By: Martin Pharand
When you vote, who do you vote for, your constituency rep, the party they belong to, or the leader of that party? If you consider your answer carefully, I think you will find that your answer quite clearly communicates a set political perspective or set of values. If you found yourself not caring too much about a party leader I applaud your originality; because I am inclined to think, especially in light of recent events, that Canadian overvaluation of party leaders happens much to the detriment of our democracy and to the freedom of speech of our MPs. I have discussed political culture and the trouble of determining whether institutions influence behaviour or vice versa (link of previous article). Bearing the above question, your answer and that difficulty in mind; and as a matter of retribution, come along with me, and consider the recent ‘Warawa Affair’ and the state of big ‘L’ Liberal-ism, in Canada.
Last month Conservative backbenchers attempted to raise the issue of abortion in the House and were silenced by our mighty PM. These MPs, led by one Mark Warawa, then tried and failed to argue that this was a contravention of their right to deliver member’s statements.
By: Martin Pharand
There are a number of ways of thinking about Senate reform or parliamentary reform in general. At 1837 we’ve been compelled, by recent events (google ‘Brazeau’) to write about the former as a means of reinvigorating Canadian political life. Some have decided to argue the case of inaction, suggesting a number of reasons why a reformed Senate may not be in our best interest. They state that Canadians have little faith in political parties or ‘whipped’ politicians (things, he believes, would be present in a reformed Senate), that today’s Senate serves an important role by making the long-term decisions the House cannot (something that may be lost if the Senate is elected) and that merely reforming the Senate is meaningless compared to a fresh start with an entirely new political system.
Chris Burke is contributing to the Senate reform discussion when he states that a reformed Senate may be infected by partisanship, and that electing the Senate alone, could destroy its ability to provide long term consideration of issues. I get these criticisms and I think they can be laid squarely in opposition to Clement Nocos’ suggestion, that the Senate should be replaced with the Council of the Federation. But as an approach to institutional reform, one cannot withhold reform measures because of a lingering desire to get rid of our system of governance entirely. This not only compounds the apathy already felt by Canadians, it contradicts the realities of policymaking, of our system of government and I think there is a way of bridging the gap with different reform options, that would be amenable to Chris’ perspective.
By: Clement Nocos
“There would be no use of an Upper House, if it did not exercise, when it thought proper, the right of opposing or amending or postponing the legislation of the Lower House. It would be of no value whatever were it a mere chamber for registering the decrees of the Lower House. It must be an independent House, having a free action of its own, for it is only valuable as being a regulating body, calmly considering the legislation initiated by the popular branch, but it will never set itself in opposition against the deliberate and understood wishes of the people” – Sir John A. MacDonald, 1865
Senate Reform has been on the docket of “things-to-do” for Canada’s Parliament since pre-Confederation. The Red Chamber faced difficulty from the start, with the Fathers of Confederation debating heavily on the parameters of the Upper House before agreeing to Confederation.
By: Chris Burke
With other writers here at 1837 offering up their views on the Senate reform debate, I figured I might as well weigh in. Being the socialist of this group, I’m generally not concerned with issues of reform. I don’t view them as the way to go about making the changes that need to be made. With that being said, there is a conversation worth having around this debate.
Back in my liberal days, you would’ve found me on the side arguing for an elected Senate. I found it to be a contradiction that a democracy would be partly run by un-elected officials. As my views shifted, however, so did my views on voting. While it is held up as a great aspect of liberal democracy, voting doesn’t appeal to yours truly. What I mean is that voting shouldn’t be seen as the end to everything in democracy. Read More
Canada’s “first-past-the-post” (FPTP) electoral system has historically led to long lasting majority governments in both federal and provincial level parliaments; where the lead party obtains a legislative majority of seats. The Canadian political experience with majorities under FPTP has entrenched a reactionary disdain for minority government in Canadian politics. The governing party of a minority parliament normally sees itself in an unstable, temporary state that it must endure before obtaining majority status in the next election. Pundits declare a virtual loss for whichever party wins the most seats in a minority and assert that the new minority government is an inefficient lame-duck. Majority government has become the “natural” way to govern Canada.
Nevertheless, minority governments are sometimes the products of close elections, but they do not necessarily need to be the unstable, lame-ducks that Canadians tend to think of. A coalition is just one of several solutions in managing a decidedly unstable minority parliament with responsible government. The idea of a coalition parliamentary government, however, has been relatively absent from Canadian politics save for its brief consideration after the federal election of 2008. Though coalition governance is ubiquitous in parliamentary democracies throughout the world, it is a term still unfamiliar to Canadians. In other countries governed by parliamentary democracy, multi-party coalitions are the norm. Canadians, on the other hand, think of coalitions as formal party mergers such as the Canadian Alliance-Progressive Conservative merger of 2003 that formed the broad coalition that is today’s Conservative Party of Canada.  Coalitions in this paper will be defined as cooperative parliamentary government formed between distinctly separate political parties.
Coalitions should be seen as a means to effectively govern minority parliaments, yet its opponents in Canada have pre-emptively declared multi-party government to be undemocratic. This assumption negates the merits of coalition governance and overlooks Canada’s lack of experience with it. By examining the Canadian experience with minority government, by providing foreign examples of coalition parliamentary governance, and by highlighting the implications of coalition governance such as the need for electoral reform, this article will argue for the application of multi-party coalition governance to Canadian parliamentary democracy.
By: Clement Nocos
There’s been a lot of talk lately about the schoolyard bullying and trash-talking taking place recently within SO 31 Members’ statements. Liberal leader MP Bob Rae has criticized the recent state of the SO 31:
“(Members’ statements) were not intended to be partisan rants that are written by 25-year-old enthusiasts in the Prime Minister’s Office.”
You’d think this has had something to do with the unprecedented number of young people in the House of Commons today. Such juvenile language during debate and misuse of members’ statements could only be perpetuated by the immature baby MPs that sit on the backbenches, right?
Looking through last week’s debate hansards (i know, thrilling), I’ve picked out each SO31 made by every MP, 30 years of age or younger, who have made stood for a members’ statement from October 15th to the 19th. Here’s what young MPs have said in their SO31s:
By: Clement Nocos
A Canadian stereotype that we fancy ourselves is a replete and infectious politeness that is supposed to fill every facet of Canadian society. Saying sorry for every minor offence you may have committed, acknowledging strangers with pleasantries and niceness, passivity as the extreme form of aggression, and the penultimate ‘agreeing to disagree’ are supposedly typical of Canadian character which we pride ourselves on, for whatever reason. Ottawa during this parliamentary season has so far been everything but Canadian.
Vitriol has been poured by all sides as the CPC persistently resorts to “job-killing carbon tax” talking points during SO31s and QPs in an effort to attack the opposition. You’d think this stuff would pass after a week in Parliament or with the next news cycle, but it’s been a month into this session in the House of Commons and the talking point still dominates. This has led to opposition posturing as NDP House Leader MP Nathan Cullen has pointed out:
“If the Speaker doesn’t clamp down then it’s hard for me to hold off my attack dogs because they say, ‘They’re punching our party or leader in the nose every day, we need to respond.’”