Sunday, January 31, 2010

Iggy the Refomer?

Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff has come out and proposed his ideas for senate reform.

  • 12 year term limits
  • pass appointments through a public service appointment commission
 Wow! Crazy talk, I know!  He also believes that senate reform isn't a priority of middle-class Canadians.

Well, let's look at an Angus-Reid poll conducted back in September 2009.
In the online survey of a national representative sample, three-in-four Canadians (75%) dislike the current form of the Senate. Three-in-ten (30%) say the country does not need a Senate and that legislators in the House of Commons should be responsible for reviewing and passing all proposed bills. Meanwhile, 45 per cent think Canada needs a Senate, but would like people to participate in the process of electing its members.

Canadians are definitely eager to engage in a conversation on Senate reform, with 72 per cent of respondents saying they support holding a nationwide referendum on the issue.

Roughly two thirds of respondents favour the idea of limiting the terms of appointed senators to eight years (66%), or allowing Canadians to elect senators directly (68%). Only 36 per cent of respondents like the idea of creating a panel of distinguished Canadians to appoint new senators.
Prime Minister Harper's government tried to put through the senate that would limit senators terms to 8 years, which from the above poll, 66% of Canadians support the idea.  As well, it appears that only 36% agree with creating a committee to do the appointments.

With the recent appointment of five senators, the Conservatives will have a plurality in the upper house with 51 seats compared to the Liberals 49. 

So now, if you do not think Harper is serious about senate reform, you cannot deny that he has certainly drawn a lot of attention to it.  Not only that, but with the appointment of so many senators committed to reform, especially with the appointment of Ontario Tory MPP Bob Runciman, who was a supporter of the Canadian Alliance party when it was created, and also a supporter of senate reform, these are very strong indications that some form of reform is on its way.

And isn't it also now clear to everyone that the main reason for Harper proroguing parliament was that he saw this excellent opportunity to move forward in not only gaining some potential control over the senate, but to also move this country, with its 19th century senate system, to a 21st, modern, Australian-style upper house.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

New blog colours

One of you faithful readers suggested that reading white text on black was difficult on the eyes.  While I don't want to go with the typical black on white, I'm toying with other schemes that are often easier on the eyes.  Let me know what you think.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Prorogation, the Coalition and the Constitution

Being that prorogation has occurred 101 times before in our nation's history, that Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien used it to shut down parliamenty for 83 days to subvert the Somalia inquiry, and now that another Liberal leader, one Michael Ignatieff, is attending an anti-prorogation rally today, a fellow Alberta blogger has asked this important question:

Last year during the coalition crisis did you claim legitimacy for the coalition because of the constitution? If so, why are you now against that same constitution and the legitimacy of prorogation? Is there anything else you want to change in our constitution while we are opening it up?
Keeping in mind that Iggy recently said that if he were PM, he would use progation if necessary. He just doesn't agree with the way Stephen Harper did it this time.

But what about last time?  If Harper hadn't prorogued parliament last year, would he have ascended to the Liberal leadership so quickly after Stephane Dion was dumped?

Ah that Iggy, such a man of convenience and conviction, isn't he?

h/t Alberta Ardvark

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Rethinking Senate Reform

I just found out about Libertas Post, a conglomerate Canadian blog and gave a read of this post from Joseph Ben-Ami.  He makes an important point and while I agree with the whole idea of comprehensive parliamentary reform, realistically, and in knowing modern Canadian history, I think Harper is still on the right track.

And that is, stack the Senate to get through a bill to try and limit Senator term limits to 8-10 years but then only appoint Senators who were elected by their province.  Eventually, provinces will have no choice or face not having Senators. It's a sneaky way, but it will draw even more attention to Senate reform.  And maybe, just maybe, when provinces like Ontario and Quebec are too stubborn to have elections and BC, Alberta, and Saskatchewan do, then the number of Senators may naturally equalize or that we'll have no choice but to amend the constitution to appease everybody.

But in reading Ben-Ami's proposal, while it's too bad he doesn't mention Australia's elected senate, it basically sounds like what the Americans have, where cabinet is not derived from members, and believe it or not, it's perfectly acceptable in Canada. Does anyone remember one Stephane Dion who was appointed to cabinet by one Jean Chretien, yet Dion wasn't even an MP yet?

So what’s to be done?
In the first place, let’s stop talking about senate reform and start talking about comprehensive parliamentary reform. By all means, let’s elect our senators and, if a way can be found, let’s amend the Constitution to give provinces, rather than regions, an equal number of seats in that chamber.
More importantly though, let’s restore Parliament’s historic role as the people’s watchdog over the government by severing the office of Prime Minister and its executive functions from it altogether and creating a new, separate, and popularly elected office to fill that role. Under such a system, Cabinet would still be made up of ministers appointed by the Crown on the advice of the Prime Minister, but they would no longer be selected from among those elected to either the House of Commons or the Senate.
Elections would be held at fixed intervals, providing MPs and Senators with greater latitude in representing what they believe to be the best interests of their constituents and the country, especially those who are members of the governing party.
A truly independent Parliament would establish independent committees comprised of members at least as interested in the subject they are deliberating as they are in promoting or opposing the executive’s – or the party’s – objectives.

So why I do continue to focus on the Senate in this blog?  It's because there's an imbalance in representation. Not just a little one, but a huge one.  It's because our Senate is totally unaccountable and it's my country and I want a say in that.  It's because a lot of Canadians don't pay much attention to the Senate and they should.  It's because I think having an upper chamber in our parliament is also important, so I'm not in favour of abolishing it. Why? Go back to the imbalance.  Ontario and Quebec's interests will always continue to dominate the country due to their larger populations, when the government and parliament should consider not just all regions, but the interests of all provinces equally.

And I believe that this understanding will actually unite the country instead of regions being pitted against regions. And I also believe that our Prime Minister believes that as well.

Monday, January 18, 2010


Today is Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the U.S.A.  Further below is his well-known excerpt from that August day in 1963 I wish to share, that, no matter what your political stripe, this speech applies to those who believe in freedom first and forement, and yet it is probably one of the most inspirational political speeches anyone has ever given.  Even for this young and humble Baptist minister, it's not even a religious speech, but yet is rife with spiritualism. 

Why? Without even saying it, there is no mention of reprocussions for past wrongs, no doublespeak about rich vs. poor, nothing about socio-economics, government intervention, or even affirmative action.  It purports no creed or dogma, and yet calls on God Almighty.  

So what I believe this historic speech is about is a call to transform the distorted human spirit away from prejudice and injustice toward tolerance, understanding, and unity--where the lines of individualism and community are blurred, not because the government made us do it, but because we know and feel it is for the betterment of ourselves and families, but also our friends and neighbours. And yet, for the individual, to look deep inside and recognize the humbling penitence of his or her existence.

From the American Constitution, to the Bill of Rights, to Lincoln's "Four Score" and Emancipation Proclumation, to this speech, the generations of American society appears to require a reminder of why they believe they are the greatest nation that has ever existed.  Here's why...

I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with a new meaning, "My country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring."

And if America is to be a great nation this must become true.

So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.

Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.

Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!

Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California!

But not only that;

let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.

From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual,

"Free at last! free at last!

thank God Almighty,

we are free at last!"

Solberg on Prorogue and the Senate

Former MP and Conservative cabinet minister has a blog and made some poignant comments about the mainstream media and liberals lambasting Prime Minister Stephen Harper for being a dictator.

Without prorogation, the Liberals would still have a majority of committee seats in the Senate even though they would have fewer seats overall. That would be a terribly anti-democratic situation on at least two levels and should be an outrage to the media if saving democracy was their real concern. That's a big if, however.
Remember that this is the PM who has given up power to Parliament on vetting Supreme Court nominees and going to war. He has tried mightily to elect the Senate. Calling him a dictator is so embarrassingly over the top that it says more about his critics than it does him.
Exactly. Sometimes you wonder if those in the mainstream media will ever look at the bigger picture here and quit sensationalising moot issues.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Reintroducing Senate Term Limits

It's interesting to read about the Prime Minister's latest prorogation of Parliament and why they think the only reason was the Afghan detainee issue.  Funny how a bunch of legislation that died on the order paper was previously modified and watered down by Senate committees, if not stalled all together.  One of those bills was Senate term limits, which I think is the real reason for prorogation.

Oh you've heard Liberals go on and on that this bill or provincially elected senators do not represent "meaningful senate reform", that while they're for senate reform (!) they're not for "peacemeal" reform.   This is a term I have coined "insenaty", where you're for senate reform but don't do anything about it, especially when you're a senator yourself.

Not surprised, but I was delighted to read on that the Conservative government is going to reintroduce the bill to limit Senators to eight years.  Some Liberals, seeing inevitability, are pushing for twelve.

The latest prorogation not only killed bills stuck in committee, but it allows the government to reset, including the committees themselves.  There are now five Senate seats vacant, and if Harper appoints them (read: 'recommends to the Governor General to appoint them') the Conservatives will have a plurality of seats in the Senate.  AND if Harper takes it another step further, he can request 8 (I think it's 8) more Senators, just as Brian Mulroney did to pass the GST.  The committees will then have Conservative control and bills won't get watered down, including the Senate term limit bill.

So with term limits, current and future Prime Ministers may be quite busy in terms of continually making appointments to fill the vacancies. So why not let the people decide?  If you're such a good senator, then run for election again and again, just like MPs have to do.

Harper has stated clearly that if provinces want to have senate elections that they just go ahead and do it.  Thing is, not all provinces really want to do it and there doesn't appear to be anyone wanting to open the Constitution, as long as the Quebec separatists are still around fanning the flames. 

The CTV article states that Quebec has no interest in Senate reform, and Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty has stated he'd rather abolish it.  Makes sense for both provinces.  With the status quo, Quebec keeps a quarter of the Senate seats and still hold sway, where by abolishing it, Ontario will continue to hold about a third of the seats in the House of Commons.  This thinking is an absolute slap in the face to the regional-provincial disparity of this great nation.

Now, are both scenarios fair to the rest of the provinces?  HELL NO!  Why have unequal provinces? Why should one province matter more than another?

I get pretty tired arguing with people that don't think we also need an equal senate just like large geographical countries such as the U.S. and Australia have.  They say, "But Ontario has the largest population, they should have the most senate seats."  Um, no.  They ALREADY have the most seats in the Commons, why do they need it AGAIN in the senate.  They don't.  There needs to be balance between population and regionalism in a bicameral legislature.  But then they say that we already have regional equality of the five regions of Canada.

I don't hear ANYONE in the U.S. saying their bicameral representation isn't fair, that California and Texas dominate the government.  Each state is EQUAL.

I hope to live to see the day that Canada has, say, six senators per province, and two per territory, no exceptions and to be able elect them, no matter which province I live in.

But for now, I'll take eight year senator term limits.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Prorogue to Senate Reform

It is now apparent that Prime Minister Stephen Harper is using the latest prorogue to then try and reform the senate. As I said, I fully support this prorogue if he was to do just that.

Stephen Harper will revive a contentious plan to reform the Senate after Parliament resumes in March, setting the stage for a showdown with the opposition and a handful of provinces over whether senators should be elected and held to term limits.

The Prime Minister's decision to prorogue Parliament, and appoint five new senators during the 22-day break, could give his minority government enough clout to move its reform agenda through the Senate, and then force a high-stakes vote on the legislation in the House of Commons.

Mr. Harper promised Tuesday that any senators he did appoint “will further our Senate reform agenda.” However, he acknowledged he is disappointed that his party has been unable to effect any meaningful reform to this point, and said he is “less optimistic” than he was four years ago that such legislation would make it through Parliament.

“I thought we'd get at least something,” he said in an interview with CBC television. “We're not there yet. … What the Senate is blocking isn't just government crime legislation, it's blocking Senate reform legislation.”

And don't you just love the "insenaty" from NDP MP Libby Davies:

New Democratic MP Libby Davies argued that after Mr. Harper moved to shut down Parliament in December, Canadians will be skeptical that the Prime Minister is really interested in democratic reform.

“He wants to control committees in the Senate, he wants to get away from the Afghan detainees issue in the Commons,” she said. “When he puts [Senate reform] out there as some kind of democratic priority, I think it's laughable.”

No, Libby, you're laughable--especially for recently calling on the Prime Minister to step into the whole women's ski jump issue with the International Olympic Committee.

The NDP want to scrap the senate yet they also want proportional representation in the house of commons. Why is that? Because the NDP do not have any senators and they'd gain seats proportionally. But what they don't understand is that if we had a triple-E senate in Canada, NDP senate candidates would have a better chance at being elected to the upper chamber then waiting around for an appointment. Not only that, but if it was equal, then all the provinces would have an equal say, eliminating the need for proportionality in the house, as a balance between population and regionalism is maintained.

Anyway, this voter is mighty happy about Harper's continued focus and leadership on reforming the senate. No other Canadian Prime Minister in history has made as much progress on this issue. We have and will continue to follow this issue very closely.

Oh, and did I mention a little something about prorogation? It's quite normal you know.

Go here and take a look see.

You'll notice that in pretty much every parliament, the prime minister would end a session (also known as PROROGUE).

For example, in the 37th parliament, under Jean Chretien, he prorogued parliament twice.

This is a normal part of our parliamentary democratic system and anyone saying otherwise is a nincumpoop.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Senate showdown

With Prime Minister Harper proroguing parliament until March, OMG another month while the Olympics are on!, there is speculation that he will appoint the 5 vacant Senate seats fairly soon.  Here are the current standings in the Senate:

Liberal Party
Conservative Party
Progressive Conservative
(McCoy, Murray)
(Pitfield, Rivest)
Vacant seats
New Brunswick (1), Newfoundland and Labrador (1), Ontario (2), Quebec (1)

So with 5 more Senate seats for them, the Conservatives won't have a majority, but a plurality.

Now, Kady O'Malley at has brought up an interesting possibility, that Harper may invoke Section 26 of the Constitution and appoint an additional 8 Senators, as Mulroney did to pass the GST.

If Harper did just that, I would take it as a strong signal that he does plan to reform the Senate somehow without opening the Constitution.  The optics would not be good, however, but that hasn't seemed to have stopped him before with the recent prorogue and the one last year.

My guess is that he'll see if he can put through new legislation in the new session beginning in March and if further progress is NOT made on key bills, and the reworked senate committees still stall legislation, then this will show that he's justified in making the additional 8 appointments to get things done.

Then, how much will this invigorate the opposition parties to vote down the government on the budget or other bill, say in a quasi-coalition?  Uh oh!

And so there's that word again, the trump card of national unity!  Hello majority.  Hello reformed senate.  Hello bill to kill funding for political parties. Goodbye Bloc. Goodbye Liberals.  Hello NDP opposition.

Am I dreaming here?  Perhaps.  My guess is that this is has been Harper's long-game strategy approach all along.  He must tread very carefully.

All that said, if Iggy's Liberals do not vote down the budget, then is he just stalling for the inevitable anyway?

Monday, January 04, 2010

Wildrose snaps up two Tories

The Wildrose Alliance Party of Alberta, led by newly elected leader Danielle Smith, had only one member, Paul Hinman, elected in the Alberta Legislature in a recent Calgary byelection.  The latest poll shows the party, not just slightly ahead, but far ahead (39%) of the PCs (25%) and Liberals (25%).

Now the latest news as part of this momentum is two PC MLAs have crossed the floor to the Wildrose Alliance--Heather Forsyth and Rob Anderson.

Now with three members in caucus, they are now ahead of the NDP and have achieved official party status, meaning they'll get more questions in Question Period, and a budget.

Not long ago, there were rumours that up to ten PC MLAs were thinking of crossing the floor to the Wildrose.  To be honest, I'm surprised that even two switched allegiances as the Wildrose still has a ways to go to build all 82 riding associations and nominate good candidates.

For example, if the Wildrose puts in an inexperienced student who did no campaigning as their candidate in my riding, as they did last time, and the PCs put forth one that is not as good as they had last time, I don't know who I'd vote for.

That said, there's no doubt that the Wildrose and Danielle Smith continue to gain momentum in proportion to the Ed Stelmach Tories decline in support, not just from voters, but from within his own party.

Danielle Smith continues to chip away at Ed's party, raising doubt amongst PC supporters.  Question is, how much further can this continue to happen?  If it continues, then this could be the dramatic Alberta political shift that happens every 30-35 years or so where a new party comes in and wins and wins and wins.  I don't think we're there yet, but it's sure going to be interesting if it happens.