By Charlie Gillis - Friday, May 3, 2013 - 0 Comments
Surely we can agree that stuffing the body of a baby into a bag and leaving it on an apartment balcony for a building superintendent to find is an abominable act. And that it shouldn’t much matter—legally or morally—whether the child died after, during or just before birth.
Or should it?
That was the question before the Supreme Court of Canada in R. v. Levkovic, the latest gut-wrencher to emerge from the legal vacuum left when Canada’s abortion law was struck down in 1988.
The accused, a former stripper then living in Mississauga, Ont., was charged under Sec. 243 of the Criminal Code, which says:
Every one who in any manner disposes of the dead body of a child, with intent to conceal the fact that its mother has been delivered of it, whether the child died before, during or after birth, is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, April 11, 2013 at 2:16 PM - 0 Comments
The issue isn’t abortion — it’s democratic reform
Brent Rathgeber, the Conservative MP for Edmonton-St.Albert, has a blog. And on that blog, on Feb. 6, Rathgeber wrote something simultaneously remarkable and mundane. “I understand that members of Parliament, who are not members of the executive, sometimes think of themselves as part of the government; we are not,” he wrote. “Under our system of responsible government, the executive is responsible and accountable to the legislature. The latter holds the former to account. A disservice is provided to both when Parliament forgets to hold the Cabinet to account.”
Here was a simple, if generally forgotten and regularly ignored, principle: MPs, even those who run under the same party banner as the prime minister and his cabinet, sit in the House of Commons for the purposes of holding the government to account.
Two months later, the basic place and principle of the MP is a point of open debate in the House of Commons. What began, with a motion from another Conservative backbencher, as a discussion about abortion—specifically, “sex-selective pregnancy termination”—has become an even more profound debate about the way in which our representative democracy functions. At its essence is the question of what we elect MPs, and send them off to Parliament Hill, to do.
By Stephen Gordon - Wednesday, March 20, 2013 at 3:00 PM - 0 Comments
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has dropped hints to the effect that the March 21 budget will include efforts to revisit the system of tax expenditures: the deductions, exemptions and credits for various activities, firms and people. Eliminating tax loopholes always sounds like a good idea, but it’s not always obvious what the distinction is between a loophole and an integral part of a well-designed tax system.
The largest single item in the 2012 edition of the Department of Finance’s report on tax expenditures is the basic personal amount deduction: more than $30 billion in foregone tax revenues. There is no way the government will remove this tax deduction, nor should it: public finance theory recommends a deduction covering the minimal income required to sustain a basic existence. Other big-ticket items include the system of RRSPs ($15 billion) and exemption of groceries from the GST ($3.9 billion). You can see why the business of eliminating loopholes is not simply a matter of wiping the slate clean. There are a lot of babies in that bathwater. Continue…
By Paul Wells - Wednesday, March 20, 2013 at 8:18 AM - 0 Comments
A sluggish economy means deep cuts are coming, but Canadians might not notice. At least not right away.
One thing Stephen Harper learned soon after he became Prime Minister was that Canadians have little intuitive grasp of decimal places. A government does not get 1,000 times more credit for spending $1 billion on something than it does for spending $1 million. In fact, it does not get twice as much credit. As long as the government notices a problem and nods at it, it wins approval from voters who care about that problem. So not long after his man Jim Flaherty started delivering budgets, a Harper era of small and essentially symbolic investment began.
Similarly, the ability to tell the difference between a little belt-tightening and a wholesale cut to a government service or department is not a widespread skill. So as long as the government offers only the vaguest information about its spending cuts, few Canadians will go searching for details.
This general numerical dyslexia will come in handy this year more than most, as Jim Flaherty tries to meet a zero-deficit target that is suddenly rather close—2015, give or take—while dealing with a lousy economy. Continue…
By Charlie Gillis - Tuesday, March 19, 2013 at 6:31 PM - 0 Comments
CBSA deal to film immigration raids allows feds to stage-manage a serious issue, writes Charlie Gillis
So why are we suddenly exercised at the idea of camera crews following CBSA officers as they raid construction sites in search of illegal immigrants? Because the suspects might be innocent? Because their alleged transgression doesn’t rise to the level of—I dunno—a guy who tries to play fast and loose with a Money Mart?
The real problem, to my thinking, is how infrequently we get to watch the enforcement arms of the state in action without those agencies filtering the message—and the dust-up over the CBSA deal illustrates the point. To get past the blue-sky planning stage, Force Four Entertainment, the production company behind the project, had to sign an agreement allowing the feds to vet the show to ensure they won’t portray the border agency in a negative light. Which means the finished product is bound to be a whole lot different than if, say, a crew from the fifth estate went along for the raids.
These bargains for access are increasingly common in TV production, and they speak to a growing tendency within law enforcement to co-operate with media only for purposes of self-promotion. To Serve and Protect set the template: it’s the Canadian knockoff of an American show tailored to aggrandize cops. In short, we get one side of the story.
So before we declare immigration raids off limits to the media, let’s remember the public interest underlying the CBSA’s mission—quaint as that might sound. I, for one, would watch a program that juxtaposed the harsh realities of enforcement work against the human plight of Honduran migrants eking out a life in Canada’s underground economy. I doubt I’m going to get that from the production. So if the Minister of Public Safety wants to do me a favour, he’ll swing open the door to more on-scene coverage of border enforcement teams in action, by a wider variety of media, with a lot less stage management. We might see the flaws and excesses of our duly empowered authorities. We might even see their virtues.
All within the bounds of the law, of course: the potential for children to be among those being filmed is troubling (it’s not like they choose to migrate, legally or illegally). So one expects the same careful editing and pixelating on the part of Force Four we get from To Serve and Protect, where minors are conspicuously absent. A spokeswoman for Force Four says its shows will be vetted by lawyers to ensure privacy rights are not violated.
I know: dream on. Nothing about the deal Vic Toews signed off on suggests an interest in public enlightenment. It’s just a bit of politics—some theatre-of-the-living to fill the air on National Geographic channel, whose venerable brand belies the increasing hollowness of its content.
The scandal is not that we’ll see the CBSA raids on such limited terms. It’s that this is the only way we get to see them.
By Erica Alini - Tuesday, March 19, 2013 at 2:54 PM - 0 Comments
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty likes to draw up comparisons with other advanced economies. Even when announcing in November that the federal deficit would come in at $26 billion, $5 billion higher than predicted in the 2012 budget, the minister couldn’t resist gloating: “Unlike many of Canada’s counterparts in the G7, we remain on track to return to balanced budgets over the medium term.”
But with provincial deficits swelling from coast to coast this year, and rising health care costs expected to ravage provincial coffers in the coming decades, federal figures are starting to paint an increasingly misleading portrait of Canada’s government debt situation.
Lower-than-expected revenues have dug a $4-billion hole in Alberta’s finances and inflated Newfoundland’s deficit to over $700 million (almost triple what was initially projected), adding resource-rich provinces, along with long-time offenders such as Ontario and Quebec, to the list of fiscally challenged jurisdictions. Continue…
By Martin Patriquin and Philippe Gohier - Wednesday, March 13, 2013 at 1:09 PM - 0 Comments
Unlikely as it seems, support is pouring in from La Belle Province
Until a fateful fall night last year, François Remillard hadn’t found a way to scratch his political itch. A history teacher awoke the interest in high school but, as the 27-year-old Quebecer points out, that was 10 years ago; since then, his passion has been for work (he is studying to be a surveyor) and studiously avoiding talking politics with his family, most of whom support the Parti Québécois.
And then on the evening of Oct. 2, Justin Trudeau declared his intention to run for the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada. His speech, replete with frothy declarations of his love for Canada and reminders of how much he has to learn, was classic Trudeau; he has the ability to at once come off as both outrageous and humble. After watching it on the Internet, Remillard was hooked. He followed the campaign intently from then on, and became a volunteer in January. “There are no other leaders who inspire me,” he says. “For me, it’s a question of image, of an idea of Canada. Trudeau has what it takes to get young people in Quebec and Canada interested and involved in federal politics.”
By macleans.ca - Friday, March 8, 2013 at 3:58 PM - 0 Comments
Preston Manning in conversation with Colby Cosh
In November 2012, Preston Manning received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Maclean’s Parliamentarian of the Year gala celebration. At that time, he sat down with Alberta correspondent Colby Cosh to discuss his life and legacy.
Manning, of course, is in Ottawa this weekend for the 2013 Manning Networking Conference. Watch our site for full coverage from Paul Wells, Aaron Wherry and the Maclean’s Ottawa bureau.
By macleans.ca - Sunday, March 3, 2013 at 8:41 PM - 0 Comments
Former presidential nominee talks tears, defeat and failure
In their first TV appearance since election night, Mitt and Ann Romney took questions from Fox News in an interview broadcast earlier today. Here are the highlights:
1. Until eight or nine on the evening of the U.S. election, Mitt Romney was certain he was on his way to the White House. “We were convinced we would win. My heart said we were going to win.”
2. The former Republican presidential nominee said he lost because he could not connect with the minority vote. “We did very well with the majority population but not with the minority populations and that was a real failing, that was a mistake. We didn’t do as good a job as connecting with that audience as we should have.”
3. Ann Romney cried after her husband’s defeat. “The dream was to make a difference,” she explained. ”The dream was to serve.”
4. Romney also confirmed that she declined an invitation to appear on Dancing With the Stars. “I’m not really as flexible as I should be.”
5. One more thing from the wife of the former nominee: “I totally believe at this moment, if Mitt were there in the office, that we would not be facing sequestration right now.”
6. Mitt Romney talked about the “47 per cent” of voters he thought were out of reach. “It was a very unfortunate statement, It’s not what I meant. I didn’t express myself as I wished I would have. You know, when you speak in private, uh, you don’t spend as much time thinking about how something could be twisted and distorted. And it could come out wrong. … There’s no question that hurt and did real damage to my campaign.”
7. Romney insists he has no hard feelings toward New Jersey Governor Chris Christie — a Republican who praised Obama. ”Chris was doing what he thought was best for the people of his state. I lost my election because of my campaign, not because of what anybody else did.”
8. Chris Wallace, the Fox News host who scored the interview, says he thinks Mitt is in a better head space than Ann about the election results. “Not to say she’s bitter — and she enjoys her life. Look, they live on the beach, north of San Diego and a bunch of their grandkids are around. You know, they’ve got a pretty great life. But I think she feels the pain and the what-ifs and the hurt more than he does.”
9. That said, Mitt Romney confessed that it kills him not to be in office, “not to be in the White House doing what needs to be done.”10. With his first post-election interview out of the way, Romney returns to the public stage on March 15 in a speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference.
By Charlie Gillis - Wednesday, February 27, 2013 at 1:47 PM - 0 Comments
The much-anticipated Whatcott decision has landed, and to some surprise, the Supreme Court of Canada shied from the chance to get human rights commissions out of the business of judging speech.
You can read the decision in its entirety here. In a nutshell, the court struck down a phrase in Saskatchewan’s human rights code banning material that “ridicules, belittles or otherwise affronts the dignity of any person or class of persons,” while upholding the section of prohibiting material that exposes members of identifiable groups to hatred. Those offended can still seek remedy from the province’s human rights commission.
“The protection of vulnerable groups from the harmful effect emanating from hate speech is of such importance as to justify the minimal infringement of expression,” the judges said in their unanimous decision.
Maybe this compromise was inevitable. To get human rights bodies out of the business of supervising speech, the high court would have to overturn its 1990 Taylor decision, which validated the jurisdiction of human rights commissions over speech, and set down a legal test of what constitutes hatred. That’s a lot to ask of any court.
But civil libertarians had hoped the SCC would do just that. Back in ’90, the current Chief Justice, Beverly McLachlin, had written a dissent to Taylor voicing concern that the law could interfere with free expression. She asked pointed questions during the Whatcott hearing about the vagueness of Saskatchewan’s law. There was reason to think she and her bench-mates might make a move.
To me, their decision to stand-pat represents a missed opportunity to erect robust legal protections around a bedrock Canadian value. And yes, my employer has a stake in this. But if we learned anything from the Maclean’s-Ezra Levant human-rights fiascos, it’s that the rights process is too blunt, too one-sided an instrument to deal with such a sensitive issue as speech.
A couple of other thoughts: all eyes should now turn to the provinces that have anti-hate speech provisions in their human rights codes, some of whose leaders have echoed the above-stated qualms. They’ve been sitting on the sidelines to see whether Whatcott would give them the cover needed to do the right thing, and now the onus is on them.
Here’s what Alison Redford told the Rocky Mountain Civil Liberties Association about the relevant section of Alberta’s code when she was running for the provincial PC leadership:
“I want to amend and fine-tune the existing legislation, after consultations with stakeholders, to better define and protect free speech in light of challenges to the statute in recent years. Freedom of expression must be shielded, and Section 3 of the Alberta Human Rights Act should be repealed.”
Over to you, Premier. Need a roadmap?
The decision also reminds me of a conversation I had in the thick of the dispute between Maclean’s and Islamic groups that complained about the writings of Mark Steyn. I was talking to Wayne Sumner, a philosophy professor at the University of Toronto who studies hate speech, and I had raised the operative question: in the Internet era, can we get rid of anti-hate speech provisions in human rights law without giving oxygen to the hard-core hate-mongers, who are undeniably among us?
Sumner was unequivocal:
“The kinds of groups who engage in this sort of nonsense in Canada are so marginal, and regarded as so ridiculous by most people, that it’s hard to see how they have any impact at all. Did the ridiculous things David Ahenakew said in public about Jews running the world actually encourage any acts of anti-Semitism in Canada? Or did we just all laugh at them? So I think there’s a problem with the underlying justification of the law.”
But wait. Isn’t world history replete with examples of hate speech fueling violence and discrimination? Weimar Germany? Rwanda?
The professor’s answer:
“It’s important that we’re speaking specifically about Canada. If I thought there was an enormous reservoir of prejudice bubbling beneath the surface, just waiting to be released, I would think differently. But I don’t think that’s where multicultural Canada is at. The references to history don’t tell us much about our own situation.”
In other words, Canadian tolerance can stand the stress-test. It’s a bedrock value that—freely expressed—offers a better antidote to hatred than any regulatory body staffed by appointees. Time for governments to give it a vote of confidence.
By macleans.ca - Monday, February 11, 2013 at 1:00 PM - 0 Comments
Gil Kerlikowske on the perils of pot legalization, and how Canada creates drug problems for the U.S.
Gil Kerlikowske is U.S. President Obama’s director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy—more commonly known as the U.S. “drug czar.” His long career in law enforcement included serving as police chief in two border cities: Buffalo and Seattle.
Q: In the November elections, two states—Washington and Colorado—voted to legalize marijuana for recreational use. President Obama has said that the U.S. government has “bigger fish to fry” than to go after recreational users in states where it is legal. Where do things stand with regard to producers and distributors of marijuana, which is still illegal under federal law?
A: You’ll continue to see enforcement against distributors and large-scale growers as the Justice Department has outlined. They will use their limited resources on those groups and not on going after individual users.
Q: You’ve written on the White House website that “coming out of the election, we are in the midst of a national conversation on marijuana.” Is the U.S. headed for a patchwork of policies, state by state? Continue…
By Philippe Lagassé - Sunday, February 3, 2013 at 11:48 AM - 0 Comments
Why the Conservatives must rethink their approach to succession
Canada’s most monarchist government in decades has just dealt a serious blow to the Canadian Crown. In an effort to quickly enact changes regarding royal succession, the government has introduced a bill that undermines the concept of a truly independent Canadian Crown, the foundation of Canadian sovereignty. Equally troubling, the government claims that altering succession to the throne does not require a constitutional amendment. In making this argument, the government has overlooked the very nature of the Crown in law and the Canadian constitution. However commonsensical the proposed changes to the law governing succession may be, such a cavalier approach to the Crown, to the foundation of sovereign authority of and in Canada, merits scrutiny.
Heritage Minister James Moore laid out the government’s thinking at a press conference this past Wednesday. According to the minister, succession to the throne is not a matter of Canadian law. Instead, succession is a question of British law alone. Only the British Parliament can set the rules for who ascends to the throne, while the Canadian Parliament’s only authority lies in assenting to the changes. Put differently, the authority to legislate the rules of succession belongs with the British Parliament because the Canadian constitution does not address matters of succession. The legal pretext for this interpretation is the preamble to the 1931 Statute of Westminster, which states that the United Kingdom will obtain the assent of the Dominions when altering succession to, and royal titles and styles of, their shared Crown.
For Mr. Moore, the absence of an explicit reference to succession in the codified parts of the Canadian constitution also explains why no constitutional amendment is needed to alter succession in Canada. Although the Constitution Act, 1982 states that changes to the “office of the Queen” require a constitutional amendment that is approved by Parliament and the provincial legislatures, the government interprets “office” to mean only those powers and privileges of the Crown that are identified in the codified constitution. Hence, succession doesn’t pertain to the office because succession isn’t mentioned in the codified constitution.
Unfortunately for the government, these interpretations of the Statute of Westminster and office of the Queen are problematic.
The conventions outlined in the preamble to the Statute of Westminster depended on the power of the United Kingdom to legislate for the Dominions and on the idea that all the realms were under a single Crown. Neither of these conditions holds anymore, as Australian legal scholar Anne Twomey has shown. When Canada and the other Dominions altered their royal styles and titles in 1953, the realms did not assent to British legislation; they legislated for themselves. And Canada’s act made no mention of the Statute of Westminster. In the 1970s Australia and New Zealand enacted new royal styles and titles without consulting the other Dominions, sapping the prescriptive authority of the Statute‘s preamble. Claims that the preamble still applies to succession were further undermined in the 1980s. The authority of the preamble depended on section 4 of the Statute, which allowed the British Parliament to legislate for the Dominions. The Canada Act, 1982 ended the British Parliament’s authority to legislate for Canada and abolished s. 4 of the Statute. Australia followed suited with the Australia Act, 1986, as did New Zealand with its Constitution Act, 1986. The United Kingdom is no longer able to legislate for Canada, Australia or New Zealand, even in matters of succession and even if they assent.
As important, the United Kingdom cannot legislate the succession to the Canadian throne because the British and Canadian Crown are no longer one and the same. The British and Canadian Crowns are legally distinct and independent entities.
The emergence of the distinct and independent Canadian Crown happened gradually and it took time to be properly recognized. Somewhat ironically, the process began with Statute of Westminster, which granted the Dominions legislative independence. As Canadian cabinets monopolized the authority to advise exercises of the Crown’s powers in right of Canada in the decades that followed, the idea of a Canadian Crown took shape. In the early 1950s, the title of Queen of Canada was created. During her coronation, Queen Elizabeth II was proclaimed the Queen of Canada. As the government’s own publication, A Crown of Maples notes, “The proclamation reaffirmed the newly crowned monarch’s position as Queen of Canada, a role totally independent from that as Queen of the United Kingdom and the other Commonwealth realms.”
The final step toward a distinct Canadian Crown was achieved in 1982, when the Canadian constitution was patriated and Canada became a fully sovereign and independent state. While the 1982 patriation ended Canada’s legal ties to Great Britain, the expanded Canadian constitution retained the Crown as the concept of the Canadian state and as ultimate source of sovereign authority in Canada. This fully independent Canadian state could not have the British Crown as the source of its sovereign authority. Nor could it be a shared Crown. The only way Canada could be completely sovereign and independent was to decouple the Canadian Crown from its British counterpart.
The fact that only the Canadian Parliament and provincial legislatures can amend the constitutionally entrenched office of the Queen is a testament to this development. The Canada Act, 1982 and Constitution Act, 1982 gave the Canadian Parliament and provincial legislatures absolute control over the office of the Canadian Sovereign and the wholly independent Canadian Crown. Any claim that Canada and Britain share a Crown in the legal or constitutional sense is therefore incompatible with the complete sovereignty that Canada achieved in 1982.
Justice Minister Rob Nicholson implicitly admitted as much when the succession bill was introduced in the House of Commons on Wedenesday. The minister noted the Governor General had given the bill his consent, a requirement for any bill that touches on the powers and privileges of the Crown. Since the British Crown had already given its consent to the British succession bill and the Canadian government claims that the Crown is shared, it is unclear why the consent of the Governor General, the representative of the Queen of Canada, was required. The only plausible answer is that the succession bill affects the separate and distinct powers and privileges of the Canadian Crown.
If the United Kingdom cannot legislate the rules of succession for the Canadian Crown, it follows that Canada must have the power to determine the rules of succession for its Sovereign and head of state. At present, the Canadian rules of succession are those that were inherited from the United Kingdom. And an argument might be made that they must mirror those of Great Britain absent a constitutional amendment, owing to the preamble of the Constitution Act, 1867. But mirroring the British rules does not mean Canada can simply assent to British bills to bring its succession into line with the United Kingdom’s. If Canada is a sovereign state and has an independent Crown, the Canadian legislatures—Parliament and the provincial legislatures—must pass substantive legislation to ensure that Canada’s rules of succession reflect those of Great Britain, not merely assent to a British law. Here again, the Governor General’s granting of Crown consent to the Canadian bill indicates the government is at least partially aware the British and Canadian Crowns cannot be affected by the same British law.
If we accept that Canada is fully sovereign and that the Canadian Crown is fully independent, then there must be some part of the codified constitution that addresses succession, whether explicitly or implicitly. A strong case can be made that the “office of the Queen” mentioned in s.41(a) must be that provision that addresses the succession to the Canadian throne. Accordingly, any change to the succession to the throne must trigger the amending process identified by s.41(a).
Succession must pertain to the office of the Queen because of the Crown is a “corporation sole.” Corporations sole fuse an office and an office holder. The office and office holder are treated as synonymous in law. This means that, legally speaking, all references to the Queen, Her Majesty and the Crown in Canadian statutes and the constitution refer to the same thing. When the constitution speaks of the office of the Queen, then, it is referring to both the Sovereign and the Crown in the broadest sense.
Most importantly for our purposes, this further means that the office of the Queen extends not only to the current office holder, but to those who will succeed to the office. This is necessarily true precisely because the Crown is a corporation sole.
The purpose of having the Crown as a corporation sole is to ensure that successors to the office of the Sovereign retain all the powers, duties, constraints of the Crown when they ascend to the throne. Hence, when one monarch dies and is replaced by their successor, there is no need to reiterate the established powers, duties and constraints of the Crown. Nor is there any need to rewrite any statutes. Having the Crown as a corporation sole allows for a seamless and automatic transition between the current Sovereign and her successor. So, when the Prince of Wales becomes King Charles III, all references in Canadian statues and the constitution to the Queen and Her Majesty will automatically apply to him because the Crown is a corporation sole.
It is the idea of corporation sole that underlies the cry of “the king is dead; long live the king!” The Crown is never vacant and the Sovereign never dead because, as a corporation sole, the office of Queen (or King) is immediately filled by successors when a monarch passes. Hence, as the canonical jurist of English law William Blackstone noted when discussing the concept: “Corporations sole consist of one person only and his successors, in some particular fashion, who are incorporated in law, in order to give them some legal capacities and advantages, particularly that of perpetuity, which in their natural persons they could not have had. In this sense, the king is a sole corporation.” The office of the Queen necessarily refers to both the current Sovereign and her successors.
To reiterate, then, altering the rules of succession requires a constitutional amendment under s. 41(a) because the Crown is a corporation sole, a legal status that was purposefully designed to ensure that the office of the Queen includes matters of succession.
Recognizing that the Crown is a corporation sole also helps us answer the question that hovers over this entire discussion, namely: how can the Canadian and British Crown be distinct if they’re both personified by Elizabeth II?
The Canadian and British Crowns are distinct corporations sole. As a result, the Queen of Canada and Queen of the United Kingdom are legally distinct office holders, just as the Canadian Crown and British Crown are distinct offices. However, the natural person who occupies these offices, Elizabeth Windsor, is the same. One woman personifies distinct and separate offices. This means that the Canadian and British Crown are under a personal union, but not a legal or constitutional one. Elizabeth Windsor holds the legally independent offices of the Queen/Crown of Canada and the Queen/Crown of the United Kingdom. But when she acts as the Queen of Canada, she is not acting as the Queen of the United Kingdom. The fact that Elizabeth Windsor is both the Queen of Canada and the United Kingdom does not mean that the two states shared a single Crown or Sovereign.
To conclude, it is worth discussing what might happen if we accept the government’s argument that succession is only a matter of British law and that changes to the rules of succession do not require a constitutional amendment. The most obvious consequence of the government’s position is that Canadian republicans will have been proved right: the Crown is an inherently British entity and Canada cannot claim to be an independent state until our ties to the House of Windsor are cut or we become a republic. The government’s view would also mean that Canada would effectively cease to be a constitutional monarchy if the United Kingdom decided to become a republic. The concept that underlies Canada’s entire system of government, the Crown, could be dismantled by another country.
The government’s narrow construction of the office of the Queen under s. 41(a) of the Constitution Act, 1982 may lead to some interesting outcomes, too. If the office of the Queen covers only those powers of the Crown that are explicitly identified in the codified constitution, a future Parliament could pass various statutes to undermine the monarchy without consulting the provinces. One could image, for instance, a future Parliament passing a regency act that transforms the Governor General from the representative of the monarch to the personification of the Crown in Canada, owing to the Sovereign’s absence in Canada. Coupled with a new set of letters patent that transferred all of the Sovereign’s remaining authority to the Governor General, this regency act could be used to exclude the royal family from all Canadian affairs. Since this kind of act would not affect the powers of the Crown included in the codified constitution, Parliament could pass it without consulting the provinces. Of course, it is difficult to imagine that this was the intended spirit of s.41(a), but a narrow construction of the office of the Queen might allow it.
Suffice it to say, while the changes to the succession are laudable, a greater degree of caution and debate is warranted here.
Philippe Lagassé is an assistant professor of public and international affairs at the University of Ottawa. He thanks James W.J. Bowden for his research assistance.
By Ivor Tossell - Wednesday, January 23, 2013 at 2:22 PM - 0 Comments
Why the city shouldn’t dump its hopes down a black hole
Try as it might to rid itself of the habit, Toronto the Good hangs in there.
Presently, the city is up to its clerical collar in a debate over whether or not to admit a provincial casino on its valuable central lands. This might seem like a no-brainer to outsiders. Downtown casinos have sprung up in cities across the country without major incident, but it’s still fraught stuff in Toronto: Remember, this is the city that required not one, but two referenda to even allow streetcars to run on Sundays. (The motion passed by a whisker on the second try in 1897; after all, you can use the streetcar to get to church.)
An enormous consultation has been launched. Across the four corners of the megacity, a cavalcade of city staff, politicians, developers and consultants have trouped from gymnasium to hall to foyer, setting up placards full of financial estimates, health-board reports and planning bafflegab. (Here is a map. Now here is a map with colours and arrows!) Senior city staff stood around, fielding questions. Passers-by were directed to round tables to participate in “facilitated discussions” and fill out surveys. Consultants who specialize in consultation were brought in. After a fiasco at the first session, when anti-casino councillors got upset at the lack of a public-speaking component and staged a rebel counter-consultation in another room, an open mic was added. You can also go and do the whole thing online, until the end of this week. If there exists a stray opinion on casinos anywhere within city limits, the city manager’s office wants it captured, fumigated and pinned to a corkboard.
By Rob Silver - Wednesday, January 23, 2013 at 1:34 PM - 0 Comments
They’re entertaining, but not quite as wild and crazy as you remember
This weekend’s Ontario Liberal leader election and the upcoming Quebec Liberal leadership election could be the last of a dying breed—the wild, unpredictable delegated convention. Fantastic drama, questionable democracy: such conventions are crack to political junkies.
Any smart political junkie knows that delegated leadership conventions have some steadfast parameters. A former Ontario cabinet minister who is a really smart guy (really, he is) summarized them recently as follows:
In delegate-based leadership contests, frontrunners are typically doomed to lose — except where there is an heir apparent, such as Chretien succeeding Turner, or Martin succeeding Chretien (and I suppose, Ignatieff succeeding Dion). The same held true for leadership contests in the other major parties — at least until they got rid of the old-school delegate convention format and replaced it with something akin to trolling for Twitter followers.
Front runners are doomed, unless there is an heir apparent. Gotcha.
By Patricia Treble - Saturday, January 19, 2013 at 8:40 AM - 0 Comments
Photo gallery: Planners of the 57th inauguration of the President of the United States have left nothing to chance
Walking around the tourist, and government, parts of Washington is increasingly difficult these days. Roads are suddenly blocked off and incredibly tall sturdy security fencing is being erected everywhere President Barack Obama is going to be passing. When planning a huge event like the 57th inauguration of the President of the United States, nothing is left to chance. So four days before the big day, there are already hundreds of portable toilets lined up in perfect rows, waiting for their own big day in the sun.
By John Geddes - Thursday, January 17, 2013 at 12:06 PM - 0 Comments
In this week’s Maclean’s I write about Brian Mulroney’s surprising return to prominence in Canadian public life. The story was mostly prompted by a spate of major speeches the former prime minister, now 73, delivered last year. Mulroney’s 2012 road show seemed remarkably unhampered by the controversy that plagued him in office and dogged him long into retirement from active politics.
The larger-than-life performance style he brings to these events is something to behold—and he can barely contain his disdain for the timid, tentative speechmaking of the generation of Canadian politicians who came after him. But Mulroney also delivers content. So much, in fact, that I had space to barely touch on much of it in the story.
For a flavour of the subjects Mulroney tackles, and how he comes at them, here are four excerpts from key speeches.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, January 16, 2013 at 5:26 PM - 0 Comments
The NDP talks about alcoholism, residential schools and #IdleNoMore
Three months ago, news broke that NDP MP Romeo Saganash had been removed from an Air Canada flight after he had been deemed too intoxicated to fly. Two hours later, Saganash announced that he would be seeking medical treatment for a dependence on alcohol.
Born in the remote community of Waswanipi, Quebec, Saganash was raised in the bush before being taken away from his family to attend a residential school. He would go on to receive his law degree from the Université du Québec à Montréal and become a prominent leader and negotiator with the Grand Council of the Cree, engaged in debates about sovereignty for Quebec, treaty rights and resource development, and in 2011 he was introduced as a star candidate for the NDP in Quebec. In the wake of Jack Layton’s death, Saganash stepped forward as a candidate for the party’s leadership.
“I am not looking at excuses, but I know that profound scars were left on me because of my time in residential school. I never shied away from that,” he wrote when he stepped away. “The death of my friend and mentor, Jack Layton, also greatly affected me. Like him, I needed a crutch. The leadership race wore me out, on top of taking me away from my children and my loved ones even more often. Life on Parliament Hill can be hectic and exciting, but it is also full of obstacles and pitfalls. Many of my colleagues can attest to this.”
He returned to work in his riding yesterday and was back on Parliament Hill today. Seated in his office, he answered questions about his childhood, life, his alcoholism, his treatment and how a kid from the bush got here—about the pain of residential schools and the mission of his political life. “I recall looking at my leader, straight in the eyes, when I told them I’ll seek help in order to come back well. And that is what I did,” he says. “And you also have this feeling that you’ve disappointed a whole bunch of people. Not only your immediate family, my children, but also my political family. I felt that I’d let down the NDP and my colleagues. I regretted that very much. And my voters, my electors, as well. All that comes into play in your mind when something like that happens. But I was prepared for the challenge. I said to myself that I’ve slayed other dragons before in my life and this one won’t be different.”
While he was away, the Idle No More movement took shape and made its presence felt and Saganash, a man steeped in these issues and debates, also talked about the protests, Theresa Spence, Shawn Atleo, the way forward and the possibility for progress. “A lot of people I hear discussing the aboriginal question or issue in this country say, well, it’s going to take a lot of time to fix the problem. Yeah, perhaps. Perhaps, allow me to say. But the fundamental thing that is required, and it’s a very basic thing, is the political will. Is there the political will to really fix the problem, once and for all, for the benefit of all Canadians? If that political will is there, the rest will come more easily. And that’s what I’m looking for.”
By Mark D. Jarvis - Sunday, January 13, 2013 at 12:12 PM - 0 Comments
Why we should be worried about a government that sits for only 19 days in a full calendar year
Mike de Jong, the Government House Leader and Minister of Finance, announced last week on Twitter that Christy Clark’s Liberal government in British Columbia planned to recall the Legislative Assembly on February 12 for a speech from the throne and to sit until March 14.
The legislature would then be dissolved on April 16. How do we know this? Basically, it is a matter of counting backwards. The province’s Constitution Act requires a general election to be held on the second Tuesday in May every 4 years. That falls on May 14 this year. And, the province’s Election Act requires a 28-day campaign period.
Taking into account that the B.C. legislature doesn’t sit Fridays, and the usual spring break, the parliamentary calendar shows a maximum of 24 sitting days before dissolution. But there is a report that the legislature will not sit at all in April. That would mean there will only be 19 sitting days before the election in June, one of which will be the speech from the throne and another the budget, assuming the current plan holds.
Why is this important? Why should we care about the technical minutiae of the B.C. parliamentary schedule for the upcoming weeks?
Because the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia has already not sat since May 31, 2012. The cancellation of the fall sitting by Premier Clark, left open the question as to whether the legislature would sit at all before an election this May.
It is not simply that the legislature will have only sat for 19 days this spring, it is that B.C. legislature will have only sat for a total of 19 days in nearly a full calendar year (between May 31, 2012, when it last rose and the election on May 14, 2013).
This would appear to fit the trend I wrote about previously of first ministers seeing legislatures as an undue burden, whose work they are free to inhibit as they fancy. And yet, there has barely been a murmur of discontent.
As part of its year-end wrap-up, the CBC nominated 10 stories for the B.C. news story of the year. The 10 stories offered up are fine; many even very important, like the pipeline debate, the Haida Gwaii earthquakes and Amanda Todd’s tragic death. But that the B.C. legislature had not sat since May (and, at that time, had no timeline for sitting again) did not even make the list.
Some might suggest this is much ado about nothing. After all, British Columbia is heading into an election in a few months and elections have long been celebrated as the ultimate accountability mechanism—the chance, as they say, to “throw the bums out.”
While elections are an important mechanism of accountability, accountability also requires compelling the government of the day to provide information about its decisions, behaviour and policies—in short, holding government to account. Members of legislative assemblies who are not part of the executive have a responsibility to ask questions, extract those accounts and to scrutinize them. Because we do not expect governments to commit political hara-kiri, parliamentarians’ primary responsibilities include holding government to account: scrutinizing government performance and administration and either withdrawing or extending confidence. The government’s capacity to disrupt its ability to do so undermines the efficacy of our parliamentary system. As Peter Aucoin and I have argued:
Without robust parliamentary scrutiny the system can easily slide into what commentators like to label an “elected dictatorship,” namely, a parliamentary government where the Prime Minister operates without significant checks and balances from the legislative assembly of the people’s representatives.
When a legislative assembly can be sidelined—in addition to normal concerns about opposition incompetence or ineffectiveness—the government is able to operate in greater secrecy. As Stephen Harper put it so clearly in an op-ed on government transparency and potential reforms to the Information Act that was published by the Montreal Gazette when he was leader of the opposition:
Information is the lifeblood of democracy. Without adequate access to key information about government policies and programs, citizens and parliamentarians cannot make informed decisions, and incompetent or corrupt government can be hidden under a cloak of secrecy.
While Harper did not address the sitting of legislatures in the essay, the same principle applies: a robust democracy requires that governments must not be able to unduly interfere with the flow of information to citizens.
Voters rarely, if ever, have full information when they cast their ballots. This means citizens vote in in a state of relative darkness, inhibiting their ability to fully hold the government to account. Worse still, they can be seen as conveying electoral legitimacy, when, had they been better informed, they might well have voted differently, even to the point of the election a different government.
Having severely limited the legislature’s ability to hold it to account, the government will effectively be asking the citizens of British Columbia to cast their ballots in the dark this May. These are dark days for democracy indeed.
Mark D. Jarvis is a doctoral candidate at the University of Victoria. His 2011 book, Democratizing the Constitution: Reforming Responsible Government, co-authored with Lori Turnbull and the late Peter Aucoin, was awarded both the Donner and Smiley book prizes. Mark adapted some of the book’s proposals for a contribution to our series on the House last year. You can find more information about the book here.
By Ivor Tossell - Tuesday, January 8, 2013 at 2:34 PM - 0 Comments
The re-election campaign, should it be required, starts with a lawyer’s argument about the mayor’s character
Another month, another day in court with Rob Ford. His whole mayoralty has been very edifying for the City Hall press corps in this regard. Once every month or so, off everybody troupes to some stately courtroom, mayor in tow, to watch him sit glumly in the front row as lawyers argue about this thing or that thing that Rob Ford has done. This was his third court session. Really, it’s a field trip for everybody.
Yesterday, the Toronto mayor’s appeal of the decision that kicked him out of office was heard in front of a divisional court. The day after, he is still mayor, and will be until the court decides on his appeal, which it promised to do as quickly as it can. Going in, the punditariat had predicted a rehash of the conflict-of-interest trial that rendered a damning verdict against him. What we got instead was a launch few were expecting–the debut of Rob Ford: Honest Man.
The mayor was kicked out of office for breaching Ontario’s strict conflict-of-interest laws by speaking out in council against having to repay a few thousand dollars in donations to his football charity. (The money had been solicited in ways that broke the city’s integrity rules.) Then, to make matters worse, he voted against giving the money back. His political foes saw an opportunity and sued. A trial followed in October and once Justice Charles Hackland found that Ford has indeed broken the provincial Conflict of Interest Act, the penalty was automatic and written into law: removal from office. Continue…
By Ivor Tossell - Friday, January 4, 2013 at 1:04 PM - 0 Comments
What the outrageous baseball star has in common with Rob Ford
José Canseco, the best mayor Toronto never had, is a man of many schemes. Just a few days ago, the former steroidal slugger rang in the new year with a public list of resolutions that included “Get elected to a important political office in the U.S. or canada to help all people and governments with there problems (sic)” and bringing an anti-aging drink called “Ponce de Canseco” to market.
In fact, he was square in the middle of convening a meeting of followers of his gonzo Twitter account to discuss the drink, sending out a picture of himself sipping a glass of suspiciously yellow liquid, when political inspiration struck. A political consultant from Milton, Ontario tweeted a suggestion that he run for office in Toronto. Canseco, who clearly understands the value of saying “yes,” appointed the political consultant from Milton as his agent on the spot. Continue…
By Ivor Tossell - Friday, December 28, 2012 at 3:34 PM - 0 Comments
Toronto’s challenges go beyond its unfortunate mayor
Poor Rob Ford, for whom nothing can go right, may not have enjoyed 2012 as much as some. It was a year in which his influence waned, his budget was rewritten, his transit plan was scrapped and the one he tried to kill was revived. It was the year he fired the TTC chief who gave him advice he didn’t like, only to have his control over the agency stripped in retaliation. It was a year in which he accidentally banned plastic bags while trying to make them free, only to have to laboriously un-ban them later. A year in which in which he chased a reporter around a park and staged, then abandoned, a weight-loss challenge, only to fall off his industrial scale and twist his ankle after his very last weigh-in.
It was the year he tried responding to a horrific shooting by proposing that criminals be dumped over city limits, presumably to be told very sternly not to cross Steeles, even just to pick up a Wunderbar at 7/11. It was the year he was caught reading behind the wheel of his SUV on the highway, but still refused to get a driver. It was the year he endured unending flak for repeatedly blowing off work to coach a high-school football team, sometimes with office staff in tow, which was not helped by the time a busload of TTC riders got tipped into the rain so his football team could catch a lift. It was the year his new TTC chief, who he praised up and down the city, asked him to please stop calling. Now, in fairness, let us point towards his record on the city’s labour negotiations, which squeezed concessions from unions without a major strike. But, in the end, his football team lost the championship and he got thrown out of office.
With the remove of year-end retrospect, it’s hard to look at the man without wondering if he’s some kind of lightning rod for cosmic misfortune. Yes, he’s the author of his own misfortune, but what power compelled him to keep on writing? When you refine it down, this is some weapons-grade misfortune. By the end of 2012, nobody would have been surprised if, having wandered away from his job, Ford was found looking plaintively out the window at an Ikea parking lot, dressed in a very large shearling jacket: Ikeamayor.
But as 2013 dawns, Toronto is looking forward to a strangely daunting prospect: The world after Rob Ford. The mayor’s appeal is to be heard on January 4th. If he loses, he’ll likely face an uphill race in a by-election. If Ford is somehow returned, it seems unlikely it will come as a renewed mandate so much as yet another wearying tribulation cleared; if the process transforms Ford into a leader, it would be the biggest surprise of all. One way or the other, the city is going to stay leaderless well into the new year.
It’s all very engrossing in the moment: High office meets low comedy. The results weren’t just zany, but weirdly heartening. The city kept turning. The leadership void was filled with voices who started off partisan but became conciliatory: conservatives who broke ranks, socialists who broke doctrine. While the mayor’s office flooded the market (to say nothing of the airwaves) with partisan blither and made good sense scarce, good sense suddenly became a good worth selling.
It was moderates who put the city’s transit plans back on track, who curtailed a sell-off of public housing stock, who are driving the most promising discussions about alleviating the gridlock that’s choking the city’s citizens and economy alike. The year hardly represented a utopia of governance—a leaderless government, for all its collectivist romance, is liable to be directionless and reactive. But the city settled into something resembling equilibrium: Ford offered, if not leadership, then the unifying effect of a man bent on illustrating What Not To Do.
This can only take the city so far. Events will foist some items onto the agenda one way or the other. Toronto faces huge challenges in the year to come, some of which we’re talking about already, some of which we’re not. The crumbling Gardiner is about to foist a half-billion dollar infrastructure decision on the city. Toronto is going to have to decide whether or not to turn over its downtown core to one sort of mega-casino or another. The subject of paying for transit (read: you, paying for transit through new taxes or tolls) is about to take centre stage.
But just as Rob Ford was not the solution to Toronto’s problems, Toronto’s problem is not Rob Ford. Reactive leadership won’t address the challenges that can’t be solved with infrastructure alone: a city that’s becoming more polarized in income and opportunity, that’s pricing buyers and renters alike out of the market, that’s harder and harder to get around, and that can’t just exile its gunmen to the next town over. This is the challenge for the city’s leadership in 2013: Addressing the shape of the city that’s so big, so full of potential, and at such a critical juncture. Surviving Rob Ford isn’t enough.
By The Associated Press - Thursday, December 27, 2012 at 11:00 AM - 0 Comments
WASHINGTON – Progress toward avoiding the “fiscal cliff” seemed stalled Thursday, as the Senate’s…
WASHINGTON – Progress toward avoiding the “fiscal cliff” seemed stalled Thursday, as the Senate’s top Democrat accused Republican House Speaker John Boehner of acting in dictatorial ways that prevent a solution to looming tax hikes and spending cuts.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, speaking in the Senate chamber, said the nation appears headed over the cliff because of a lack of progress in negotiations as the Dec. 31 deadline nears. He blamed House Republicans, who last week opposed Boehner’s efforts to pass a narrowly crafted bill that would raise tax rates only on the very wealthiest Americans, prompting Boehner to cancel a vote on the bill.
Reid said the House is “being operated with a dictatorship of the speaker.”
“John Boehner seems to care more about keeping his speakership than about keeping the nation on sound financial footing,” Reid said.
Reid said the GOP-controlled House easily could have passed a White House-approved plan with a majority of Democratic votes and a few dozen Republican votes. But House leaders generally avoid such tactics, because they might alienate the Republican caucus and jeopardize the speaker’s job.
Also Thursday, the White House said Obama, before leaving Hawaii, called Boehner, Reid, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. The White House statement said the president got an update on the “fiscal negotiations,” but offered no detail on who, exactly, was negotiating and whether those talks were getting anywhere.
Obama was returning from vacation to the deadline showdown in the nation’s capital, with even a stopgap solution now in doubt.
The House has passed a Republican plan to avert the fiscal cliff, and the Senate has passed a Democratic version. Their deficit-reduction projections differ by hundreds of billions of dollars over 10 years. Many Washington insiders say the gap could be bridged if partisan positions were not so firmly entrenched.
Leaders of the two parties are essentially daring each other to let the year end without resolving the pending confluence of higher taxes and deep spending cuts that could rattle a recovering but still-fragile economy.
Adding to the mix of developments pushing toward a “fiscal cliff,” Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner on Wednesday informed Congress that the government was on track to hit its borrowing limit on Monday and said he would take “extraordinary measures as authorized by law” to postpone a government default.
Still, he added, uncertainty about the outcome of negotiations over taxes and spending made it difficult to determine how much time those measures would buy.
In recent days, Obama’s aides have been consulting with Reid’s office. But Republicans have not been part of discussions, suggesting much still needs to be done if a deal, even a small one, is to be struck and passed through Congress by Monday.
At stake are current tax rates that expire on Dec. 31 and revert to higher rates in place during the administration of President Bill Clinton. All in all, that means $536 billion in tax increases that would touch nearly all Americans. Moreover, the military and other federal departments would have to cut $110 billion in spending.
But while economists have warned about the economic impact of tax hikes and spending cuts of that magnitude, both sides appear to be proceeding as if they have more than just four days left. Indeed, Congress could still act in January in time to retroactively counter the effects on most taxpayers and government agencies, but chances are that a large deficit reduction package would be put off.
House Republican leaders on Wednesday said they remain ready to negotiate but urged the Senate to consider or amend a House-passed bill that extends all existing tax rates. In a statement, the leaders said the House would consider whatever the Senate passed. “But the Senate first must act,” they said.
Aides said any decision to bring House members back to Washington would be driven by what the Senate does.
Reid’s office responded shortly thereafter, insisting the House act on Senate legislation passed in July that would raise tax rates only on incomes above $200,000 for individuals and $250,000 for couples. Obama has been pushing for a variant of that Senate bill that would include an extension of jobless aid and some surgical spending reductions to prevent the steeper and broader spending cuts from kicking in.
For the Senate to act would require a commitment from McConnell not to demand a 60-vote margin to consider the legislation on the Senate floor. McConnell’s office says it’s too early to make such an assessment because Obama’s plan is unclear on whether extended benefits for the unemployed would be paid for with cuts in other programs or on how it would deal with an expiring estate tax, among other issues.
What’s more, Boehner would have to let the bill get to the House floor for a vote. Given the calendar, chances of accomplishing that by Monday were becoming a long shot.
Follow Jim Kuhnhenn on Twitter: http://twitter.com/jkuhnhenn
By Ivor Tossell - Wednesday, December 19, 2012 at 5:22 PM - 0 Comments
The case for the ranked ballot
There are 2.6 million people in Toronto, and most of them are running for mayor.
Thanks to Mayor Rob Ford’s possible removal from office, the floodgates have opened to rumoured contenders: Councillors like Shelley Caroll, Adam Vaughan, Karen Stintz and even Giorgio Mammoliti, to say nothing of outsiders like Olivia Chow, Kathleen Wynne and John Tory, who is very good at maybe-running for things. The mayor himself loudly declared his candidacy, before disappearing on a pre-Christmas-vacation vacation ten days ago.
“There’s a running joke: there’s so many of them, maybe we should cut to the chase and have a 44-member game of Survivor,” said Carroll, the former budget chief and suburban centre-leftist, who’s one of the few to have actually declared. Meanwhile, at an event last week, Vaughan was busy sardonically handing out buttons he’d made, so that half the room ended up badged “I’m Running For Mayor Too!”
For as long as Rob Ford has been in power, the conversation about the next election has been about how many people will run against him, instead of what they’ll be running on. The man is so polarizing that the question isn’t whether an opponent can draw support from his fervent base, but how his opposition will split their vote.
In this latest poll’s scenarios, for instance, Chow would beat Ford and a range of competitors. Without her in the race though, Ford would beat a range of three- or four-way splits against him. The poll’s results are exasperating in their attempts to puzzle through all the permutations: Chow, Ford, Vaughan, and Carroll; Chow, Ford, Tory, Vaughan and Carroll; Chow, Chow, Chow, eggs and Chow; Ford, Vaughan, eggs, sausage and Chow, and so on.
These are not the makings of a fruitful conversation. Canadians like to grouse about our first-past-the-post elections, but have been reluctant to abandon their simplicity. Four provincial referenda on full-scale reworkings of provincial governments have failed. In Toronto, though, a more manageable change might be in the works.
In Toronto, Dave Meslin, a kinetic, well-known public advocate, has spent the past year lining up support for ranked ballots, a system that could bring election results more in line with what the majority of voters would prefer. Meslin has assembled a roster of city councillors who’ve endorsed his drive, including some of Rob Ford’s staunch conservative allies, who’ve taken both Meslin and and his proposal to their town halls, where the idea seems to have been warmly received. The logistics of preparing for an election has ruled out 2014, but in order to prod the provincial government into rewriting election laws to open the door for 2018, Meslin and his allies hope to see a council vote that will get the ball rolling this coming spring.
It works like this: Instead of voting for one candidate, voters would instead rank the candidates in order of preference. When the votes are counted, if a single candidate has 50% of the first-choice vote, they win. If nobody reaches 50%, then the last-place finisher is dropped from the ballot, and their supporters’ second-choice votes are distributed. The votes are counted again, and the process repeats itself until someone has secured 50% of the vote.
In this way, a broader consensus is needed to get elected; strategic voting becomes a secondary consideration; and candidates have more incentive to be less polarizing. After all, a highly divisive figure makes a good first choice for their supporters, but is unlikely to be a popular second choice. While our current system favours those who can divide their enemies, ranked ballots tilt the playing field towards moderates and coalitions.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about ranked ballots is how unremarkable they are. They’re in widespread use in cities across the United States, including Minneapolis and San Francisco. Brian Tanguay, a professor of political science at Wilfrid Laurier University, notes that ranked ballots were common in Manitoba until the mid-1950s. The upcoming federal Liberal leadership race will be decided by ranked ballots. Australia has used it nationally for almost a century, and has yet to dissolve.
For all that, the system is hardly a slam-dunk amongst students of electoral reform, who have been discussing the merits of various voting systems for decades. (Among other pontificators, Winston Churchill famously slammed it in 1931 for deciding elections on “the most worthless votes given for the most worthless candidates” – namely, the last-place finishers. But then, Churchill also called the status quo a provider of “fluke representation, freak representation, capricious representation.”) And today, some voting-reform advocates see it as an inadequate half-measure that will hold back progress towards truly proportional representation.
But if it’s a cautions step, then so be it. It’s acheivable. There’s little suggestion that, for all the ranked ballot’s quirks, it’d be a step backwards. It might even whet voters appetites for more ambitious schemes, such as moving to a system of at-large councillors, like in Vancouver. The ranked ballot’s draw to the centre may not appeal to radicals of any stripe, but Toronto—jolted by its ongoing experiment in gonzo mayoring—has acquired a taste for conciliation. Let’s not let the moment pass.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, December 14, 2012 at 2:46 PM - 0 Comments
Thomas Mulcair takes questions from Maclean’s
Thomas Mulcair laughs. In the context of the question being asked, it is possibly both a reaction and a response.
He is being asked about the character of “Angry Tom” and soon he is laughing about the Prime Minister’s tweets. Does it concern him at all, this characterization? Is he conscious of it when he stands to speak in public?
“To be honest with you, there are parts of our lives here that you guys don’t see. And I’ll share with you two scenes from life on the Hill. Because the Prime Minister’s office is literally right under mine so sometimes we meet on the way down. And yesterday, very friendly, handshake, all right, we go in and we’re doing our jobs,” he says. “And when they fail to answer, because they couldn’t answer and on CNOOC/Nexen they’re dead wrong … So when they’re avoiding answering, they don’t have an answer, we hit them hard. It was a very tough, straight-on debate in the House. Very tough. When we left, by pure coincidence, we wound up bumping into the Prime Minister again, big smiles all around, all the best to you and your family for the holidays. That’s the real world on a personal level. Which doesn’t mean that you back down from the tough fight on the policy level, on the political level. We know that they weren’t telling the truth on CNOOC/Nexen. We were going to stand our ground on that one.”
Two weeks short of 2013, Mr. Mulcair has been the NDP leader for nine months. He is a little more than two years away from his first general election as a potential prime minister. He is in the middle of a three-year effort to prepare himself, his party and the public for the possibility of this country’s first national NDP government. Every day is supposed to be about getting there.
If there remains much to be clarified, the basic structure of his proposal seems to be taking shape—”public administration” and “sustainable development” and qualities like confidence and strength and toughness.
“One of the game-changers here since I’ve been in charge of the opposition is that for the first time, Stephen Harper is facing a tough, strong, structured official opposition,” he says.
And what of those Liberals?
“Nycole Turmel put her hand on my shoulder,” Mr. Mulcair recalls, “and said, ‘I don’t know who the Liberals are going to have, but whoever it is is going to have trouble finding room between the two of you.’ ”
In a conversation with Maclean’s, NDP leader Thomas Mulcair discusses the state of his party, the Liberal leadership race, carbon pricing, unions, sustainable development, taxes and the Prime Minister’s tweets. For a transcript of the conversation, click here.
By Ivor Tossell - Friday, December 7, 2012 at 7:20 PM - 0 Comments
Ivor Tossell on the case for giving Canada’s largest city a ceremonial head of state
It’s mayor-picking time in Toronto, a season the locals can’t seem to get enough of. Even under non-calamitous circumstances, Toronto’s mayoral campaigns last a whole 10 months, from winter to fall. Now, Torontonians are being treated to a special bonus round of mayor-picking, after their last choice ran into trouble with conflict-of-interest law.
This go-around comes with extra excitement, since it’s still possible that the new mayor could be appointed rather than elected. Technically, council can appoint anyone. They could appoint Rob Ford. They could appoint Rob Ford’s mom. They could try to appoint you. This might be a good time to make that trip to the exact opposite side of the planet you’ve been putting off, just in case.
This week, Ford won a stay of the judgment removing him from office, allowing him to stay mayor until his appeal is heard in early January. This wasn’t unexpected. From here, one of three things could happen: If he wins his appeal (and I’ll spare you the amateur odds-making on this front), he stays mayor. If he loses, council has 60 days in which to either appoint a successor or call a by-election. For now, we wait.
There’s quite a bit of conversation about what kind of mayor the next mayor should be. Should it be a centrist, who, as the Globe’s Marcus Gee suggests, could help stabilize Toronto’s oscillation between doctrinaire left-wingers and off-kilter right-wingers? Downtowner or a suburbanite? Insider or outsider?
And then there’s the unmayor crowd: those who argue, rhetorically or not, that Toronto doesn’t need a mayor at all. As Adam Vaughan, Ford’s downtown nemesis, acidly pointed out this week, the city’s been working without a functional mayor for more than a year.
There’s truth to this. In his mayoral honeymoon, Ford handily won every vote that came to council. But by the fall of 2011, his support fell away amid a flurry of ill-advised initiatives and personal misadventures. Since then, Ford has had neither the political touch to build alliances, nor even the organization to corral his allies’ support. The city has floated on from one fiasco to the next, with its assembly of 44 councillors figuring things out amongst themselves.
For all that, Ford’s incapacity has not proven to be an entirely bad thing. Progressives have seen his worst excesses curbed, his budget cuts tempered, his definition of “waste” brought more in line with most citizens’ view. (Libraries: Not needless waste.) Conservatives still have a council that broadly leans in their direction, and one that’s still willing to put the vice on spending. Ford was still able to impose an aggressive, strike-free settlement on city unions, who may well have recognized that if Ford was willing to let his hidebound intransigence take himself off a cliff, he’d take them, too.
The city is now on the brink of having a more productive conversation about funding transit than it’s had in years: The left and right are both talking about going directly to the taxpayers to fund the expansion that everyone agrees the city needs. The mayor’s attempts to ram through a nonsensical plan—and his subsequent firing of the TTC boss who wouldn’t back it—had a bracing effect. When Ford’s bull-headed partisanship went from difficult to disconcerting, working together gained a certain cachet. If a new mayor is elected who—unlike Ford—actually wields partisanship effectively, a return to the dreary status quo is inevitable.
In Toronto, there’s not a lot of set rules about the mayor’s job description. The law says that the mayor is supposed to lead council, but doesn’t specify how. The law also says that the mayor is supposed to act as the city’s “Chief Executive Officer,” which is an odd title, since it comes with no formal power other than a mandate to further the city’s interests and act as an all-around civic booster—essentially, to act as a ceremonial head of state.
All this being the case, why not just re-appoint Ford? There’s an argument for it, as Thomas Walkom pointed out in the Star. The problem with Ford is that, even as an inert quantity in the mayor’s office, he makes a lousy head of state. He is not stately. One never knows exactly what state he’s in. This is a bad combination for someone who’s in the representation game. It’s hard to argue that Ford is a net positive for the city’s image of itself, or for its stature on the national or world stage.
If turning the city council into a mayorless, Occupy-style collective would prove too much of a stretch (“Mic check!” “Mic check!” “I’ll kick you in the nuts and the face at the same time!”) then why not appoint a mayor on the understanding that his or her job is to serve as a ceremonial leader while the city gets its act together. What’s Adrienne Clarkson doing these days? She knows this turf. She could attend ribbon-cuttings and proclamations. She could lead missions of cultural exchange to the far north, or Barrie. She could do anything she likes, really, as long as it fits in the mayor’s budget and she keeps her nose out of transit policy. Or appoint an athlete, or a poet, or Drake or Don Cherry or some minor member of the royal family. Toronto’s grand experiment in leaderless government is just starting to bear fruit. Why stop now?