Posts Tagged ‘Senate of Canada’

Change Canada’s Senate: ‘There’s the rub.’

Thursday, January 11th, 2018

Some of our readers thought that was a got-cha. “Aha,” they exclaimed in their e-mails, “How do you think we are going to get rid of the senate?”

Obviously, they have never heard of my idea of a constitutional conference. I suggested it once in a conversation with Justin Trudeau. His eyes rolled in his head and the only answer I got was “Never.” For a school teacher, our prime minister is not all that amenable to new thinking.

And, he should never say never. Maybe it is not in our lifetime, but Canada has to have a constitution that makes sense for our nation. We can hardly continue to carry the baggage of centuries past.

And the best way to effect the change is through a constitutional conference. This body would be elected using the most recent of federal electoral boundaries across Canada. I would suggest at least three people per district. This would give us a deliberative body of over 1000. To make sure of the balance of views, I would suggest that each voter only be allowed to vote for two citizen participants.

The deliberations of the constitutional conference will need to be brought forward to the provincial legislatures and to a subsequent national referendum. And I would suggest to you that it would be a most foolish provincial legislature that tried to stand in the way of a decision of the people. It is the decision of the subsequent referendum that determines the acceptance or rejection of the constitutional conference recommendations.

That final referendum could be for an entirely new package of a constitution or a cafeteria of changes that could be made with the approval of a majority of Canadians. That is for the constitutional conference to decide.

The important aspect of this is that the final decision rests with all Canadians. It is not a decision to be made elsewhere. It is not a decision to be made by provincial legislatures. It is a decision to be made by both the aboriginal Canadian and the newcomer who recently gained citizenship. It needs to be brought to us by an honest attempt to take our country forward to the future. It should honour those who came before and be passed on with pride to future generations.

-30-

Copyright 2018 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

Forget Beyak, dump Canada’s Senate.

Monday, January 8th, 2018

Why just dump Senator Lynn Beyak? You do not have to like what she says or posts on the Internet? We have all heard it before. Bigotry is hardly new. The problem is that there is not much you can do about it. She was appointed to the Senate of Canada by Prime Minister Stephen Harper until she is 75. She is going to be around for a while yet. It would be easier to dump the entire senate rather than just her.

‘Chuckles’ Scheer, Conservative Party leader and leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition decided to dump her. She is an embarrassment to the Conservative caucus. He tossed her out of the caucus. That was all he could do. He left her sitting in the senate. He made matters worse. He left a pissed-off party stalwart sitting in the senate as an independent.

You can be assured that not all non-first nations’ people from the Thunder Bay region of Ontario are bigots. There are many people there who are well aware of the problems faced by our first nations’ people and are sympathetic. For all we know Senator Beyak might be posting some of those bigoted letters thinking that it can help the situation. Obviously, it does not.

But this is just another of the long lists of embarrassments by our appointed senate. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau thinks he is getting around the problem by having an elite committee pick elite applicants for him to appoint supposedly elite senators. He gets no guarantees.

One of the problems for the ‘Lynch Beyak’ mob is that Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations has jumped into the fray and is calling for a ‘review’ of the senator’s actions by the senate ethics committee. To give her yet another platform for racism is not going to help.

The Senate of Canada was created more than 150 years ago to give the land-owning gentry of the Canadian colonies a chance to review and, if they wish, stall the laws passed by our elected parliament. It is not needed today. In fact, its continuance is an embarrassment to our country. It should have been abolished a long time ago.

-30-

Copyright 2018 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

Is Trudeau’s elitism working?

Thursday, December 7th, 2017

It is getting to the point where even the Conservative opposition in parliament is noticing. They are starting to take verbal jabs at the prime minister’s elitist nature. It is starting small but it will grow. Canada’s poster boy prime minister can ill afford to have his elitist tendencies to become common knowledge.

But even when out of the country, his elitism is noticed in appointments announced by his office.

Just before leaving for China, to supposedly lecture the Chinese on their human rights, his elitist appointment was announced for the Supreme Court. The candidate chosen has a varied background in business law and in supporting Canada’s aboriginal peoples. She will be the second Supreme Court Justice from Alberta.

While in China—and with things not going as well as expected—Trudeau’s office announced his latest selections for Canada’s beleaguered Senate. It was a daily double as two women from aboriginal backgrounds were appointed as independent senators.

These are the types of appointments where you are a bit of a curmudgeon if you are critical of the applicants. These are people who have worked hard in their chosen fields and have earned the plaudits of their peers for their many accomplishments.

But this goes far beyond peer approval. Justin Trudeau has given these people a sinecure. The annual salary is well above the Canadian average and the mandatory retirement at 75 can be quite comfortable.

Senator number one is Mary Coyle, from Nova Scotia, an advocate for women’s rights and aboriginal people. Senator number two is Mary Jane McCallum, a dentist from Manitoba who has worked hard to bring health and dental services to people in the north.

As far as I am concerned, I do not believe that judges should be appointed by the Prime Minister alone—even with the aid of these elitist committees that help him. I believe that senior judges should be chosen by parliament after all the applicants have been vetted by a parliamentary committee.

As for the Senate of Canada, I firmly believe there is no need in a truly democratic country for an unelected house of parliament. The only problem is that the prime minister would rather be seen as elitist than to open up the constitution of Canada for review and changes.

-30-

Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

Longingly looking for liberalism.

Friday, November 24th, 2017

A correspondent from British Columbia recently asked “What is a Liberal party bereft of liberalism?” He was, of course, describing the situation today where the Conservative parties are moving farther and farther to the harshest right, Liberals are the new Conservative-Light and the New Democrats are lost in a confused and undetermined world of the centre-left.

It is a situation desperately in need of new definition and new alliances. What we appear to have is our political structures moving further and further away from their mobs. And contrary to the limited perceptions of our putative leaders, they are driving their natural supporters away.

Look around the world or even here at home. There is political insecurity as voters wrestle with their frustrations. They want something different but are finding it difficult to articulate. Some leaders are connecting; We are thinking of Emmanuel Macron in France, Bernie Sanders in the U.S.A. while on the other hand we have Trump in the U.S. and the rise of the far right in Europe.

The resilience of Donald Trump’s support is surprising pundits. Valérie Plante’s mayoral victory in Montreal and the ability of Naheed Nenshi to fight off a strong attack from the right in Calgary are catching us all by surprise. You can no longer trust political logic.

Stephen Harper swore he would move Canada permanently to the right of the political spectrum. All he moved us to was that final distaste for his oppressive form of right-wing libertarianism. He made a mantra of balanced budgets and the voters moved to a braver, deficit promoting Liberal Party.

But where is Justin Trudeau in this political turmoil? He talks the talk of saving an environmentally threatened world and approves the senseless pollution extremes of pipelines for bitumen. He makes promises to his party for power and then betrays the party. He promises voting reform without understanding the options. He promises new peacekeeping without understanding the realities of the world’s needs. He bemoans the privileged attitude of the Senate while creating a new privileged class of elites to continue the cost to Canadians for a Senate that is unwanted and unneeded.

What Canada needs is a new social democratic party of the centre-left. The New Democrats need to drop their ties to “me-first” unions and move along with real liberals to this new party. The Conservatives can fade into a futile future with their mean and selfish attitudes. Liberals will find their future as progressives challenged from the left. And voters will have new options, better government and, in time, a modern constitution for their country.

-30-

Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

In the Senate: “Some are more equal.”

Thursday, May 4th, 2017

In George Orwell’s Animal Farm we were told that some animals are more equal than others. This makes it an appropriate analogy for the institution in Canada known as the senate. The senate was created 150 years ago as a chamber of sober second thought to rein in any excesses of the citizens elected to the house of commons.

But nobody ever thought about the possible excesses of the citizens selected to serve in the senate. Can the senate write its own rules as to who is fit to serve in the institution? Are some animals more equal than others?

And it is not just today’s controversial senator. The senate has had its rogues going back more than 100 years. When you give people carte blanche, you often get individuals who want to steal the carte! Greed and avarice are not just conditions of those deprived in life.

Are all senators pure of heart? What is the point of being a senator if what the senate really represents is entitlement? Whether it is creature comforts in the perks or sexual gratification, some will always go further than others in fulfilling needs.

And are we going to allow the senators to police themselves? When the power of appointment rests solely with the prime minister, how can the senate bar a member? The senator serves to age 75. There is no mechanism nor custom other than a failure to attend for a period of time to remove a senator from office. They are all honourable persons.

The only answer is to amend Canada’s constitution. The writer once discussed that with the prime minister and was surprised at the vehemence with which that option was rejected. As a child, Justin Trudeau saw his father struggling with the constitutional conundrum of Canada. He wants no part of dealing with the constitution.

It must be part of the reason the prime minister gave up on his promise to change how Canada votes. While the act of voting is one change that can escape our constitutional straightjacket, it would take constitutional change in how parliament functions to then make a voting change work effectively.

Constitutional change must happen eventually. With the imbalance of Canada’s provinces, the commitments to provincial rights and outdated religious school commitments, our constitution has to be rescued from the 19th Century. The world keeps changing and Canada has to have a government that can deal with the issues of the times.

In these times, only an elected constitutional conference to find a new framework, can be considered. Even then, all citizens should have a say on what is implemented.

-30-

Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

Alibiing elitism 150 years later.

Tuesday, April 4th, 2017

If there was just one institution in Canada that could be changed this year, many Canadians would choose the Senate. They are tired of the elitism shown by the prime minister and his elitist friends in choosing Canadians to serve in this anachronistic reminder of Canada’s British beginnings.

The Senate of Canada is this country’s House of Lords. It is just that we do not have the royalty and nobles required, so we create them.

It was the ‘something borrowed’ when the British Parliament passed the Statute of Westminster that married Canada’s provinces to create a country.

Rookie Senator Tony Dean tells us in a recent Toronto Star op-ed that there is some disenchantment with the Senate. He calls it one of Canada’s most important democratic institutions. And that was only his first error.

There is nothing democratic about the Senate of Canada.

He thinks there is a brighter future for the Senate—especially with him in it. He actually points to the physician-assisted dying legislation last year as a win for an independent Senate. And all along we had resigned ourselves to waiting for the (also elitist) Supreme Court to weigh in and re-open that bad piece of legislation after both Commons and Senate had let us down.

Nor do we blame anyone for the odd bad apples we have found occupying Senate seats. Even elites can make mistakes. And it is good to see these days that we are paying attention to what is taking place in the Red Chamber.

But what Dean fails to understand is that it is the people of Canada who are being governed. Does he not think they deserve a say in this? While politicians can come and go, the Senate is a fixture until age 75. It is a sinecure that needs to be modernized and it cannot and will not be fixed from within. That would be the equivalent to a doctor doing his own heart transplant.

Senator Dean might respect the Senate as an institution but Canadians deserve better. They have to have a say through some open process of review such as a constitutional parliament, elected to that purpose and a deciding referendum by all Canadians as to the solution. It took years of thinking and arguing to create this country. Changes in how we are governed deserve that same intensity of examination.

-30-

Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

Is the political middle just one?

Tuesday, February 21st, 2017

Nobody seems to be able to nail down this middle ground in politics. It is like the middle class that Justin Trudeau chased in the last federal election. Did Trudeau even suspect that they would add up to almost 40 per cent of the voters?  And were they all centre-right voters or was there a mix of centre-left voters included?

But somewhere in Canada, there must be that one person who stands squarely in the middle of the political spectrum. Whomever this person might be, could it be another person next week?

And what does this political centre represent? Does it fight to maintain a fully funded Medicare or does it allow the encroachment of for-profit medicine for those who’s money allows them the right to jump the queue? Does this centre encompass environmental standards along with pipelines for tar sand’s bitumen? And how does a centrist government so blindly accept the European trade agreement that was negotiated by a right-wing government?

But does a right of centre government pay out tax money in the form of a child tax benefit? Is this not the same as we used to call a Baby Bonus? And why in the last election did the left-of-centre New Democrats insist on having balanced budgets? Why do these left, right and centrist parties not stay in place to help the voter make a decision?

Yet the truth is that a large part of the Liberal vote in the last federal election came from both the left and right. There was a clear desire across the political spectrum to end the Conservative Party of Canada oligarchy under Stephen Harper. It had run its term. It was tired and needed renewal. It was becoming too mean-spirited and defeated itself.

And we still have no idea whether Canadians expect the Liberal government of Justin Trudeau to rule from the right or the left. As long as the government keeps that ambiguity going, it might keep enough support from both sides to stay in power.

But how far is this government from the ideal of a centrist government? Is it protecting our individual rights and freedoms? Is it addressing the problems connected to our old and creaky constitution or is it wallpapering them? Are its elitist appointments to the Senate and the higher courts just tired solutions of an elitist right? We have chosen a leader but do we know where the hell he is going?

-30-

Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

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.

-30-

Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

Even an elite Senate needs direction.

Thursday, January 19th, 2017

It seems you cannot keep a newspaper person from writing. Even with a sinecure such as a guaranteed salary for sitting in the Senate (until age 75) former La Presse editor André Pratte keeps writing. The past week it was a piece he wrote for the Toronto Star on why an evolving Senate must adapt.

As a so-called independent senator, Pratte might just be biting the hand that feeds him. Mind you, he does say that the institution is changing at “lightening speed.” Whether for the better would be a judgement call. He does say that spending controls are in place—an improvement to be sure.

The only qualification on this lightening speed of change is that they do have to wait until enough senators turn 75 and retire for the independents to really rule the roost. The only problem he notes is that the independent senators are disorganized. Well, what a surprise that is!

Why it should matter is anybody’s guess. Elites in our Canadian society tend to be apolitical. You hardly have time for politics if you busy being an elite and loved by one and all. Elites are typically above the political. They look down on it as a tawdry profession.

And that is who Prime Minister Trudeau is busily putting in the Senate as soon as space is available. Basically, they seem to be people who consider their new profession to be beneath them. Do they only take it for the money?

Back when we had political parties in the Senate, we knew what we were up against. With Trudeau’s elites running the Second Chamber you will never know what you are getting.

It seems that Pratte has found out that the Senate of Canada has considerable powers and he deplores the coming lack of direction without the political guidance that was there in the party senators. He even thinks that this situation needs to be rethought. He does not seem to have any idea how the lack of political guidance can be fixed.

Obviously Prime Minister Justin Trudeau never thought it through either. It was just another thought from the lip. He really needs to book some thinking time into his daily schedule.

And as for writer Pratte, we suggest that he reread George Orwell’s Animal Farm. Finding out why some pigs are more equal than others might help him understand Canada’s Senate dilemma.

-30-

Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

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.

-30-

Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me