Posts Tagged ‘Constitutional Conference’

Weep not for vote reform.

Saturday, February 4th, 2017

Among each successive generation there are those who seek to change how we elect our representatives to run our cities, our provinces and our country. Good for them. It is important that we think about it. We need to be sure we have the best system possible. And we do. Now that we have completed our study, we have moved the file to the bottom of the pile as there are other issues to address.

You will notice that Prime Minister Trudeau did not dispense with the department with the removal of Mariam Monsef as minister of democratic institutions. He gave the job to M.P. Karina Gould who is also a newcomer to government but with an impressive curriculum vitae. And while taking away voting reform in the new mandate letter, her challenges are no less daunting.

The Senate situation is far from solved. Appointments to our courts, commissions and crown corporations can hardly be handled by elitist selection committees. The concern for cyber security implies that the government and Elections Canada would like to move firmly in the direction of Internet voting. There is certainly a long way to go in bringing some sunshine on political fundraising and spending by parties and third parties in elections. Launching an independent body to arrange election debates is also long overdue as is fixing the falsely named Fair Elections Act. And if she can find time to address the problems with the Access to Information Act, the prime minister thinks it will be a job well done.

But what the prime minister fails to address are the concerns about his power and the control over the government exercised by the Prime Minister’s Office. This could be the greatest challenge we face. Every time someone says that the Donald Trump situation could not happen here, we wonder how much worse it could be. There are checks and balances in the constitution of our neighbours in America that do not exist in our parliamentary system. There could easily be a time when Trump will wish he could shut down Congress as easily as our prime minister can prorogue parliament.

Canada has a constitution designed for a parliamentary system rich in precedent. All we missed was the precedents. Maybe because we never had to contend with an Oliver Cromwell, we lack some safeguards.

It is about time Canada took a hard look at its constitutional problems. It might even justify the cost of a department to worry about our democratic institutions. It is also long past time for our country to assemble a democratically elected constitutional parliament to propose some constitutional amendments to the voters. God knows we cannot get our politicians to address the mounting problems.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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In the quiet before the storm.

Wednesday, January 4th, 2017

It is the ho-hum time between New Year’s and the real reasons for having a January. In our area, that just means more damn snow. At least the ski hills are buzzing.

But we want to talk about how we vote and who we vote for and what’s wrong with our constitution. For a political junky, that is our life’s blood. And yah, we know—it’s can be a snore to many. We can read our readership stats and we know that subject can cause readership to plummet. And how can we get people to pay attention?

We spent most of last summer watching the so-called experts talking to the special commons committee on electoral reform. We think they missed the point in terms of what Canada needs but the ultimate committee findings made sense. The committee concluded that more time was needed, more involvement by Canadians was needed and some serious thinking.

The committee made the minister of democratic reform look incompetent and the prime minister look unreasonable. And they are. They were tackling all the democratic reform questions from the wrong perspective.

Reform is a top down process. In business and in politics, anyone can tell you that change has to have strong support. It has to have leadership. (And obviously not necessarily competent leadership judging by Mr. Trump.)

The most difficult problems in our Canadian government are located in the Langevin Block on the north side of Ottawa’s Wellington Street. It is the home of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and the Privy Council Office. The Clerk of the Privy Council is the number one civil servant in Ottawa. He or she is the equivalent in business of a chief operating officer. The Prime Minister, in turn, is equivalent to the chief executive officer.

The problems were there for all to see during the Harper years. He could prorogue parliament at his convenience. He could make wholesale appointments to the Senate. And just because today there is someone you might like in charge is no reason not to demand the changes that our country so desperately needs.

Reform has to start in the Langevin Block. It was Pierre Trudeau in 1968 who had worked in the Privy Council Office who put the two key offices in close working relationship. It was Pierre Trudeau who also said to CBC reporter Tim Ralfe to “Just watch me” in regards to the lengths he would go to against the Front de Liberation du Quebec (FLQ) in October 1970. It was not an idle comment.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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Queen advises: “Take a deep breath.”

Tuesday, December 27th, 2016

We can all buy into that advice. It was directed mainly to Great Britain in Queen Elizabeth’s Christmas message to the Commonwealth. It was obviously related to the surprise Brexit vote by Britain earlier in 2016. It is also excellent advice for the rest of the world judging by the recent antics of the American President Elect.

And please bear in mind that this writer is no monarchist. We consider the fact of Canada having a monarch to be archaic, outmoded, restraining and sending a wrong message about Canada to the rest of the world. And that is just part of the problem. While the Queen is a nice lady and takes her job seriously is no reason for Canadians to continue to go along with such an anachronistic and foolish fable.

And for Justin Trudeau to continue the fiction is an insult to Canadians that goes back to the speeches of Sir Wilfrid Laurier in support of the monarchy.

We can no longer band-aid the problems we have with a Senate that does not work for us. We have to have bipartisan appointments to the Supreme Court, not elitist appointments. Some people want to change how we vote but before that happens, we need to decide what positions we are voting for and how the government needs to be structured in the 21st Century. We do not live in the past and we do not need a system of government that was a best guess of the British Parliament at how we should run our country 150 years ago.

Canada needs to take action to create a democratically elected constitutional assembly that can study these questions with open minds and then come back to the people with a plan to bring our country into the present. And the people can then have their say.

Canada is our country. We build it bigger, stronger and more into the kind of country we want it to be every day with our labor, our intellect, our needs and our wishes. We should always remember that our representatives in Ottawa report to us. We elect them and we can elect those to replace them. Never underestimate the power of the people. And if that thought should amuse you, you should pay closer attention to what happened in Great Britain and the U.S.A. in the past year.


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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Without it, how do you reform democracy?

Sunday, May 15th, 2016

Minister Maryam Monsef has been heard from. The maybe minister of democratic institutions has announced a committee of MPs will spend their summer studying changes to Canada’s election system. What the minister does not seem to understand is that changes in our democracy have to be done democratically.

This is not a democratic committee. It will have 12 members and fully half of them will be Liberals. The other members will be three voting Conservatives, one voting New Democrat and one each from the Bloc and Green parties who will not have a vote. Green Leader Elizabeth May is the only eligible Green and she is wondering why her summer should be wasted when she cannot vote on the committee’s deliberations.

And is there any point to this undemocratic fiasco? We already know that the Greens and NDP want proportional representation in parliament, the Liberals want preferential voting and the Conservatives do not want either. This is not a subject suitable for classic political compromise.

The government is ignoring the host of variables in each choice. Even in the status quo there is choice. When you realize that the present system came down to us from our agrarian land-based ancestors, there are many ways we could change our first-past-the-post system. With today’s technology, voting need not be tied to a physical district, it frees us to consider voting blocs of trades or professions. What if all the doctors picked their own MPs? That idea would give the committee a bone it could really chew on.

Have we ever considered that a person’s chronological age has nothing to do with their maturity? Maybe we should consider a voting test in the same way as we test people for driving licenses. We could have bright 16-year olds voting and maybe dumb 25-year olds could have one more chance. And our dear senile granny might finally miss her vote this year.

But we should not be dogs in a manger over this silliness by the Liberal government. If the committee wants hold a town hall meeting in Barrie this summer to test the waters here, we should welcome them graciously. Heck, we could even invite them to a barbeque. Barrie is an hospitable little city.


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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Is Justin Trudeau’s senate legitimate?

Monday, March 28th, 2016

When a leading Liberal thinker such as Pierre Trudeau’s former Principal Secretary Thomas Axworthy challenges us on how to make the new independent(?) Senate of Canada legitimate, workable and effective, we need to pay attention. The only problem is that in a think piece for the Toronto Star on March 26, Tom writes that Justin Trudeau’s senate solution seems to be based on a fantasy.

Tom credits Helen Forsey (daughter of the late constitutional expert Senator Eugene Forsey) with writing of the ‘fantasy of the future’ in which people who have earned the respect of their fellow Canadians through their work for the common good, are appointed to the senate.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has already gone Helen Forsey one better. He has picked an elite committee to recommend elite candidates for the senate for him to choose. He must have figured that it takes an elite to know one. It reminds us of Benito Mussolini’s corporations that he appointed to make Italy’s trains run on time.

But what is legitimate about elitism in any form?

Tom answers his own question about whether this elitist senate is workable. In his article, he questions the organizational structure of this new body that is supposed to be without connection to political parties. He is concerned that the senate will have no choice but to to organize itself into quasi-provincial caucuses. While some might think that a house of the provinces could work, there needs to be a lot of thought about the inequality that this idea would foster.

And that leaves the critical question as to whether this elitist, ‘non-partisan’ senate can work on behalf of Canadians. The answer is probably not. When you ask people who have no experience in the process of creating legislation to study bills, you are asking for trouble.

And besides, Canada already has the Order of Canada as an honours system—such as it is. To also use the senate as an honours system is almost as silly as the political use of the Queen’s Jubilee Medal for political purposes under the last Conservative government.

As policy chair for Massey College, University of Toronto, we see that Tom will be hosting a conference at the college on April 25. The conference will be on the future of an independent senate. Hopefully the conference can help make sure it will be a short future.


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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Impatient for democratic reform?

Saturday, March 26th, 2016

The federal Minister of Democratic Institutions Maryam Monsef must have the easiest job in Ottawa. Sure, she is new to the job and has lots to learn but so far, she has had it easy. Even her announcement of the Senate of Canada appointment process was made easy. She made it last December along with Liberal House Leader Dominic LeBlanc. It was LeBlanc who did the heavy lifting.

Not that the Senate solution was anything impressive. It was an elitist solution to appointing elites. It was a singularly unimpressive temporary solution. The Senate of Canada is an anachronism that exists only because of Canada’s constitutional constipation. If we had a real and hard-working Minister of Democratic Institutions, reform of the senate would be high on the docket list of important reforms.

Like many first and second generation Canadians, the Minister is probably reluctant to touch the monarchy file. This writer is a sixth generation Canadian and he has been fed up with the claptrap about the monarchy since being indoctrinated in Grade 3 of our Ontario school system. There is nothing more meaningless and embarrassing to Canadians than our foreign monarch and her dysfunctional family.

But even if we continue to have democratic institution ministers who are afraid of Canada’s silly monarchist supporters, we have got to do something about the governor general. This is elitist to the extreme to house and use some supposedly patrician Canadian who can only do as the prime minister tells him or her and carry on as though they are performing some important duty. We could hire an actor to do the job much cheaper.

Of course we are all waiting for the democratic Institutions minister’s big scene when she appoints a committee of the House of Commons to decide how Canadians will vote. Her role here is to make Prime Minister Justin Trudeau look good about keeping his promise. That is the promise that 2015 was the last time Canadians would use First-Past-The-Post voting to choose their Member of Parliament.

The minister’s problem is that the Conservatives will agree to nothing and the New Democrats want proportional voting. If the Liberal majority picks preferential voting (indicating your first, second and third choice to create a mock-majority) and no other party supports them, there would be no credibility to a change without a referendum. And good luck on that!


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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Did Le Pen expect rose petals?

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2016

What did Marine Le Pen president of France’s Front National Party expect? Canadians are hardly about to strew rose petals in her path when she decides to come here and tell us what we are doing wrong. We are open-minded people but we are not particularly interested in people who spread bigotry and fear.

Who does Le Pen think she is, Donald Trump?

Mind you, that seems to be the hard-right wing politician’s thing. Marine Le Pen is a problem for France in that role she rails against immigrants and Syrian refugees alike. She wants to keep France pure. She embarrasses the conservative and the left-wing alike in her own country. And it is why she is being shunned during her holiday in Canada.

No Canadian politician of any stripe is eager to be seen with Le Pen. Even Pierre-Karl Péladeau has denounced her and her political views. He has little choice. While he might have been impressed with the Front National during his years of living high in Paris on the Péladeau family fortune, he is now the leader of a mainly left-wing Parti Québécois. It would never do for him to be seen hob-knobbing with the likes of right-wing Le Pen.

The best we can do for Le Pen as a tourist is to point out some of the excellent restaurants she will find while visiting Quebec City and Montreal. We would also point out to her that some of the most interesting nightlife in Quebec City is in the western suburbs such as the Sainte-Foy area.

One of the Canada’s federal politicians who might have found a conversation with Marine Le Pen interesting is Canada’s Minister of Democratic Institutions. In the recent round of regional elections in France Le Pen’s Front National candidates did very well in the first round of voting. They reached as much as 42 per cent of the vote in some areas.

But France, with its two-round voting system, requires a majority to be elected. In the second round of voting, Le Pen’s candidates fell by the wayside as more mainstream candidates won the majority of votes. In some cases more left of centre candidates had stepped aside to ensure that the Le Pen candidates were defeated. And they were.

Minister Maryam Monsef in Ottawa should pay heed.


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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A guaranteed income for Canadian elites?

Saturday, March 19th, 2016

That was a firm step backward in time for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau yesterday. He gave jobs to people who had no need for another job. He gave the title of senator to people who had no need for further titles. He made a mockery of much needed reform.

This is elitism at its worst. It is putting the onus of reviewing government legislation on people known for other accomplishments. While two of yesterday’s elitist appointees had some government experience with legislation, our prime minister expects the rest to suddenly turn their talents to reviewing and debating government legislation in a forum created for another era almost 150 years ago.

We might as well call it what it is. This is just simple cowardice. Justin Trudeau is afraid of the constitutional struggles of his father. He wants to leave sleeping dogs lie. He believes he can change how people vote in this country without constitutional change or referendum yet cannot conceive an approach to senate reform that does not necessarily challenge the constitution.

But the prime minister’s sunny days are going to become rainy days if he does not start paying attention to the problems our constitution creates. Only a foolish egotist believes that a constitution if we write it today can meet the needs of a country more than 100 years in the future. Constitutions do not need to be easy to change but they should never be impossible to change.

Canada exists today with an irrelevant foreign monarchy, an overly powerful prime minister, a moribund senate, a ceremonial governor general, and a collection of unequal and unbalanced provinces–with improperly allotted responsibilities. And the further problems these create could feed this one commentary with subjects for the next 50 years.

But the better short term solution to the senate was suggested quite some time ago by Babel-on-the-Bay. The senate has a political job to do. It therefore needs to be political. It needs people selected by their respective political parties according to the popular vote in each federal election. It would be proportional and unlikely to have a majority. It does not need a majority to do its job. It just needs people who care. There is no need for the senate to be a sinecure. It just needs some new blood after every federal election. And does that not make more sense?


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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In the doldrums of a Canadian winter.

Sunday, January 31st, 2016

Not even Bonhomme Carnaval can cure the January-February blahs this year. Eating and drinking too much in Quebec City might be a popular pastime at this time of year but you also used to have the option of heading south soon afterward. Sure you can. If you can find a warm spot where our 70-cent loonie is appreciated?

Even those of us staying at home are looking at prices in the grocery store and grinding our teeth. And we are still paying a lot more for gasoline than we should be at the current prices of crude oil. We even growled at the nice people down at the tire place when they had to replace a valve in one of our snow tires. Mind you, for $40, you are entitled to growl about it.

Catching up on the current flag debate in New Zealand yesterday shows how desperate we are for new topics to comment on. It is about time the Kiwis got themselves a flag that can be distinguished from the Aussie flag. The only problem is that the most common term used for the debate on a new flag there is “desultory.” Compared to the rousing Canadian debate of half a century ago, the Kiwis are putting people to sleep.

The other problem for New Zealand is that they were fearful of a debate over the monarchy and they have shoved that subject to the back burner. That is just as stupid as us Canucks with our heads in the snow and ignoring the need to rid our country of the British monarchy.

The Brit monarchy is not half bad compared to the spawn of Victoria giving monarchs a bad name on the continent but you do realize do you not that this is the 21st Century? Here we are trying to promote equality between our citizens, our genders and our preferred languages and we continue a silly anachronism such as the monarchy.

We can change our constitution in a civilized way or we can have a revolution. The idea of revolution might appeal to some of us but they would have no clue as to who to shoot.

And we could never have a revolution in winter anyway. Not enough Canadians want to go outside to play at this time of year. And then in summer, we are too busy mowing the lawn at our cottages.

And the other problem is the otherwise healthy readership of Babel-on-the-Bay drops like a rock when we discuss such boring subjects as the monarchy. So what would you like to discuss next?


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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Justin: On electoral versus constitutional reform.

Saturday, January 30th, 2016

In a sit-down conversation with Justin Trudeau about six years ago, it was immediately obvious that he is an emotional person and as easy to read as an open book. Other than being eager to get him into a poker game, it was interesting to test his reaction to some basic political propositions. While he is fervent on electoral reform, his eyes cloud over when you mention changing the constitution. He does not see dealing with Canada’s constitution as anything other than a lose-lose proposition.

Despite still being a teenager at the time, Justin obviously absorbed more of his late father’s attitudes about the Meech Lake machinations and the failed Charlottetown Accord than he admits. As a Quebec MP, Justin has obviously tried to leave these issues behind while emulating the more modern Québécois. His approach seemed to be working on election day as Quebec contributed handsomely to the Liberal majority.

Trudeau’s stance on electoral reform is also more emotional than considered. His stated preference for the ‘instant run-off” of a preferential vote would have likely provided his party with more than 30 additional seats in parliament in the October election. As he won a majority anyway, he did not need those potential second votes.

And cooler heads in the Liberal Party will warn him against giving in to the smaller parties’ desire for a proportional voting system. Majority governments are rare with proportional voting systems.

But Justin’s basic problem remains that there is too much real change needed that requires constitutional rather than electoral reform. The silly elitist solution he has come up with for Senate reform is going to come back and bite him. If he really does appoint non-political independent elites to the Senate, they will act that way and his government will have just as hard a time passing legislation as he would have without making any appointments to the Senate.

He did not disagree when we delved into a list of problems that Canada’s constitution had built up in the more than 140 years our country had existed at the time.

In our conversation those six years ago, we suggested changing the role of the Governor General. He liked the idea but ruled it out when we suggested turning all Canada’s constitutional problems over to an elected constitutional congress. Mind you, he looked thoughtful when we mentioned dumping the monarchy and looking at a presidential system of government.


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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