Posts Tagged ‘Senate of Canada’

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 With the imbalance of Canada’s provinces, the commitments to provincial rights and outdated religious school commitments, our constitution has to be rescued from the 19th Century.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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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

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.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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

The silence of Trudeau’s lambs.

Sunday, October 30th, 2016

You wonder what a writer such as Thomas Harris (The Silence of the Lambs) would make of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s most recent elitist appointments to the Senate of Canada. What is really different in this circumstance is that these people are reported to have actually applied to be appointed. It is a strange type of job application where nobody with experience need apply.

Being offered the job of Canadian senator is like winning one of those scratch tickets that are supposedly offering cash for life. In this Senate, you are paid the salary of a member of parliament and quite generous expenses until you are 75-years old. And you do not have to run for re-election every four years. People used to have to prove themselves in politics for a number of years before getting that kind of offer.

And that is the serious problem with Justin Trudeau’s solution to the senate. He intends to fill the senate with political virgins who, he says, wear no visible party colors.

But he is forcing these very lucky people into a serious learning curve that some of them might not be able to handle. They are a mainly apolitical group being thrown into the ring with real politicians. They are supposed to deal with political questions for Canadians. They are supposedly nonpartisan and they have applied for a job where they are required to make what are partisan decisions.

But the Conservatives and New Democrats in Parliament are starting to come to their own conclusions. Looking at the backgrounds of these appointees brings them to the conclusion that most of these backgrounds are mainly of interest to people of a liberal inclination. It is not that they are Liberals in the political sense but they think like many liberals. Justin Trudeau might not have the experience of a jury consultant but he knows the people he likes.

By side-stepping the political vetting process and leaving it to his elite committee, Trudeau is striving for an appearance of a non-partisan selection process. He has failed in the attempt.

There is a simple explanation. If you ever want to see our prime minister scream and run for a place to hide, just suggest to him that we re-open the Canadian Constitution. He has an almost pathological fear of that process. He saw it as his father’s one failing.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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

What’s in it for us?

Wednesday, October 19th, 2016

That is not a selfish question. It came up the other day when reading another boring presentation to the House of Commons special committee on electoral reform. “What is in it for us” is likely to be the cri de coeur of Canadians when they see what the months of gestation of the electoral reform question have produced.

An official report is in the offing.

For months we have been told of a democracy deficit, the false majorities, the policy lurches of alternative governments, how your vote does not count and how magically your vote can count if Canada just had proportional representation in parliament. We have been told of making every vote count, how to transfer our vote and how to ensure every minority is represented in parliament. We have had Canadians standing, waiting at alternative microphones to tell the committee of their alternative system of voting.

And we have also been told that nobody cares.

In Canada’s largest city, we were told that the news media did not bother to come to see democracy in action. And if the media are apathetic, are the citizens far behind?

But we are becoming increasingly convinced that the real problems are in Ottawa. The problem is in the all-powerful Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). The problem is in an elitist, non-elected Senate of Canada. It is in electing gutless, sycophants of a party leader instead of people we would be proud to have as our member of parliament. It is the rigid control of parliament’s agenda by the PMO. It is the hand-in-glove relationship of our leaders and big business. It is in the increasingly complex and legalistic free-trade relationships that leave the people concerned in confusion.

This does not excuse the role and manipulations of the provinces that make up the Canadian federation. We are lucky today that we get the first-past-the-post winners from the provinces in Ottawa. We hardly need or want the malcontents of provinces that proportional representation would bring to Ottawa. And we are not just thinking of Quebec.

Maybe we wasted our time following this common’s committee process. It looks like whatever is reported will be an eight to three split. The Liberals, New Democrats, Bloc and Green are likely to agree on something while the Conservatives will hold out for a referendum.

The Liberal government will then have to decide just how much of its political capital it wants to spend on a foolish election promise by its leader.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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

Patience: Elites at work.

Friday, October 7th, 2016

It seems we might be seeing more of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s elitist senate. A committee of senators think they should have their own television channel. It is just a recommendation at the moment but you never know with these things. After all, who would have believed a TV channel that does nothing but burn a yule log on an endless loop? Watching elite senators snore in their seats might be just as exciting.

But is this not the house of sober second thought designed by our Fathers of Confederation to keep us colonials from running amok? Our prime minister has gone one better. Rather than worn and tired politicos being retired to the senate’s sinecure, we now have a committee of elites choosing elites for the PM to appoint. Political has-been’s need not apply.

Like Christ chasing the money-changers from the Temple, Mr. Trudeau proclaimed that Liberal senators were no longer Liberals. He was not allowed to fire them, so he did the next best.

But now he needs more elites to appoint or the remaining politicos will start to take control. There is already a recommendation that any group of nine or more senators be able to create a caucus of their own naming. And the idea includes budgets for caucus staffs and expenses. These people do not do things by half measure.

One of the more popular caucuses could be the one called something like “Wonderful Wednesday Wonkies.” This will be drawn from among those who only show up from Tuesday to Thursday to be sure to collect their fat paycheque. They could appoint Senator Mike Duffy as their honorary chair.

We hear that the elite committee already has a bunch of names from which Justin Trudeau can pick the finest and brightest if he wishes. There have even been some names leaked to show that the elitists are on the job.

But the more serious question is whether Canadians really want this farcical approach to a second house of parliament?

It is strange having known and talked with both Pierre Trudeau and his son. They are very different. Pierre Trudeau did not understand politics at first but he learned to accept it and use it. The son takes an entirely different approach to politics, he uses it but seems to detest it. He has used the Liberal Party and has set out on a path to destroy it. He has an almost pathological fear of re-opening the Canadian constitution and has come up with this silly elitist approach that has little chance of benefiting Canadians.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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