RYU: A new and more realistic proposal for Senate ‘harm-reduction’
It has been the elephant in parliament for most of Canada’s history. Canada inherited its upper chamber from the mother country, whose own upper chamber bears the more transparent name “House of Lords”.
Our “Lords” are, of course, appointed by the government through the Governor General. Reforms to this chamber go all the way back to Confederation, and arguably, beyond.
Senate reform has been a thorn in the side of Canadian political history. Out of countless proposals, no major reforms have been accomplished, leaving us with an institution that at a glance looks puzzlingly not democratic, not Canadian, and not for the 21st century.
In 2015, the Liberals made matters worse by attempting to give the senate (and appointments thereto) the appearance of political independence, which arguably strengthens its mandate to interfere with legislation. Since then, Trudeau has had his own agenda affected by a senate that now feels more justified in pushing back against the elected House.
It was something high on the mind of former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who sent six reference questions to the Supreme Court to see if he could make the Senate a little bit ‘less bad’ without having to enter the nuclear battlefield of Constitutional negotiations with the provinces.
The Supreme Court sent their responses, signed unanimously by eight of nine judges in a decision called Reference re Senate Reform (2014 SCC 32).
The government had proposed term limits of eight years or less, nine years, ten years or more, or the duration of two or three parliaments. It proposed that these terms could be renewable and only apply to senators appointed after 2008. It was found unconstitutional.
The government proposed to “enact legislation that provides a means of consulting the population of each province and territory as to its preferences for potential nominees for appointment to the Senate”. Alberta holds a technically non-binding election for its own senators. It was also found unconstitutional.
The government asked whether provinces could create their own legislation to “consult their population” on senate appointments, but this was found unconstitutional as well.
The government also asked whether the senate could be abolished with the consent of seven provinces representing half of the population, but the Supreme Court ruled that even indirect abolition of the senate would be a major change requiring unanimous consent of federal and provincial legislatures.
Provinces as rational actors
“Reopening the Constitution” as it is sometimes referred to, has become a big taboo in the world of modern Canadian politics. It seems that traditional wisdom has become that the dysfunctional family of Canadian provinces could not possibly agree on anything, and that too much talk about the Constitution will lead to the break-up of the country.
It seems that Harper was only willing to take the debate to the provinces if it was to discuss abolition of the senate. Senate elections and term limits were only on the table if the House and Senate could get it done on their own. It made sense, the cost-benefit analysis needed the benefit of a chance at abolition in order to be worth the cost of re-igniting a political firestorm, one that would have certainly accused the government of having sinister intentions for abolishing “half” of the country’s parliament.
The complicated relationship between parliament and the provincial legislatures assigns no limit to the speed at which political capital can be burned up trying to come to a national consensus on anything contentious. Just ask Brian Mulroney and the PCs in 1993.
The contention does not get much stronger than when discussing a legislative body specifically designed for regional representation.
The population represented by each MP fluctuates quite a bit, but not as much as the population represented by each senator. In 2015, MPs represented anywhere between 26,728 and 132,443 Canadians (Labrador and Brantford—Brant). Meanwhile, PEI senators represent 35,726 and BC senators represent 774,676, a disparity of more than 21x.
The Atlantic provinces already get massively out-voted in the House of Commons, and they would not be keen on further reducing their representation by abolishing the senate, where they get more than 21x the per capita representation as BC.
It is not clear, however, whether the best attempts at senate reform have already been made. While the elephant in the room might not fit through the exit, perhaps it can be tamed to serve a legitimate public purpose. To illustrate, here is an example of how a government might better approach serious and beneficial senate reform.
An example approach
In this example, the federal government begins its approach to senate reform by generating significant political capital. To do this, it must identify all of its available bargaining chips and identify those that, relative to their expendability, would most appeal to the provinces.
The two original purposes of the senate were to serve as a brake on democracy, and reduce the ability of parliament to ignore the interests of less populous regions. Like PEI.
It can start by offering to offload the power to appoint senators to the provinces. Bodies tend to react positively to the potential for increased influence. It is a big carrot for provinces who are probably better placed to look out for “regional interests” anyway.
It would depend on the political climate of the day, what the provinces would be willing to agree on in order to get what they will be coming to the table for. Each province would face a situation where cooperating would give them fundamentally more power within the federation, and not cooperating would likely make them look unreasonable in the eyes of the public. To achieve this, the government cannot let senate reform become attached to any other topic. It must be a stand-alone item.
Something that the provinces might agree to is term lengths of some sort, renewable or otherwise. The offer on the table would essentially be “hey, provinces, we’ll let you pick the senators if you agree to set term limits for them”.
Perhaps the provinces would agree to an added accountability measure that appointees must be a past or current member of the provincial legislature, to ensure that the senate does not become (or, rather, remain as) a home for a governing party’s failed political candidates.
Let’s also set their salaries at twice the GDP per capita (which would currently be around $90k). It prevents the need to debate their renumeration, and does not fluctuate enough to incentivize them in any political direction. Whatever negligible effect it does have might make them favour economic growth and reasonable immigration levels. Hardly a negative.
If we are feeling especially lucky, let’s see if we can somehow get the Senate down to an even
It would push the senate in the right direction, in the sense that it would at least better serve to represent voices for regional interests. Ideally, senators in this new senate would sit as members of provincial parties, with the option to caucus in coalitions of broadly Conservative, Liberal, or NDP provincial parties, but without the option to caucus with the federal parties.
Perhaps provincial legislatures can actually select senators using some variant of the Jefferson Method.
One of the biggest scandals of the Harper years was the Mike Duffy affair, where Harper was alleged to have inappropriately appointed Duffy as a PEI senator, Duffy was alleged to have wrongly claimed travel expenses, and Harper’s chief of staff was alleged to have paid back those wrongly claimed travel expenses.
What that scandal revealed was that the notion that the
What better way is there to ensure that the appointments are focused on regional interests than to hand over the keys to those elected to serve provincial interests?
A new motion will soon be introduced to Parliament by the Bloc Quebecois asking the government to call off the Frontier Teck mine that has been proposed in northern Alberta, according to the Western Standard.
The motion will be introduced by Bloc leader Yves-Francois Blanchet. The motion suggests, “That the House call on the government to not authorize the Teck Frontier mine development, as this project can not be reconciled with the Paris Agreement targets.”
Bloc MP Alain Therrien has also supported the motion.
Two more motions will be brought forward by the Bloc, though only one will be chosen to be put up for debate in the House of Commons. The Bloc has not yet specified the motion that will move ahead.
Non-political regulators have already given their approval for the $20.6-billion northern Alberta project. The Liberal natural resources minister noted that their approval of the project may be delayed if Alberta continues to oppose Ottawa’s carbon tax. Many eastern Liberal MPs do not want the project to go through it all.
The federal government has indicated it may be abandoning the project, though Teck claims that it will help the GDP of the province and create approximately 7,000 jobs.
A statement was just released by Teck noting that by 2050 it plans to be a net-zero emitter.
The statement on the company’s website says the project, “will consist of surface mining operations, a processing plant, tailings management facilities, water management facilities, and associated infrastructure and support facilities.”
The project is estimated to generate around 260,000 oil barrels in a single day.
All of the 14 Indigenous communities in the project area have come to agreements with Teck.
According to the federal government, they will not be giving an answer any time before late February.
Federal Environment Minister Johnathan Wilkinson said that environmental impacts would be taken into account before the project is approved.
“With respect to (Frontier), we need to look at all the environmental impacts, we obviously need to look at the economic opportunities, and we need to ensure we’re taking both into account,” said Wilkinson.
“Certainly, one of those issues is how does this project fit with Canada’s commitments to achieving the reductions we are committing to (for) 2030, and the net zero commitment to 2050? I would just say again that it’s important that all provinces are working to help Canada to achieve its targets.”
Wilkinson noted that every province should be expected to help the country achieve those goals.
The industrial emitter plan, TIER (Technology, Innovation and Emissions Reduction) was revealed by the UCP government in bill 19.
This plan came in place of the NDP’s climate Leadership Plan by revoking carbon tax on residents and some businesses while keeping the tax on the big emitters.
The TIER plan gives facilities a number of options such as reducing emissions or paying $30 per tonne in a TIER fund.
The federal carbon tax challenge was brought forward by the Alberta government in 2019. Arguments went ahead in Alberta’s Court of Appeal on Dec. 16-18.
Although launched not even two years ago, the Canadian Anti-Hate Network (CAHN) seems to have quickly been elevated to the status of Canada’s go-to “hate monitor.” Most of the major outlets—the CBC, Global, etc.—regularly seek comment from the group whenever sensitive issues like offensive speech and alleged hate crimes are trending in the media. They also reliably cover CAHN’s investigative research on “hate groups” operating in Canada.
Our American friends down south know “hate monitoring” organizations well, chief among them the Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). That organization, which CAHN in fact has a partner relationship with, is currently undergoing a public relations-crisis following revelations from a former insider that the group is essentially a scam; one which regularly reported that “hate always continued to be on the rise” in order to bilk its “gullible Northern liberal” donor base. Last year, a group of employees accused the SPLC’s leadership of fostering an environment where racism, sexism and sexual assault was allowed. It led to the organization’s founder being fired and the resignation of its president.
CAHN is now facing its own public relations challenge after it was alleged, among other things, to be pursuing similar “hate group” alarmism in Canada. According to CAHN, there are apparently 300 “right-wing extremists” groups operating across the country; more per capita than what even the SPLC finds in the US. The piece, published in an online journal curated by Preston Manning’s Manning Foundation, was indeed thoroughly critical of the group’s methods. It apparently cut so deep with CAHN executives, they responded with a positively frenzied open letter accusing the journal of manufacturing half-truths, straw-man arguments, and even outright lies.
A major focus of the piece is CAHN’s supposed defence of the extreme far-left antifa movement. Most Canadians by now know antifa well, having seen images of its black-clad, mask-wearing members committing unprovoked acts of violence or aggression against those not just on the far-right, but also conservatives, free speech-advocates, journalists, and even geriatrics. Operating transnationally, the Department of Homeland Security has described some of antifa’s actions as “domestic terrorist violence.”
But in their letter against the Manning Foundation, CAHN attempts to argue that antifa violence isn’t the same as “fascist” violence and that there is “zero equivalency” between the two. Antifa, they write, only “appear when… neo-Nazi groups that want to take power to carry out discrimination, deportations, and genocide” arise, and to say the two sides are comparable “is an intellectually devoid exercise.”
But take antifa-researcher Andy Ngo’s picks for the worst examples of the movement’s violence last year in the U.S. None were in reaction to “fascists” at all:
In one, accused antifa member Charles Landeros of Eugene, Ore. had been stockpiling weapons in order to “kill pigs,” or law enforcement, before police got him first in a shootout at an elementary school. His comrades called him a “martyr” and a bomb was left outside a local police station. That incident is still under investigation.
Willem van Spronsen in Washington state called on his comrades to “take up arms” against the government in a manifesto he released before attempting to murder federal immigration agents using a rifle and explosives. Luckily, his gun malfunctioned and he was shot and killed. Again, antifa supporters call him a “martyr.”
This included Connor Betts who tweeted the message just before he shot and killed nine people in Dayton, Ohio. Betts had antifa connections and was in communications with an antifa militia group prior to the killing.
Again, none of these cases involved entanglements with “fascists.” And according to coverage of the Betts case, a short time before his death, he tweeted: “I want socialism, and I’ll not wait for the idiots to finally come round understanding.” Clearly, at least in part, his mass-killing seemed to have been about accelerating a revolution, not reacting to “fascism.”
In Canada, members of law enforcement have stated that antifa compared to the extreme right is “more violent in some cases.” Like CAHN’s self-appointed status as Canada’s “hate group” arbiter, why should antifa have license to be judge, jury and executioner when it comes to countering political violence? If there truly is a violent threat from an extreme-right group, it should be the police and the legal system that deals with it, not unaccountable, private militia groups. CAHN does say in its letter it’s against the use of violence, however, to defend or fail to disavow antifa, as they apparently do, would seem to encourage the normalization of its tactics.
Moreover, CAHN’s support for aggressive measures, such as pushing for greater public and private censorship and directly confronting “hate groups,” might actually be fueling “hate” and right-wing extremism, not restraining it. For instance, Dr. JA Ravndal of the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism and an expert on right-wing extremism has concluded that “countermeasures intended to constrain radical right politics appear to fuel extreme right violence” and that “[r]ecognition, open-mindedness, and dialogue might then work better than exclusion, public repression, or aggressive confrontation.” If CAHN really wants to stop the supposed increase of right-wing extremism in Canada it may want to put at least some focus on the former, rather than the latter, measures.
There is much speculation as to who will be the face of the new Canadian five-dollar bill. Terry Fox is a name that keeps popping up in conversation about nominating a worthy candidate. Fox’s hometown of Port Coquitlam, B.C. is campaigning to get him on the bill.
Terry Fox became a national hero in 1980 when he attempted to run across Canada with one leg in an effort to raise money for cancer research. Fox was 22-years-old at the time and made it more than 5,300 kilometres beginning in St. John’s, Newfoundland before his run was cut short in Thunder Bay, Ontario due to cancer spreading to Fox’s lungs. He died ten months later, June 28, 1981.
His run lives on in many countries as an annual fundraiser that has since gone on to raise millions of dollars for cancer research called the Terry Fox Run.
“Terry has just an amazing legacy, not only here in his hometown of Port Coquitlam, not only in British Columbia, not only in Canada but around the world,” said Brad West, Mayor of Port Coquitlam.
“He has inspired, and he continues to inspire, millions of people.”
Anyone is eligible to be nominated to be the new face of the five-dollar bill as long as they are a Canadian citizen and have been dead for 25 years or more. Nominations close on March 11 and will then be reviewed by an independent advisory council that will be responsible for comprising a shortlist. Minister of Finance, Bill Morneau, will have the final say on who is chosen.
Port Coquitlam included a link on its home page to help direct people to the Bank of Canada’s nomination page in an effort to help get Fox on the bill.
“He really embodies all the values that all of us, no matter where we live, hold dear to our heart, so I think that Terry would be a great unifying national choice for our country,” said West.
“Terry was a normal guy, and he came from a very normal family in Port Coquitlam, and it was inspiring as a little guy in PoCo to hear that story.
“To have that recognized nationally in a way that would be enduring, and would be interacting regularly with, every time we picked up a $5 bill, is really hard to describe.”
Mayor West even wrote to Morneau and Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz to express the formal support of Port Coquitlam.
Via Rail announced this morning that CN has notified them that partial routes between Quebec City, Montreal, and Ottawa will be back up and running as early as Thursday, Feb. 20.
Only trains that serve full trips between Quebec City and Ottawa will resume service. This comes after the better part of two weeks of being shut down as a result of protests in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en people who are against the Coastal GasLink pipeline.
Trains 22, 24, 26, 28 leaving from Ottawa will be resuming as well as trains 33, 35, 37, and 39 leaving from Quebec City.
All other train services remain cancelled until further notice with the exception of Sudbury–White River (CP Rail) and Churchill–The Pas (Hudson Bay Railway).
The Minister of Indigneous, Marc Miller met with blockade protestors Saturday in Belleville in hopes to negotiate a swift and peaceful resolution. The meeting took place in a nearby community centre and lasted over eight hours, although the minister wasn’t able to give the press many details about what was discussed in said meeting.