harper’s enduring legacy.
In the course of this transformation, entire categories of potential candidates, such as criminal defence lawyers, have been neglected; prosecutors and business attorneys have been favoured. So cumbersome is the system of political scrutiny that vacancies hit record-high levels last year. And sometimes, critics say, judges and politicians, even cabinet ministers, have come into close contact in the appointment process, raising questions about neutrality and fairness.
Underlying the appointments issue is a covert culture war over who gets to define Canadian values, Parliament or the courts, and what political party puts the most indelible imprint on the nation’s character.
The rules in the appointments system are few, and all previous governments have used the bench to reward party faithful. But Mr. Harper is the first Prime Minister to be a critic of the Charter, and early on he told Parliament that he wanted to choose judges who would support his crackdown on crime.
After appointing 56 senators, Stephen Harper is done
The Prime Minister declares a moratorium on Senate appointments and the countdown to a constitutional crisis is on
By Aaron Wherry
(Maclean’s) The Senate is not merely a quirk of our history or a blight upon our democracy. It is the law. Its existence is part of the constitutional basis for this country’s existence. …
Without at least 15 senators, the Senate would be unable to function. And unless passed by the Senate, legislation cannot be made law. Thus, as currently set out, there is no functioning Parliament without a functioning Senate.
As the Supreme Court ruled that any “fundamental” change to the form or mandate of the Senate would require provincial consent, it’s possible that a refusal to appoint senators would be ruled unconstitutional long before the Senate’s population fell below 15. What then? Would he Mr. Harper ignore a court ruling? Shall we start speculating now about when a governor general would be compelled to intervene? Would it be too early to start manufacturing constitutional-crisis tchotchkes to sell to the tourists?
I am Canadian – but now not as much as I used to be
On Monday, I lost my right to vote in the next federal election. So did some 1.4 million other Canadians, many of whom moved abroad to pursue their careers.
They are aid workers, teachers, business people, entertainers. More than a few names on Canada’s Walk of Fame were just deprived of part of their Canadian-ness because they followed their careers across a border.
Section Three of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms reads: “Every citizen of Canada has the right to vote in an election of members of the House of Commons.” It follows that those of us without a right to vote feel a little less like citizens now.
Here are 17 more Conservative friends of Stephen Harper now in trouble with the law
(Press Progress) A Peterborough judge sentenced the Prime Minister’s former Parliamentary Secretary to one month in jail and four months of house arrest after being convicted of charges relating to election law violations and submitting falsified documents to the court.
Although Del Mastro is the only sitting parliamentarian to be sentenced to jail, by no means is he the first person affiliated with the Stephen Harper’s government to be on the wrong side of their law-and-order agenda. Here’s a look at some of the other allegations (and convictions) of fraud, bribery, breach of trust and even assault:
Crime doesn’t pay. Unless you’re a Conservative committing electoral crimes, then it totally pays, like really well.
Under the current laws, an MP who is expelled for serious criminal wrongdoing loses their pension. However when an MP resigns, even if they cheated to get elected – they can keep their pension. That’s why in the fall of 2014 Del Mastro resigned right before the NDP could bring forward a motion to expel him.
Irwin Cotler’s perfect ending
Liberal MP Irwin Cotler uses his second last day in the House of Commons to uphold the ‘the vitality of our democracy’
(Maclean’s) To review and demand explanations for the government’s decisions on the spending of public funds is something like the primary reason for having a Parliament, the principle around which this system of responsible government has developed over the last 800 years. So while Cotler’s question of privilege might be a footnote on the 41st Parliament, it is also the essential thing. His order paper question likely will not factor significantly into the cacophony of this fall’s election, but it is precisely why we elect representatives to the House.
Emmett Macfarlane: Fair and open government – the Devil is in the details
(Policy Options) Justin Trudeau announced yesterday an impressively comprehensive set of democratic reform policies … I’m a little skeptical of mandatory voting (it seems like treating the symptom rather than the cause of a disease). I also think the electoral reform proposal would have benefited from more clarity. There will be lots of time for Trudeau to address these two issues, but I wanted to comment on some of the other proposals, many of which are really, really good.
Tories Have Shut Down Debate 100 Times This Parliament: Opposition
(HuffPost) When it comes to the controversial practice of curtailing parliamentary debate, opposition parties say Conservatives have hit the century mark.
On Wednesday, 141 Tory MPs voted to pass a time allocation motion on Bill C-59, a 167-page, omnibus budget implementation bill that also contains unprecedented amendments to retroactively rewrite access to information laws.
Another Chris Alexander Heritage Minute
The Immigration Minister makes up some random fake history. Paul Wells corrects the record.
Chris Alexander, speaking with the authority of his ministerial office, delivered a delusional and culpably misleading capsule history of Canadian immigration policy. As if he takes Canadians for fools. He’s one of the least impressive ministers in an increasingly weak government bench.
Andrew Coyne: Let’s focus on the positive — easily more than half of Canada’s Senate isn’t under investigation
My only remaining concern is that this whole expenses hoo-ha, the work of at most a few dozen bad apples, will distract public attention from all the good work the Senate does. For example, senators have put in many long hours not dealing with several bills passed up to them by the House of Commons, working feverishly to a summer deadline to ensure the bills do not pass before then.
These would include not only Bill C-586, the Reform Act, passed by the Commons in February by a vote of 260-17, about which much has been written, but also Bill C-290, legalizing single-event sports betting — passed by the House three years ago. Nit-picking democrats may question what kind of legitimacy the Senate, made up of people whose chief qualification for the job is a willingness to accept it, has to thwart the will of the people’s elected representatives. I would answer that senators have another source of legitimacy: their moral authority.
Oh, I almost forgot. There’s also Bill C-518, still on the order paper but, like the others, rapidly running out of time. What would it do? It would remove pension eligibility from any parliamentarian found to have fiddled his or her expenses. By parliamentarian, of course, I mean members not only of the Commons, but also the Senate.
Senate Expense Audit Findings To Be Handed To RCMP Friday
Spending in the scandal-ridden, self-policing Senate is devoid of oversight and accountability, says an explosive audit of expenses that urges “transformative change” to fix systemic problems in the upper chamber.
Michael Ferguson’s long-awaited examination of Senate expenses proposes nothing short of a complete overhaul of how spending is governed — sweeping changes that echo what the auditor general has been saying for years: parliamentarians should not be overseeing the spending of their peers.
Front and centre is retired Liberal senator Rod Zimmer and his disputed expense claims, which total $176,014 — including travel that auditors allege was for non-Senate business, and a housing allowance to which he wasn’t entitled. (Press Progress) The Canadian Senate’s long, long, looong history of shameful behaviour
Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu Quits Tories, 8 Other Senators Face RCMP Expense Probe
(HuffPost) The long-simmering Senate expense scandal came to a rolling boil Thursday as revelations in a hard-hitting spending audit sent three of the upper chamber’s most prominent members spinning into damage control and another Conservative running from the Conservative government caucus.
Brian Mulroney: Dysfunctional Senate ‘Badly In Need Of Reform’
Mulroney said he had two solutions to reform the Senate that would not need a constitutional amendment.
First, Parliament should create a commission consisting of “two prominent Canadians” such as a former auditor general and a former member of the Supreme Court, and give them six months to come up with a “code of conduct for the Senate.”
Mulroney added the prime minister should refrain from making any appointments to the Senate until after the code goes into effect.
Second, the prime minister should only be able to name senators from “ranked lists provided by the provinces.”
Conrad Black: Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin has emasculated the high court of Parliament
This country is increasingly ruled by a handful of judges, rather than our elected representatives
Colin Robertson: Circus act detracts from the real work of MPs
(Globe & Mail) Most members of Parliament spend their days meeting with constituents and interest groups and in committee, scrutinizing both budgets and policy.
Committees are the one place where small groups of MPs meet face-to-face and, occasionally, travel together. Their shared interest in finding solutions, especially to our international issues, usually results in them setting aside undue partisanship.
Mostly unreported, their foreign affairs work is practical and insightful. Senate reports, in particular, are traditionally balanced, reflecting the latitude and experience that comes with appointment and mandatory retirement only at 75. During the seventies, then chair George van Roggen held hearings and issued a series of reports on Canada-U.S. relations that helped shift attitudes toward freer trade. During this session, the Senate foreign affairs and international trade committee work included the convention on cluster munitions, the free-trade agreements with Korea and Honduras, political developments in Turkey, security and economic conditions in Asia-Pacific and the potential for increased North American integration.
Turkey holds elections next month. The committee’s report, Building Bridges, recommended making Turkey a strategic priority, potentially a free-trade partner. Arguing for deeper political engagement through high-level visits, it also encouraged better marketing of Canadian education by including work-study opportunities.
Mike Harris, the Fraser Institute, and charitable status – Michael [Enwright]’s essay
Some critics of Mr. Harris and his letter suggest it is now time for the Fraser Institute to be audited because it has crossed the frontier into political advocacy. The last time the Fraser Institute was audited, was almost 20 years ago.
In a line worthy of a stand-up comedian, the president of the Fraser Institute said the Harris letter was in no way political. The Fraser, he said, is rigidly non-partisan. Whether the Fraser Institute is a partisan organization is something to be decided by the higher powers in government.
But one thing is eminently clear. Michael Deane “Mike” Harris, 22nd premier of Ontario, has not drawn a non-partisan breath since he was nine years old.
Fixed election date eroding campaign rules, ex-elections chief says
‘The prime minister is the champ and his people are setting the rules,’ says Jean-Pierre Kingsley
Canadian three-way split might enable Harper to pull a Cameron in election
Conservative government has got through a tough spring and could, like its UK counterparts, achieve a majority unless Liberals and New Democrats cooperate
(The Guardian) Canada’s increasingly unpopular Conservative government stumbled through a bruising spring in which it enraged the nation and alienated some of its most faithful supporters. But the prime minister, Stephen Harper, is entering the race for re-election this autumn with the wind at its back…. Opposition to Harper is evenly divided between two major opposition parties – the Liberals and the New Democrats – so the one-third of voters who vote Conservative are set once again to choose Canada’s national government.
Stephen Harper, sore loser, rigs the game again
(iPolitics) Whenever Prime Minister Stephen Harper finds himself in a corner, he digs himself out with whatever tools are available, ethical or otherwise. His methods are limited only by the degree of his desperation. So he shuts down Parliament when the questions get too close to the bone. He refuses to allow scientists to talk to Canadians about the research they’re paying for — the better to push arguments that fly in the face of science. He drafts a ‘fair’ election law designed to boost his chances of winning the next election.
So far, Harper has limited himself to offending democracy and the law. Now he’s re-writing history. Buried in his government’s latest omnibus budget bill is an amendment to the Access to Information Act which denies people the opportunity to make access to information requests for data from the defunct long gun registry.
Steve Campana, Canadian biologist, ‘disgusted’ with government muzzling
Fisheries and Oceans Canada biologist speaks out only after retirement
A recently retired Fisheries and Oceans Canada biologist says the muzzling of federal government scientists is worse than anyone can imagine.
Steve Campana, known for his expertise on everything from Great white sharks to porbeagles and Arctic trout, says the atmosphere working for the federal government is toxic.
Celine Cooper: Making politics matter to the next generation
There is a discomfiting disconnect between our tendency to focus on election campaigns — the scandals, the personalities, winners and losers — and the fact that Canada has one of the lowest voter turnouts of any comparative Western democracy.
Broken Covenant: Blistering report on 9 years of Harper agenda
(The Council of Canadians) Hot on the heels of the Conservative defeat in Alberta, Maude Barlow is calling on Canadians to send the federal Tories packing as well. Her new report, Broken Covenant: How Stephen Harper Set out to Silence Dissent and Curtail Democratic Participation, outlines the damage done to all aspects of Canada’s democracy under Harper’s watch.
“Stephen Harper has clear-cut an entire movement. Like an old growth forest, the complex and intricate landscape that made up the civil society/federal government relationship took decades to create. Like a clear-cut, the damage was meant to be absolute. And like a clear-cut, there is no easy blueprint for how to rebuild the rich and multifaceted diversity that made it unique,” writes Barlow in the report.
A scathing indictment of nine years of the Harper agenda, Broken Covenant examines the Harper government’s impact on our democratic institutions, families and workers, women, First Nations, the environment, health care, arts and culture, farmers, human rights and social equality.
Duffy connected charity critic to lucrative industry cash
(National Observer) Poorly redacted entries in Mike Duffy’s diary suggest that the then-senator used his influence and connections during early 2012 to set in motion a lucrative flow of petroleum and mining industry speaking fees to Vivian Krause — the star witness at parliamentary hearings that set the stage for the Harper government’s scorching attack on environmental charities.
Opinion: Harper’s legacy of cuts and jabs
A healthy democracy has robust media and civil-society organizations, secured access to information and professional data-gathering practices, along with accountable parliamentarians. A few voices are showing us that all have been diminished under Harper. It isn’t over. It’s time we woke up and did something about it.
Harper sparks controversy by linking guns and personal security
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, after years of cautiously linking gun ownership to farmers and duck hunters, now says firearms are needed by rural Canadians for their own security so they can shoot people who pose a danger.
But a spokesman for the Canadian Bar Association is urging Canadians to realize that they do not have an automatic right to defend themselves at home with a gun, and could end up facing criminal charges if they do so.
RCMP allege that Pamela Wallin fabricated meetings in $27K fraud
NDP ethics critic Charlie Angus told reporters outside the House of Commons that the allegations in the latest RCMP document point to a need for the federal auditor general to deliver results of a probe of Senate spending before the federal election in the fall.
We ‘don’t have a clue’ what’s in omnibus bills, say MPs
The Conservative-dominated Parliament has passed at least 10 massive omnibus bills that have amended hundreds of Canadian laws since Prime Minister Stephen Harper won government in 2011. But opposition MPs say most of the bills have flown out the door without proper scrutiny, which violates the fundamental rule of Parliament, and they want this legislative procedure to end.
Since 2011, the Harper government’s 10 omnibus bills have amended hundreds of acts, most of which have passed into law.
On Feb. 19, Mr. Stoffer, a veteran NDP MP, introduced a private member’s bill that seeks to restrict the use of omnibus bills that try to amend multiple laws at one time if the changes aren’t related.
Mr. Stoffer’s one-paragraph bill, coined “Stop the Bus,” would prohibit the government from using the budget implementation bills to amend multiple acts outside of the financial measures. The latest budget bill, C-43, tabled last fall, brought in changes to over 20 non-budget-related acts, including the Patent Act, the Criminal Code and the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act.
Mr. Stoffer’s bill wouldn’t apply to federal budgets if all of the implementation bill’s provisions “have a purpose that is primarily financial in nature.” It would amend the Parliament of Canada Act and apply to both the House and Senate. Conservative retribution? Burst Confed Building pipe leaves Stoffer dreaming of office reno
Five big ideas for Canada, but one is the biggest
By Dr. Don Lenihan, Senior Associate, Policy and Engagement, at Canada 2020
(National Newswatch) … one speaker stood out. … a retired bureaucrat named Morris Rosenberg.
Rosenberg is a highly respected, former deputy minister of Justice, Health and, most recently, Foreign Affairs. He now heads the Trudeau Foundation.
According to Rosenberg, our governments were designed for a time when issues were thought to have clear boundaries and good solutions had well defined objectives.
That worked pretty well before globalization, the digital revolution and population explosion. Then suddenly the world shrank. Issues became way more interconnected and a lot more complex.
Today, an issue like climate change is not just an issue, but a diffuse constellation of issues that stretches out across policy space, linking the environment to transportation, urban planning, health, education, agriculture, Aboriginal issues and so on.
As a result, an effective strategy to address climate change must mobilize and align different departments, governments, members of the business and NGO communities, and even ordinary citizens. In a word, it requires collaboration.
Moreover, such issues are never “solved.” They are always with us, and always mutating. Good policy aims at managing them. And here we got a glimpse of what it must be like to be a deputy minister today.
That’s not what’s happening, said Rosenberg flatly. Politicians like issues that are clear and solutions that are permanent. They dislike processes with too many players in the field and too many links to other issues. It’s too easy for something to go wrong.
As a result, our politicians have become very reluctant to tackle Big Issues; and so the Big Ideas to solve the Big Issues rarely get beyond the testing stage.
You don’t have to read between the lines to get the point: A vicious circle has formed inside government where the riskiness of the policy process is making the leadership increasingly risk-averse—to the point where we are not even trying to develop the processes, skills and knowledge needed to respond, say, to the prospect of calamitous environmental change.
[See GS Comment of 1 March below]
David (Jones) Election reform: Complaints about money and electoral districts are for ‘losers’
And the cry for election “reform” is invariably the province of losers.
Winners are essentially satisfied with the system as it is working for them. Or, if they didn’t win the most recent election, they view the system as sufficiently congenial that they have a reasonable chance of winning. They view the day of electoral defeat as the first day of the march to victory (just as astute victors/parties recognize the day of victory is the first day in the march to defeat). And losers can be sanguine.
David (Kilgour) Election reform: Canada in desperate need of proportional representation
The Parliament of Canada should initiate the most broadly acceptable model of proportional representation (PR) for electing members to our House of Commons, mostly because doing so would create a chamber where MPs are elected in proportion to votes received rather than our present winner-take-all system.
Canada, the U.S. and U.K. are the only major Western democracies still using the first-past-the-post voting system. Our election laws should no longer prescribe that the only voters electing MPs are those favouring each riding’s most popular political party. Now the votes of those supporting minority parties — about seven million in the 2011 federal election — achieve nothing in terms of post-election representation. That model was created centuries ago and is simply out-dated for modern times
Cabinet Shuffle Moves Pierre Poilievre, Rob Nicholson And Jason Kenney Into New Roles
The swift shuffle sees Nicholson take over the foreign affairs portfolio and hand over his previous job at national defence to Jason Kenney.
Kenney’s role as minister for employment and social development will go to Pierre Poilievre, an Ottawa-area MP who has held several smaller cabinet roles over the years.
The country that dumbed itself to death
(iPolitics) In June of 2010, by way of an Order in Council from the minister of Industry, the government scrapped the long-form census and replaced it with the voluntary National Household Survey. No debate was held, no stakeholders were consulted, no bill was passed.
Here’s the problem. The mandatory long-form census, distributed to one in five Canadian households, had a response rate of 93.5 per cent when it was last conducted in 2006. The National Household Survey, on the other hand, had a pitiful response rate of 68.6 per cent in 2011. The government tried to compensate by sending the survey to 10 per cent more Canadian households, at an extra cost of $22 million. Unfortunately, that doesn’t address the self-selection bias inherent to voluntary surveys.
There’s still time to restore the mandatory long-form census before the next census in 2016. Liberal MP Ted Hsu is trying to do just that, with a private member’s bill that’s due for a second-reading vote before the end of the week. His bill would reinstate the mandatory long-form census and create an independent process for appointing Canada’s chief statistician.
… Far more likely to succeed is Conservative MP Joe Preston’s census reform bill – a weak offering that would replace the threat of jail time for those who fail to fill out the census with fines, but do nothing to fix the National Household Survey’s disastrous methodology.
Anti-terrorism powers: What’s in the legislation?
Legislation introduced Friday gives CSIS new powers as security officials grapple with new threats
Canada’s government on Friday introduced its new anti-terror legislation, a sweeping range of measures that would allow suspects to be detained based on less evidence and let CSIS actively interfere with suspects’ travel plans and finances.
The new bill, C-51, is only 62 pages long but contains a variety of increased powers for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS).
Terry Milewski: Stephen Harper takes aim at terror, opposition gets dinged
Warning: When tackling terrorism in an election year, inaccuracies may occur
The rollout of the federal government’s new terror legislation went fine. The prime minister’s speech was clear and well staged. A friendly crowd applauded on cue. His pose was the stern statesman, on guard for thee.
But, it wasn’t all statesman, all the time. It’s still an election year and Stephen Harper did not forget to stick a knife in the opposition. If that required a glaring inaccuracy — well, did I mention it’s an election year?
Canada’s new anti-terror legislation prompts civil liberties fears
Prime minister Stephen Harper announces Anti-Terrorism Act that would increase spy powers, crack down on websites
(The Guardian) Declaring that “a great evil has descended on our world”, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has unveiled legislation giving security forces sweeping new powers to apprehend suspected terrorists and disrupt their activities.
The new Anti-Terrorism Act – the latest in a series of such measures adopted by the Canadian parliament since the 9/11 terror attacks – will make promoting terrorism a crime subject to five years in prison. It will give the Canadian spy agency enhanced powers to disrupt suspected terrorist activity at home and abroad, and permit courts to shut down any Canadian-based website seen as promoting terrorism or seeking recruits.
Coyne: Corrupting effects of power underlie pointless election speculation
Federal programs and research facilities that have been shut down or had their funding reduced
(The Fifth Estate) Hundreds of federal programs and world renowned research facilities have been shut down or had their funding reduced by the federal government. This list was compiled by the Canadian Association of University Teachers and the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada. It is a long and depressing list See Science and prosperity(video)
Scientists not shielded from political interference from feds: report
(Globe & Mail) Most scientists who work for the Canadian government are not adequately protected from political interference or assured of being able to speak freely and openly about their work, a detailed assessment of federal media policies has revealed.
The assessment, produced jointly by Simon Fraser University and the science advocacy group Evidence for Democracy, is the first systematic examination of the media policies of 16 federal departments and agencies that employ scientists.
Canada now dominates World Bank corruption list, thanks to SNC-Lavalin
Out of the more than 250 companies year to date on the World Bank’s running list of firms blacklisted from bidding on its global projects under its fraud and corruption policy, 117 are from Canada — with SNC-Lavalin and its affiliates representing 115 of those entries, the World Bank said.
Andrew Coyne: 20 years later, the players in the Quebec referendum still haven’t thought it through
The revelation in The Morning After, Chantal Hébert’s important new book on what would have happened had the Yes side won the 1995 referendum — or rather, what the protagonists think would have happened — is not that they had, almost without exception, given very little thought to the matter in advance of the event. That much has long been apparent.
No, the news is that even today, nearly 20 years later, they still haven’t thought it through. … — the overall impression is of a paralyzing inability, if not refusal, to think more than one move ahead, or to consider any outcome other than the one each desired.
Very good news!
Harper picks new top advisers for key committee on public service
(Ottawa Citizen) Prime Minister Stephen Harper has picked a former senator and a top banking executive to head his blue-chip advisory committee on managing and modernizing Canada’s public service.
Hugh Segal, who left the Senate in June to become Master of Massey College in Toronto, and Rick Waugh, the former president, CEO and deputy chairman of Scotiabank, will take over as co-chairs of the high-powered committee of executives who advise the prime minister on the public service.
The two replace co-chairs David Emerson, a former Liberal and Conservative cabinet minister, and former Privy Council Clerk and businessman Paul Tellier, whose reports have provided a blueprint for many of the changes the public service has undergone in recent years.
Premiers on collision course with Ottawa ahead of the 2015 federal election
This week on The House, Target 2015. The country’s Premiers want to shape the agenda of next year’s federal election. This week, they gathered in Charlottetown to craft their strategy. Host Evan Solomon convenes a special panel. British Columbia’s Christy Clark, Saskatchewan’s Brad Wall, Ontario’s Kathleen Wynne and PEI’s Robert Ghiz all join us to talk about the province’s priorities — and facing off with Ottawa.
Peter MacKay poses in pro-gun ‘No Compromise’ T-shirt NOT his finest hour.
Justice Minister Peter MacKay says he was showing support for an Afghan veteran when he posed for a photo at a Conservative Party fundraiser wearing a T-shirt bearing the logo of the National Firearms Association, a pro-gun lobby group.
A lucid and comprehensive history lesson followed by a solid assessment of the opportunities opening for an agreeable solution to Canda-Quebec
Conrad Black: Quebec is ready to deal
We should restore the principle of a national Anglo-French association, accept a distinct constitutional status for Quebec (of course it isn’t a province like the others, and it never was); allow for compensated opting out from programs in provincial areas and shared jurisdiction in immigration, the partition of provinces that vote to secede where regions of secessionist provinces vote to remain in Canada, and a partial federalization of the Senate and Supreme Court. Those institutions could scarcely be more ludicrous than they have become with the expenses controversies and the preposterous Nadon decision. This could be negotiated in stages, between Ottawa and Quebec and then, where appropriate, other provinces.
Quebec is ready to deal; Couillard has the courage and the mandate. Stephen Harper may lack the imagination to seize the moment, but other accomplished veterans of the long constitutional struggle, including Brian Mulroney, Jean Chrétien, Joe Clark, Roy Romanow and Jean Charest, are available to him. The time has come. (12 April)
Feds spent $80,000 on four-month search for Nadon
(Hill Times) The government spent $80,000 on legal costs during the four-month selection process that led to its controversial appointment of Federal Court Judge Marc Nadon to the Supreme Court of Canada last fall, more in legal fees than for any previous Supreme Court appointment by Prime Minister Stephen Harper
Andrew Coyne: PMO has created another needless controversy by picking fight with Canada’s top judge
For a system of written law to work, there must be an independent arbiter to interpret it; if laws meant whatever the Prime Minister of the day claimed they did, we would effectively be living under rule by decree.
Conversations with Chief Justice are normal
By Irwin Cotler, Ottawa Citizen
(Ottawa Citizen) While the government now seeks to tarnish the Court’s excellent reputation — let alone the sterling reputation of the Chief Justice — Quebec remains under-represented at the Supreme Court of Canada, a situation the government must remedy.
Justice McLachlin was first appointed by Progressive Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and elevated to Chief Justice by Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chrétien. As Canada’s longest-serving Chief Justice, she represents the best of Canada and continues to serve as a role model and inspiration to many. It is my hope — one shared with many in Parliament from across the political spectrum — that she will continue to serve with distinction for years to come.
Ontario heads for June election after NDP rejects budget
NDP leader gives thumbs-down to support day after budget’s release by Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals
Stephen Harper’s dispute with chief justice exposes frustration with top court
(Postmedia News) An unprecedented public dispute between Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada has laid bare the federal government’s frustration with the court’s decisions, just as the Conservatives prepare to appoint a new Quebec judge to the country’s highest court.
The spat between the Prime Minister’s Office and the Supreme Court follows a string of defeats for the government at the top court, and has opposition parties accusing the Conservatives of effectively launching a smear campaign against Supreme Court Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin.
It also produces even more drama over the upcoming selection of a new judge, after the court in March rejected the government’s appointment of Marc Nadon.
Andrew Coyne: Harper’s reputation as strategist obscures his screwups
Step one: Fail to gather consensus or anticipate opposition. Step two: Make no effort to disarm or co-opt critics, but antagonize them at every turn. Step three: Attempt to bluster or bully them into submission. Step four: Ignore warnings of imminent collision with reality. Step five: crash and burn.
Senate reform has risks but so does the status quo
By Brian Lee Crowley
(Ottawa Citizen) The Supreme Court’s decision does nothing to change the fact that the Senate as currently constituted is unacceptable to Canadians. It is a 19th century relic whose appointed nature, lifetime (until age 75) tenure and lack of democratic accountability are unworthy of a powerful legislative body in 2014.
… What is required is a federal government with the chutzpah to put a reasoned Senate reform plan to all Canadians in a referendum. A sensible plan would, I believe, achieve a large national endorsement. Ottawa could then challenge the provinces to defy their own voters and turn down the reform. The provinces would huff and puff but I think they would fall into line. As long as none of the reforms required unanimity no province would have a veto.
NOT a great week for Mr. Harper!
John Ivison: Harper reminded he’s not omnipotent as court dashes Senate plans and Tories amend election bill
Pierre Poilievre unveils changes to Fair Elections Act after weeks of criticism
(National Post) The government has been forced into an embarrassing climbdown on its Fair Elections Act by claims from the opposition and academics that the bill damages Canadian democracy.
Pierre Poilievre, the rookie democratic reform minister, unveiled the changes Friday, after weeks of criticism from MPs on all sides of the House, and in the Senate, at a number of contentious provisions in the bill.
Much of the criticism has centred on the end of vouching, where a person without proof of identity can still vote if they are accompanied by another voter who has the required identification. Critics claimed the move is intended to suppress voting by groups hostile to the Conservatives such as students and aboriginals. A number of academics have signed a petition claiming it infringes on the Charter right to vote. ”’
“The government will support amendments to expressly clarify that the Commissioner and Chief Electoral Officer can communicate with each other and the public,” said Mr. Poilievre.
Supreme Court rejects Harper government’s Senate overhaul plan
The Supreme Court of Canada has unanimously rejected the Conservative government’s attempt to transform the Senate into an elected body, and to set term limits of nine years, saying that such basic changes require the consent of at least seven provinces and half of Canadians.
Has the Supreme Court made Harper an accidental reformer?
With Friday’s Senate reference, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has chalked up another loss before the Supreme Court of Canada. For Court watchers, constitutional disputes involving the Harper government will form a key part of Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin’s record. From another angle, the disputes our Prime Minister has sent to the Court give him an unintended legacy as a constitutional reformer. ‘No consensus’ among provinces about reforming Senate: Harper — Prime Minister Stephen Harper says Friday’s Supreme Court ruling on Senate reform is a “decision for the status quo” that hamstrings his government in making substantive changes to the Red Chamber. Harper v. the Supreme Court: Five recent losses for the PM
An open letter on the Fair Elections Act
(Globe & Mail) Last month, more than 160 professors signed an open letter to express grave concerns about the damage to Canadian democracy that the “Fair Elections Act,” Bill C-23, would cause. Today, we the undersigned, an even larger group of professors who share a deep concern over this legislation, urge the government to withdraw the bill and draft truly fair election reforms based on meaningful consultations with opposition parties, non-partisan experts, Elections Canada and the public. There is no reason to depart from this laudable Canadian tradition for electoral reform.
Senate panel sets up confrontation with Harper on Elections Act
In a rare exercise of power, a Senate committee is pushing back against Stephen Harper’s Conservative government by unanimously recommending changes to the Fair Elections Act, an overhaul of electoral law that is fiercely opposed by other parties.
The Senate report, which will be made public this week, amounts to a warning shot from the embattled Senate. The move is not binding, but it raises the threat of the Senate changing the bill itself if the House of Commons ignores its recommendations before passing Bill C-23.
Supreme Court quashes Harper government’s tougher sentencing rules
The court blocked the government’s attempt to stop judges from routinely giving extra credit to offenders for time served in jail before sentencing.
The 7-0 ruling continues the losing streak of the Harper government in major cases at the Supreme Court over the past month. … The rulings in two separate cases were a major rebuke for the Harper government’s approach to sentencing. The court suggested that its rulings were rooted not only in a straightforward interpretation of the Truth in Sentencing Act, but in timeless principles of sentencing. And the rulings were written by a Harper appointee, Justice Andromache Karakatsanis — one of four on the panel of seven judges who heard the cases. … The government lost three major cases last month at the Supreme Court: the appointment of Justice Nadon to the Supreme Court, prisoner rights and a retroactive toughening of parole.
Harper’s former adviser to release book in early May
Tom Flanagan, now is back with a forthcoming book, Persona Non Grata: The Death of Free Speech in the Internet Age, that speaks of Mr. Harper in “Nixonian” terms, as a man who “believes in playing politics right up to the edge of the rules, which inevitably means some team members will step across ethical or legal lines in their desire to win for the Boss.”
Poilievre accuses election head of power grab
By Joan Bryden and Bruce Cheadle — CP
Democratic Reform Minister Pierre Poilievre is fending off near-universal condemnation of his controversial elections overhaul by attacking the integrity, impartiality and motives of the chief elections watchdog. … “He wants more power, a bigger budget and less accountability.”
Duff Conacher: The ‘Fair Elections Act’ is wrong, but not for the reasons you may think
(Globe & Mail) Clearly many changes are needed to make the proposed Fair Elections Act, and federal elections, actually fair. If the Conservatives don’t make at least some key changes to the Act, it’s fair to say that voters across Canada will be fairly concerned that the Conservatives aren’t playing fair, and that it will be fair game for voters not to give the Conservatives a fair shake when they vote in the next election.
Tasha Kheiriddin: The elections bill isn’t a fix — it’s just stupid politics
One would like to think that the current government does not want to turn the clock back to Confederation. But as many critics (including former auditor general Sheila Fraser) point out, by eliminating the use of vouching and Voter Identification Cards as ID, the legislation would make it more difficult for up to 500,000 Canadians to cast ballots. These include the poor, First Nations members, women, the elderly and students. The FEA won’t bar civil servants from the ballot box — though considering the current standoff between public sector unions and the government, the Tories would probably love to, if only they could figure out a way.
Some smell a conspiracy. The Tories’ plan to prevent these groups from voting so they can secure a majority for decades to come! If only men of means were allowed to vote, Stephen Harper would reign as long as John A. MacDonald. One can almost hear the boys in short pants giggling with glee.
William Watson: One member, 1.28 votes
(Ottawa Citizen) The most obvious unfairness of our electoral system is that ridings come in quite different sizes.
What’s creating this obvious unfairness is that we’re still sticking with the One Member/One Vote rule in the legislature. Ten thousand people down river send one member to the National Assembly (our puffed-up name for our provincial legislature) while 60,000 people in the lower Laurentians send another. But each member counts for one vote in the legislature.
There’s a ridiculously easy fix for this. It doesn’t involve proportional representation or everybody-past-the-post or re-districting — which we do painfully slowly and not very well — or any departure from our traditional electoral practices. All it requires is a spreadsheet, which in the 21st century is as commonly used a tool as pencil and paper were when our British forebears began working on Westminster-style democracy hundreds of years ago.
The fix is this: We keep electing one member per riding. But we no longer give each member one vote. The only member who does get exactly one vote is the member whose riding has exactly 47,358 registered voters, i.e., the provincial average. As we’ve seen, no riding does, so in fact no member of the National Assembly would have exactly one vote. Instead, each would have one vote times the ratio of their riding’s registered voters to the provincial average.
Harper’s Dilbert-Inspired Management Style
(The Tyee) From the start, I suspect Catbert has guided our PM’s hirings and firings.
How else could you explain the ascent to the Senate of Pamela Wallin, Mike Duffy and Patrick Brazeau? Or the appointment of Nigel Wright to the PMO and Marc Nadon to the Supreme Court?
Consider the departures of Munir Sheikh from Statistics Canada, Linda Keen from Atomic Energy of Canada Limited and Kevin Page from the Parliamentary Budget Office, not to mention countless lesser-known civil servants and scientists. The firings and non-renewals were as demented as the hirings. Harper, as a Dilbertian CEO, signed off on every one.
Consider also the people Harper surrounds himself with. …
Asok, the intern who will destroy himself for the company, is the model for every parliamentary secretary who goes forth to recite the current talking points on TV news — no matter how stupid he or she looks while doing so. (The role was originally held by Dean Del Mastro before he was charged with overspending his election limits and had to resign from the Conservative caucus.)
Dilbert’s pointy-haired boss, given a good toupee, would be a dead ringer for House leader Peter Van Loan.
Mordac, the Preventer of Information Services, is whoever currently runs the Prime Minister’s Office. In addition to muzzling scientists, he ensures that everyone recites today’s talking points perfectly, however inane they may sound on the eighth repetition.
Dilbert himself? None other than Pierre Poilievre, the cynical, bespectacled nerd with zero social skills, currently pushing an elections act as futile and doomed as Dilbert’s projects. (24 March)
Should any proof be required:
Dimitri Soudas fired as Conservative Party executive director
Hired to help prepare for 2015, Soudas loses job over interference in fiancée’s nomination battle
The combative Soudas was Harper’s choice to run the party in the lead-up to the 2015 federal election. Soudas was appointed over the protests of cabinet ministers and national council members who pushed for other candidates.
Harper short-circuited those candidacies by having council members to his living room at 24 Sussex Dr. for a show-of-hands vote on Soudas. (30 March)
Andrew Coyne: A normal government wouldn’t ram through this elections bill
The past few weeks have seen the bill denounced as a threat to democracy by the chief electoral officer, the former chief electoral officer, several provincial elections officials, academic experts domestic and foreign, and newspaper editorials across the country.
Thursday they were joined by Harry Neufeld, the former chief electoral officer of British Columbia and the author of an inquiry into irregularities in the 2011 election. Mr. Neufeld’s report has been much quoted by the minister responsible, Pierre Poilievre.
But as Mr. Neufeld told a parliamentary committee studying the bill, … Not only did the minister blatantly misrepresent his report, but in drafting the legislation he made no effort to consult him. As for the bill itself, his advice was blunt: “amend it or pull it.”
As I say, under any normal government, this would be considered fairly devastating stuff: not only near universal expert opposition, but a widely held suspicion that the bill, far from merely flawed, is expressly designed to tilt the next election in the Conservatives’ favour. …
But this is not a normal government. It does not operate in the usual way, nor does it feel bound by the usual rules. After all, if this were a normal government, it would not have as its minister for democratic reform such a noxious partisan as Mr. Poilievre, whose contempt for Parliament and its traditions registers every time he rises to speak in it.
Amend election reform bill or kill it, Harry Neufeld says
Author of report cited by MP Pierre Poilievre … fears half a million people could be disenfranchised based on changes included in the Conservative government’s Bill C-23, he told reporters following his appearance before the procedure and House affairs committee Thursday.
Stephen Harper’s little-watched self-promotional videos are worked on by 4 staffers – at taxpayers’ expense.
(Canada.com) Viewership peaked for the clips in their first edition, covering Jan. 2 to Jan. 8, when 10,172 people watched the English version on YouTube and another 14,342 watched through a proprietary software used on the website.
The number who watched the French version: 21 viewers.
The numbers have been in sharp decline since, with only 100 watching the Jan. 23-29 English version on YouTube and 19 in French.
One of the clips billed as a “24 Seven Exclusive: Reflections from the Middle East” drew only 3,016 for the English YouTube and 265 in French.
Andrew Coyne: Supreme Court ruling on Judge Marc Nadon exposes flaws in system
… what else did the Harper government expect? It knew the appointment would be controversial, and that Judge Nadon’s credentials would be challenged: that’s why it commissioned opinions from former Supreme Court judges Ian Binnie and Louise Charron, as well as the constitutional scholar Peter Hogg, all of whom vouched for his eligibility. In which case, why do it? It would be one thing if it was some world-beating legal superstar, but for Judge Nadon — a semi-retired maritime law specialist? The willingness of the prime minister to risk such a debacle, for such an undistinguished choice, is another mark against his judgment. That his government refuses to rule out reappointing Judge Nadon — perhaps after sitting for a day on the Quebec Superior Court — is sheer lunacy.
Judge Nadon should not have been put in this position. The Court should not have been put in this position. The country should not have been put in this position. If ever there were an argument for a more robust process of legislative review of such appointments, this is it. As with other recent controversies — the Senate scandals come to mind — this isn’t just a matter of Stephen Harper’s judgment, but of a system that trusts so much to one person’s discretion.
Marc Nadon not allowed to sit on Supreme Court of Canada, top court rules
(National Post) In a landmark ruling Friday, the Supreme Court nullified Nadon’s appointment to the top court, and asserted the Harper government couldn’t make changes to the court’s makeup without opening up the Constitution.
The 6-1 decision was a stunning political defeat for the Harper government, which had faced legal opposition to Nadon’s appointment hours after he was sworn in as a justice, and political opposition from the Quebec government.
The court also struck down part of the government’s legislation that attempted to support Nadon’s appointment by clarifying the Supreme Court Act.
It means that one of Quebec’s seats remain empty on the top court, but also sets the stage for later this year when a second seat is to open with the retirement of Justice Louis LeBel. Marc Nadon ruling hailed by Quebec, opposition — The timing of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s departure to Ukraine positioned him perfectly to be well above the myriad of sharp criticisms of today’s historic Supreme Court ruling on his appointment of Marc Nadon.
Elections Canada setting up an ‘integrity office’ Mandate would include finding ways to detect risks to federal voting system
Elections Canada is setting up an electoral integrity office to bolster public confidence and detect and prevent “electoral malpractices.”
According to a tender published Thursday, Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand created the Electoral Integrity Project Coordination Office in December 2013, though it was never publicly announced.
The office’s mandate, the tender document states, is to develop and implement an “electoral assurance and compliance” strategy for the 2015 federal election.
The strategy relies on three pillars of work, the document says: awareness, education and promotion; detection and monitoring; and execution and enforcement.
Greg Rickford takes on natural resources post at critical time
New natural resources minister faces opposition to pipelines and growing industry pressure to deliver
(CBC) Rickford is replacing Joe Oliver as the new federal minister of natural resources — one of the toughest portfolios around. … [he] brings some useful experience as the minister for economic development in Northern Ontario and for Ontario’s Ring of Fire.
He was also the minister for science and technology and has some background with First Nations as the former parliamentary secretary to the minister of aboriginal affairs and northern development.
But Rickford will be under the microscope from environmental groups, industry and First Nations.
Faults aside, Redford left Alberta richer
(Globe & Mail) Alison Redford rubbed people the wrong way. She alienated the voting public, her grassroots support base and even her own party. She was called remote, uncommunicative, even bullying. She played fast and loose with travel expenses.
But the exiting Alberta premier’s successor, whomever that turns out to be, can be thankful that Ms. Redford’s premature political demise hasn’t featured an economic shambles to go with the political one. Whatever missteps led to the premier’s resignation less than two years after she was elected, messing up the economy wasn’t among them.
(Globe & Mail) Alberta Premier Redford to resign, effective Sunday (19 March)
Under fire for muzzling Mayrand, Conservatives to amend elections bill
Democratic Reform Minister Pierre Poilievre said the bill’s proposed limits on what Marc Mayrand can say – “severe” limits, Mr. Mayrand has said – are meant to rein in only Elections Canada’s advertising provisions. … “He can speak, write op-eds, issue press releases, write reports, testify before committee – none of that is going to be affected.”
Andrew Coyne: Tories were right to be nervous. Mayrand shredded their ‘Fair Elections Act’ line by line
Perhaps each measure would not seem so troubling on its own; nor even would the whole if the government did not seem so intent on smuggling it into law
Privacy concerns raised by Marc Mayrand over election changes — C-23 proposes providing lists to parties detailing who voted
Shipbuilding memo shows more delays, cost overruns
With Canada’s only Pacific supply ship laid up in Hawaii, help doesn’t appear to be close
An internal government memo obtained by CBC News shows that all four parts of the government’s huge shipbuilding program are either over budget, behind schedule, or both.
Written Oct. 7 last year by the deputy minister of national defence, Richard Fadden, the memo shows that three of those four programs also face “major challenges” of a technical nature, as well as difficulties lining up skilled manpower to get the ships built at all.
Andrew Coyne: Ideally, generals, judges, bank governors should rein in political ambitions
He makes some good points, e.g. “To fault him for his political judgment now is to suggest he should have been using it then: that he should have been thinking, even then, about his future political career. I’d prefer to imagine he wasn’t, but having entered the political world, Leslie inevitably exposes himself to this charge: not only that he was thinking about it then, but that he was thinking about it all along, even as a serving member of the military. And if he can be suspected, after the fact, so can others, prospectively.” However, the flip side of this proposal is that the country should be deprived of the years of expertise acquired by such individuals in fields (defense, judiciary, finance – we would add diplomacy and trade) that are foreign to most MPs. Perhaps the answer is to reserve a certain number of Senate seats for them?
Canadians give political parties failing grades
Sixty-nine per cent of respondents thought political parties were more interested in their votes than their opinions. “(Politicians) are very focused often on winning an election…It can kind of come at the expense of actually making Canadians feel listened to or engaged in a deep way,” says Hilderman. “I think…they see through the attention that they get at election time, but worry that goes away very quickly after.”
In terms of reaching out to Canadians, the political parties got a grade of F. “I think that speaks to a broader message Canadians are trying to send our political leaders that they want them to represent Canadians but they don’t see that as happening,” says Hilderman.
John Ivison: Report fires at aimless Canadian military ruled by balance sheets not foreign policy
Beyond our support of Israel and freedom of religion, it’s not clear what Canada’s foreign policy goals are — or how its armed forces are expected to fulfill them. No wonder we are wasting hundreds of millions of dollars buying the wrong military hardware.
Rob Nicholson, the defence minister, clearly thinks that attacking a retired general over his moving expenses, in order to undermine his new role as an adviser to Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, is a priority and efficient use of his time. … Yet for Mr. Nicholson, this is the only event of note to have prompted a ministerial statement to the press in recent times. It has at least diverted public attention from a new report that excoriates the government’s handling of the defence file post-Afghanistan.
The Conference of Defence Associations Institute’s Strategic Outlook for Canada, released Tuesday, takes no prisoners.
… the major structural complication behind much of the chaos at DND is that there is no clear concept of what the military should be doing after Afghanistan. The new defence procurement strategy announced this month is unlikely to revolutionize the process if there is still a lack of political direction on precisely what the military should be preparing itself for.
Budget freezes and the deficit reduction plan has chopped $2.7-billion, or 14%, from the defence budget. This has resulted in ad hoc cuts to operations such as land training programs, full-time reserve employment and aerospace and maritime readiness.
The Speech from the Throne last year called for the renewal of the Canada First Defence Strategy, at the same time as it announced further budget cuts. To say the CFDS is outdated is an understatement – one of its six core missions is to support key international events in Canada “like the 2010 Olympics.”
As the CDA paper points out, there may be a role for a Canadian “transitional disengagement force” to police a future peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians. Are we equipped for such a role? The authors say the Prime Minister is devoted to the Arctic, but point out that Canada’s physical presence is no match for other Arctic powers. Should that be the focus of future capacity building?
The Economist is critical of budget approval and more
Canada’s budget — Something doesn’t add up
The process for approving the budget is broken
Like many finance ministers in parliamentary democracies, Mr Flaherty knows the Conservative majority in the House of Commons will approve his revenue and spending plans even if they don’t understand them. But Canada’s budget process is designed to hamper rigorous scrutiny. Before he stepped down last year as the country’s first parliamentary-budget officer, Kevin Page said most MPs and civil servants would agree that “the system is broken”.
Andrew Coyne: Conservative jobs plan is coherent, relevant, bold — naturally the provinces hate it
… say the provinces, the reduction in federal transfers will force them to cut back on priority programs for literacy and at-risk youth. Will it? The amounts involved, about $300-million, are a tiny sliver out of total provincial revenues (in excess of $300-billion) or even federal transfers (at roughly $63-billion, they are up more than 50% since the Tories took power and nearly three times what they were at the start of the last decade). If the needs of street youth are the priority they claim, they can shift funds out of other, shall we say “lower priority” uses, such as subsidies to business. Or are they only a priority so long as someone else is paying for them?
Bruce Anderson: Tories risk voters’ wrath with arrogance on electoral reform
In Canadian politics, incompetence is not even a minor criminal offence, it’s fully legalized. However, arrogance carries the most severe electoral penalties.
That’s why Democratic Reform Minister Pierre Poilievre’s dismissive comment about the value of public hearings on his Fair Elections Act should cause wincing on his own side, and a trip to the woodshed escorted by his boss.
Declaring that public hearings on how elections should be run would be a “costly partisan circus” betrays the type of arrogance that rots a government from the inside.
It wasn’t so many years ago that the modern Conservative Party was built on Preston Manning’s Reform Party ideals of strenuous efforts to gain public input on matters of public policy.
There remain many thoughtful, populist-oriented MPs on the Conservative benches, all of whom will know how bad Mr. Poilievre’s comment sounds, and any of whom would do a better job with this bill than he’s doing. …
The Conservatives seem oddly indifferent to the news that fewer than 4 in 10 voters now say they would even consider voting to re-elect the government next year.
Bringing forward a bill to reform elections, led by the most partisan person on the government benches, who is so dismissive of public hearings will do nothing to alleviate that problem – it risks making it worse.
Tories approved $600,000 in Commons committee trips before rejecting cross-country hearings on election overhaul bill
(Hill Times) The NDP rebelled in the Commons on Wednesday and temporarily blocked trips that had been earlier approved to carry out reviews on trade, finance and other issues in Canada, the U.S., and cities in South America, after the government rejected an NDP proposal to take hearings into the sweeping electoral law changes across Canada.
An NDP motion calls on the Procedure and House Affairs Committee to conduct hearings through every major region to give the public a chance to respond to the Canada Elections Act changes, especially in rural and inner city electoral districts where tens of thousands of voters could be affected by a provision to end a vouching system that allows electors without formal ID to cast ballots on the oath of a neighbor or someone else who knows them.
Elizabeth May: ‘Fair Elections Act’ Addresses the Wrong Crisis
The crisis in Canadian democracy is not that Canadians are voting more than once, it is that they are voting less than once
I am baffled and appalled and deeply shocked and troubled by this bill. The things in it that are good could have been so much better, but the things that are bad are unforgivable in a democracy.
Adam Goldenberg: Why the Conservatives’ “Fair Elections Act” Could Be Unconstitutional
(Slaw) Opitz’s victory may ultimately doom his party’s efforts. In allowing Opitz to keep his seat, the Supreme Court chose to follow the Charter more closely than it insisted on the procedural requirements of the Canada Elections Act. That decision could come to stand for a powerful proposition: that no Parliament—and no Conservative majority—may change the rules to stand between Canadian citizens and our right to vote.
Election reform bill an affront to democracy, Marc Mayrand says
The Fair Elections Act says it “limits the chief electoral officer’s power to provide information to the public.”
Under the proposed bill, the only role of the chief electoral officer would be to inform the public of when, where, and how to vote.
Elections Canada would be forbidden from launching ad campaigns encouraging Canadians to vote. Surveys and research would be forbidden under the new bill, Mayrand said.
“Most of the research will no longer be published because these are communications to the public.”
Fair Elections Act: Tory Reforms Don’t Address Leadership Debt
(Canadian Press) Proposed changes to Canada’s elections law won’t give Elections Canada new powers to address old unpaid leadership loans that the governing Conservatives have used repeatedly to bash both their political opponents and the elections watchdog.
But the reforms should help eliminate the catch-22 that trapped some past leadership candidates in unrepayable debts.
Andrew Coyne: What problems are the Conservatives really trying to solve with bizarre Fair Elections Act?
(National Post) To make sense of the many disparate provisions in the Conservatives’ sprawling 242-page Fair Elections Act, the first question to ask of each is not whether it is good or bad but: what problem was this intended to solve?
God knows we have enough real problems with how we run elections. The bill was born of the mess of the 2011 election, with its multiple allegations of voter fraud, including but not limited to the infamous robocalls affair: still unsolved, two years later, despite a Federal Court judge’s finding that, indeed, mass fraud had occurred. A partial list would also include the vast and needless expense of modern election campaigns, and the consequent diversion of party energies, rhetoric and policy to the ceaseless quest to raise funds. And, despite or perhaps because of all of these frenetic efforts to “reach out” to the electorate, the constant decline in turnout.
But that is not, apparently, how the Tories see it. Rather, the bill seems motivated by an entirely different set of concerns.
Andrew Jackson: Canada needs sound fiscal thinking, not balanced budget laws
(Globe & Mail) In last year’s Speech from the Throne, the Harper government promised to introduce legislation to require “balanced budgets during normal economic times, and concrete time lines for return to balance in the event of an economic crisis.”
This proposed legislation makes little sense in terms of sound economic policy. But it will likely be introduced as part of the federal budget, expected early next month.
Flaherty picks middle of Olympics for date of federal budget
The Conservative government will deliver an earlier-than-normal February budget in an effort to recapture the policy agenda and set the stage for a good-news pre-election budget in 2015.
Conservatives stress that a low-key budget this year helps the government move toward its primary political goal, which is to announce a surplus for 2015 that is big enough to accommodate new spending and tax cuts ahead of the next election.
The new ministerial responsibility: punish the underlings
Ministers no longer have to take the blame for staff mistakes – but they do have to correct them
(CBC News) Somewhere between the first Conservative election victory and the last election, the rules on ministerial responsibility changed without any fanfare or public discussion.
The 2007 guide for ministers, written by the PCO, explained ministerial responsibility this way: “Ministers are individually responsible to Parliament and the prime minister for their own actions and those of their department, including the actions of all officials under their management and direction, whether or not the Ministers had prior knowledge.”
By 2011, there had been a shift in thinking.
“Ministerial accountability to Parliament does not mean that a minister is presumed to have knowledge of every matter that occurs within his or her department or portfolio, nor that the minister is necessarily required to accept blame for every matter,” wrote PCO in an updated version of the pamphlet.
And the new rules didn’t just apply to bureaucrats but to the minister’s political staff as well. They are the partisans who handle everything from answering media inquiries to advising them on policy.
Kevin Page: Before we can fix our economy, we must fix government
Former parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page says we must repair our institutions before we can fix the economy.
The time has come to launch a royal commission on the state of our institutions. We are now confronted by problems we can no longer ignore, and we cannot think up solutions without the facts.
The Prime Minister will not stand accountable for the actions of his own office. The Senate has lost trust over a spending scandal. The House of Commons has lost its power of the purse. Members of Parliament are forced to vote on appropriations without the information they need. The public service has become dangerously good at avoiding transparency and accountability.
Without rebuilding — and rebuilding trust in — the bodies charged with protecting our prosperity and democracy, we will continue to drift aimlessly, to put off the thinking we must put off no longer.
Murray Dobbin: Canada’s Slide into Sleaze with Harper as CEO
Or, the problem of running government like a business.
(The Tyee) The Senate scandal that will continue to plague Stephen Harper when the House resumes sitting is far more than just a run of the mill scandal, of which Canada has had many over the years. This one seems to present the result of an accumulation of rot, amorality, casual thuggery and complete lack of shame, as one politico put it. It feels like we are approaching the end point of the collapse of public morality.
I think it started as soon as the political, business and media elites decided that the new mantra for the state was that government needed to be run like a business. At first blush this may seem like an innocent precept because, as it advocates were careful to frame it, it could mean little more than just running things more efficiently.
Andrew Coyne on Chris Christie and Stephen Harper: Change a few words here and there, and you could have been listening to the prime minister’s year-end interviews.
Indeed, the explanation both have offered is remarkably similar: My closest advisers and confidants conceived and carried out an ethically abhorrent plan, for my benefit but without my knowledge, then lied to me about it for months. Even supposing we take these at face value, it is hardly “taking responsibility” to blame it all on your staff, nor is it especially difficult to say you are “sorry” for other people’s mistakes. They are simply words politicians have been taught to say: They test well with focus groups, almost as well as “I’m not a focus-group-tested politician.”
David vs. David on the Reform Act
David Jones says
Reform Act: Chong’s proposal creates more confusion, not more democracy
The answer for dissenters is resignation: either resign from the party or resign oneself to trying again later. Chong took the correct approach in 2006 resigning his ministry rather than supporting the concept of Quebec as a “nation” within Canada. In practical terms, Harper’s move was adroit, helping sidetrack Quebec sovereignty efforts. Chong is principled, but again wrong.
If leaders have lost their following, there should be a way to oust them
Chong’s bill corrects several flaws in our national party practices. The most important allows 15 per cent of any national party caucus to demand a caucus vote in which a majority vote, if carried, renders its leadership vacant (Thirty or forty per cent would probably be a more acceptable threshold.). This safety device, if activated successfully in the early 1990’s, might have saved Conservatives from their political near wipe-out in 1993 by removing Mulroney and giving a successor a reasonable chance of electoral success. Michael Ignatieff similarly could have been removed by a similar procedure by Liberal MPs in time for a successor to compete more effectively in the 2011 election.
A smaller Senate would be less effective
(Ottawa Citizen op-ed) … the Canadian Senate … is a singular upper chamber in the world that serves both territorial and cultural federalism. The Senate was never just about the provinces having a say in Ottawa. Rather, it was designed to be a chamber of minorities, be they minority provinces, linguistic minorities or cultural and religious ones within the larger population. With time, that came to include more women and visible minorities than you would find in other elected bodies, particularly the Commons, so that they could have better representation at the federal level. … much of the grown-up work of Parliament winds up taking place in the Senate, particularly in its committees, which are far less partisan and which anyone will tell you produce superior work to any Commons committee or even a great many royal commissions. … the Senate needs all 105 members in order to keep the committees up and running. Between 2006 and 2009, when Stephen Harper refused to appoint new senators on a point of principle, the dwindling number of Conservative senators were burning out because they were forced to spread their time among two or three committees apiece. Good work means having the time and attention to devote to it.
2 Comments on "Canada: Government & governance 2014 -15"
Beyond just displacing the blame for mistakes Harper’s team makes, the CBC piece does a great job of explaining the stakes of this decision for the viability of parliamentary democracy in Canada. See, under the parliamentary system, the executive – not just those selected by Harper, but the whole bureaucratic machine of over 250 000 public servants who work for the public service – are supposed to be accountable to the Canadian people, through their elected representatives, namely parliament.
Part of that accountability is a matter of ensuring that the government qua executive is following parliament’s laws, a task that is shared by the courts. The other task assigned to parliament is to ensure that the executive is clear about the policies that they are pursuing within the broad mandate afforded by those laws. This review of political direction and its implementation is something that the courts are neither empowered nor capable of doing.
The executive as a whole is supposed to be kept accountable by requiring its highest decision-makers, that is, the ministers, to face questioning from parliament. Under Harper, however, ministers are no longer accountable for decisions made and actions taken in the departments they oversee. Hidden behind a veil of plausible deniability, this quiet policy change provides an incentive to ministers to stay ignorant about what actions civil servants and political staff are making on their behalf. Accountability is thereby short-circuited: those who are formally responsible are not actually responsible, and parliament has no power to question, or discipline, those who actually are.
This isn’t just a shift toward a presidential model, where the leader of the party that wins the most seats gets to do whatever they want. That unfortunate shift is old hat. This actually moves away from a system where voters are able to choose whether to keep a party in power on the basis of what they are actually doing.
The vicious circle argument could be true. But I think there are other better explanations. For one thing, Harper has managed at least one huge horizontal issue (i.e. crossing many files and departments) to some sort of conclusion, namely the trade pact with the EU. His concept of politics is laser-focused: to knit together a coalition of single interests and combine them with regional parties of anti-government discontent over specific items. This means projects that attack concentrations of the powerful in the name of a diffuse public interest won’t get much air time. Moreover, the PS is now managed so as to prevent “horizontal” concerns overwhelming vertical ones: ministers are tightly controlled and are expected to do the same to their departments. Hence, no room for “big ideas” – I doubt they even get to the stage of evaluating “risk”.
There’s a lot worse to come, I think, if he remains in office. Canada’s a big, complicated country and for most of it the feds are a remote entity scarcely connected to the reality of everyday people. One of Harper’s strengths is that he knows this. But that strength also makes it difficult for him to transform the country into a northern version of Texas, which seems to be his ultimate goal. Having reduced Parliament to a nullity of influence, he is now at work on the Courts, currently the main centre of opposition to his designs. Bill C-51, the so-called anti-terror bill, takes a sniper’s bead on the courts by transforming judges into “controllers” of CSIS agents, granting or denying permission to break the law, violate the constitution, and generally undermine and eventually destroy the careful edifice of legal protection of rights that enables the political system to navigate its thorniest problems: e.g. bringing the resource industries in line with the science on the environment, dealing in a sensitive way with Canada’s linguistic and cultural duality and the place of Québec in the federation, the relationship of first nations with Canada, the role of civil society and its strengthening ties with other countries, the use of the internet as a tool of political organization, including civil disobedience – all the topics touched on by implication in the Bill as legitimizing government surreptitious surveillance and “disruption” whatever that may be. Moreover, the Bill is without time limit or mandatory Parliamentary review, strange for a piece of “emergency” legislation. Since Harper has not mentioned the Notwithstanding Clause, I don’t see how it can pass a court test. So I hope it is just an election gimmick. Otherwise, I don’t see how Canada can remain a country for those who want to live under freedom and the rule of law. GS