By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, June 5, 2012 - 0 Comments
The New Democrats have called a news conference for this morning to explain the “next steps” in their fight against C-38. Elizabeth May and the Liberals have already vowed to table 200 amendments when the bill returns to the House from committee.
The standard in this regard might be the 471 amendments to the Nisa’ga Treaty that the Reform Party proposed in 1999. From December 7 to December 9 of that year, the amendments resulted in nearly 43 consecutive hours of voting. When it was over, Reform MP Gurmant Grewal celebrated his accomplishment as the only MP to record a vote on each of those amendments.
The delay failed to win a concession from the government, but opposition leader Preston Manning was apparently satisfied nonetheless. “Thanks partly to the coverage you people gave to this issue, you’ve got millions of Canadians asking what is this Nisga’a treaty thing all about anyway,” he told reporters afterwards. Mr. Manning said the Reform party had “chalked up a win for Canadians by holding the government to account.” “Two years down the road, five years down the road, 10 years down the road somebody is going to say how on Earth did we get committed to a treaty like this,” he said. “I want to be able to say we did everything conceivable within the rules of Parliament to try to change it and to try to stop it.” Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, April 12, 2012 at 8:35 AM - 0 Comments
Here is the text of a speech delivered Norman MacLeod, a member of the parliamentary press gallery, to the Empire Club of Canada in 1938—just about midway between Confederation and the present.
What I will suggest during the next few moments and endeavour to support with some argument can be summed up broadly as follows: That the democratic National legislature of this Dominion, which is the House of Commons, is undergoing and has been undergoing for some time a process of progressive weakening..
Sound vaguely familiar? MacLeod spends a number of paragraphs reviewing this “weakening.” Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, September 14, 2011 at 1:51 PM - 0 Comments
Samara has released its fourth report on the lives of MPs, including proposals for reform from those parliamentarians: reduce the power of political parties, fix Question Period, better train incoming MPs and so forth. Some of these proposals have been covered here and here. Coincidentally, Carleton’s Initiative for Parliamentary and Diplomatic Engagement will be conducting a two-day conference for MPs this weekend.
Samara has also launched a Democracy Index which will track the state of ours on an annual basis.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, July 12, 2011 at 2:23 PM - 12 Comments
This lament for their current situation and call for congressional reform in the United States, written by former congressman Mickey Edwards, reads a lot like many of the laments for our current situation and calls for parliamentary reform here.
If we really want change—change that will yield a Congress that is more representative and more functional, change that can be replicated in state and local governments—we need to rethink the party-driven structures we have so casually accepted for decades. This change would produce another important effect: it would strengthen Congress’s ability to discharge its constitutional role … In a democracy that is open to intelligent and civil debate about competing ideas rather than programmed for automatic opposition to another party’s proposals, we might yet find ourselves able to manage the task of self-government. Our current political dysfunction is not inevitable; it results from deliberate decisions that have backfired and left us mired in the trenches of hyper-partisan warfare. Political parties will not disappear; as a free people, we will continue to honor freedom of association. The goal is not to destroy parties but to transcend them; to welcome their contributions but end their dominance; and to take back from these private clubs control of our own elections and our own Congress.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, July 8, 2011 at 11:15 AM - 15 Comments
His last book—Democratizing the Constitution: Reforming Responsible Government—was released this Spring. (One of his co-authors, Mark Jarvis, penned a guest post for us a few months ago that outlined some of that book’s ideas for parliamentary reform.)
By Andrew Potter - Wednesday, June 15, 2011 at 3:36 PM - 35 Comments
What is Harper trying to achieve?
Let’s set aside, for now, the inherent ridiculousness of Bert Brown chiding fellow Conservative members of the Senate — intended as a chamber of sober second thought, and at least nominally a check on the House of Commons — for their lack of loyalty to the prime minister. Here’s something I’ve never really understood about Harper’s bid to implement a term limit of eight (now nine) years for appointed Senators:
What problem with how the Senate is currently constituted and functions is this designed to solve?
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, May 24, 2011 at 2:00 PM - 12 Comments
Last month, Mark Jarvis wrote here about potential parliamentary reforms as part of our series on the House. Shortly thereafter he asked if I had any thoughts on what he’d written and eventually I got around to writing something down. In the interests of continuing the discussion, here is the email I sent to him last week.
Let me state from the outset that I am not a professional constitutional scholar. Or even an amateur constitutional scholar. I am merely paid to put on a suit most week days and spend inordinate amounts of time watching politicians more closely than is probably advisable.
My woeful inadequacies thus acknowledged from the outset, I will happily offer a few thoughts.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, May 13, 2011 at 4:38 PM - 28 Comments
Rob Silver suggests the Liberal party pursue a pair of democratic reforms.
1. The era of protected nominations for sitting Liberal MPs is dead and will never return. Ever. Every riding will have an open, contested nomination every single time. We will never allow the undemocratic atrophy that enveloped our caucus to return.
2. We will experiment with open primaries at the riding level just as David Cameron did in Britain. Instead of only card-carrying Liberals choosing the candidate, any voter can get a say. There will be by-elections at some point over the next four years; why not try an open primary when the first ones occur? Really, what do we have to lose?
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, April 6, 2011 at 10:28 AM - 15 Comments
From the pages of last week’s issue, a short profile of Jenni Byrne, the Conservative campaign director.
Jenni Byrne, one of Ottawa’s highest-ranking tacticians, does not speak to reporters. But 14 years ago, she was both less powerful and less reticent. And so when an Ottawa Citizen reporter sought out young people to comment on the growing number of conservatives under the age of 30 in Canada, Byrne was willing to explain herself. Described as “a believer in debt reduction and tax cuts” who joined the Reform party at 16, she was then the 21-year-old president of the campus Reform club at the University of Ottawa. “It’s great for them to say don’t cut here or there, but they won’t be the ones affected by [the debt],” she said then of her parents. “They’re in their late 40s and they will probably still benefit from government programs. But Canada looks like a bleak place for me by the time I’m their age.”
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, February 23, 2011 at 10:21 AM - 50 Comments
In writing about the House of Commons, I touched on one idea for reform: amending the Elections Act to take away the party leader’s say over who can and cannot run under a party’s banner, but that was just one of several suggestions I heard in talking with MPs for the piece.
Herein, a brief overview of what else could be done. Continue…
By Paul Wells - Friday, December 17, 2010 at 8:40 AM - 35 Comments
PAUL WELLS on a new book that argues against government reform
I had not heard of John Pepall before his book Against Reform landed, with no great thud, on my desk last month. The bio in the book calls him “a writer and political commentator based in Toronto.” Since Against Reform is a political commentary and Pepall wrote it, the bio adds little to our knowledge.
His website features 20 years of political writing, including a review of an Elizabeth May book that was rejected by the Literary Review of Canada for being “mean-spirited.” I like him already. Pepall on May’s critique of Canadian journalism: “What seems to disturb her is not that her interests and ideas are not reflected in the media but that others are. Happily she proposes no remedy.”
Pepall’s book reveals interests and ideas not often reflected in the media. Against Reform is a corker, a funny little rebuttal to just about everything you usually read about our ailing democracy.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, October 21, 2010 at 3:35 PM - 0 Comments
There would seem to be the potential makings of a complicated debate within the government’s latest proposals for immigration reform.
In an attempt to stop ships full of migrants from landing on Canada’s shores, the bill also empowers the minister of public safety to decide whether a migrant’s arrival in Canada is deemed “irregular” and subject to harsher treatment…
Those “irregular” asylum seekers would be put on a five-year probation, forbidding them from leaving Canada or applying to sponsor their families to come to Canada. The bill would also allow detention of these asylum seekers for up to a year.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, October 20, 2010 at 1:18 PM - 0 Comments
Michael Ignatieff’s relating yesterday of a question from a young man named Derek harkens somewhat to a program the Reform party attempted upon arriving in Ottawa in 1994.
In ye olden days, during those dreary days before electronic mail, Preston Manning’s side set up phone and fax lines to receive questions from average Canadians that could then be put to the government of the day during QP. Manning’s second question of Prime Minister Jean Chretien, in fact, was asked on behalf of Dr. Dean P. Eyre of Ottawa.
A week later, Reform MP Randy White attempted to relate a question from Raymond Watts of Surrey, but was admonished by the speaker of the day, Gilbert Parent, on procedural grounds. It’s unclear, at least to me, how much longer the program lasted. Its existence was still being boasted about a month later, but by the end of that year, the Reform side had more or less abandoned its larger goal of turning QP into a genteel exchange of relevant information.
By Andrew Coyne - Monday, May 3, 2010 at 9:58 PM - 115 Comments
I’m with the burghers of Simcoe-Grey on this: it’s up to the riding association to decide whether Helena Guergis should remain as their candidate, not party central command.
The way we choose riding nominees is one of many outstanding weaknesses in Canadian politics. On the one hand, it is unconscionable that candidates should be obliged to get the party leader to sign their nomination papers before they can stand for office. It’s a direct affront to local democracy.
On the other hand, well, local democracy is a joke. Nomination races are too often decided by busloads of instant members and other abuses, the sort of 19th century shiv-and-whiskey politics that is unique to Canada among the advanced democracies.
We’d get better candidates, and better races, if being an MP meant something — that is, if they were not so tightly controlled by the leader’s office. But the first step on cracking the leaders’ iron grip is for riding associations to stand up for themselves.
MPs with strong riding associations are better placed to challenge the leadership. In particular, a cleaner, more legitimate process for choosing candidates would give MPs the democratic standing, as legitimate representatives of the membership in their ridings, to take back the process of leadership selection — the key to righting the balance of power between caucus and leader.
In a proper Westminster system, the leader is selected by the members of the Parliamentary caucus. In our run-down, degraded version of Westminster, the leader picks the caucus.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, April 1, 2010 at 10:27 AM - 45 Comments
After withdrawing an earlier attempt to adjust the House seating arrangement, the Conservatives are apparently prepared to go forward with legislation to increase the number of federal ridings.
The House would be adjusted so that the three fastest-growing provinces in Canada would have the number of seats that their numbers warrant. Depending on the formula, the House could grow by 30 seats or more from its current level of 308. Quebec, which is now properly represented in the House, might also be given more seats, to ensure that reapportionment did not leave it underrepresented. The influence of the Atlantic provinces, Saskatchewan and Manitoba would diminish in relative terms.
By Andrew Potter - Monday, February 1, 2010 at 7:56 PM - 88 Comments
Why Ignatieff’s proposed changes would increase the Senate’s legitimacy and effectiveness as a deliberative body
Continuing in the new Liberal tradition of proposing actual policy alternatives to the Conservative government, over the weekend Michael Ignatieff served up his own ideas for how to reform the Senate. He’d limit terms to 12 years, and look at passing the appointments through some sort of arms-length board or commission.
This is, I think, a better proposal than Harper’s current plan, which – assuming he isn’t just dicking around – seems to be to stack the Senate with incompetents, blind partisans, and other pieces of ambulatory play-doh, and hope that when he figures out what he actually wants to do, they’ll be more than happy to play along.
A few remarks, sort if in response to some good comments under Aaron’s post:
Yes, the Liberal-dominated Senate asked to send Harper’s bill establishing 8-year limits to the Supreme Court. But the 12-year limit might have a better chance of passing as a unilateral (i.e. non-constitutional) change, since that is pretty much the actual average tenure of Senators. The bonus is that it would have the effect of equalizing Senate appointments.
I like the idea of a public appointments commission, but I wonder if it might actually make the chamber more effective if it retained some provision for partisan appointments as well, like the hybrid system for appointing life peers to the House of Lords. Conquest’s second law has it that any organization not explicitly and constitutionally right-wing will sooner or later become left-wing. Maybe, but given what we know about bureaucracies in Canada, at the very least the appointments commission will be open to the charge by the government of the day that it has become politically compromised. A mechanism for some partisan appointments will help offset that charge, while giving the Senate a healthy representation of partisans.
Together, Ignatieff’s proposed changes will have the effect of increasing the Senate’s legitimacy and effectiveness as a deliberative body, which I think ought to be its primary function. With legitimacy will come a sense of political responsibility, which means that these might need to be accompanied by a third change, viz., some attenuation of the Senate’s powers, assuming we want to retain the more-or-less unicameral character of our system of responsible government.
Cripes, the Senate is a can of worms. Still, I think that Ignatieff’s proposal, though sketchy, already has more promise than whatever it is Harper hasn’t in mind.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, January 25, 2010 at 9:00 AM - 57 Comments
The Globe editorial board has another go at explaining its disappointment.
The democratic ethos that gave rise to the Reform Party was instrumental in its 1993 breakthrough, leading to the ultimate demise of the Progressive Conservatives. It was carried by Reformers in Parliament; for a time, Preston Manning even sat in the second row in the House chamber to illustrate that he was an elected MP on a par with all others. It was maintained in subsequent party platforms. It catalyzed grassroots interest in the party, inspiring Canadians to get involved in politics. To this day, the membership of the successor Conservative Party of Canada is the largest of any party in Canada…
Today, Parliament is closed, while Canadians hang on to the notion that they live under a parliamentary system of government. We don’t elect our prime minister, we elect our MPs to form a government, and then to hold the prime minister and his ministers to account. But the present reality is one in which the executive increasingly directs the activities of the legislature. That’s something at odds with the ideals on which the country, and the Reform-Conservative tradition, were built. Canadians have taken notice.
By Andrew Coyne - Tuesday, December 1, 2009 at 5:40 PM - 43 Comments
The Australian Liberal party has just replaced its leader. It took all of a couple of days, from caucus revolt to leadership vote. That’s because the Australian Liberals choose their leader on the classic Westminster model: by a vote of the caucus, rather than, as in this country, by the wholesale purchase and sale of thousands of instant memberships, busloads of elderly drunks etc.
And they do this because in Australia they believe a party leader’s chief task is to lead the caucus in Parliament — because, in Australia, Parliament matters.
In the end, the incumbent, Malcolm Turnbull, lost to challenger Tony Abbott, 42 to 41. I pass no judgement on the proximate cause of Turnbull’s downfall, his endorsement of the governing Labour party’s climate change policy. But you can bet that any leader of the Australian Liberal party has to be awfully solicitous of his caucus’s views. The balance of power between leader and caucus is very different there than it is here, where MPs have aptly been described as “$140,000 voting machines.”
It also signals a strategic shift on the Liberals’ part: they intend to stand and fight on this issue, sharpening their differences with the government rather than minimizing them. Again, whatever your views, it’s refreshing to see a country where voters are actually given a choice.
By Nicholas Köhler - Thursday, November 26, 2009 at 11:50 AM - 7 Comments
Are the four working with Ed Stelmach, or against him?
Four young right-wing Tory MLAs in Alberta have banded together to form what local media have dubbed the “Fiscal Four”—an all-for-one, one-for-all political unit dedicated to keeping the Alberta Tories on a tight fiscal leash.
Comprised of veteran MLA Doug Griffiths, from rural Alberta, and Calgary rookies Jonathan Denis, Rob Anderson, and Kyle Fawcett, the quartet wants a legislated fiscal framework that would reverse Alberta’s current deficit position by curbing spending, dictating a provincial savings plan and introducing a more competitive tax policy. They also want less red tape and more program reviews.
Alberta’s Tories have seen such groupings pop up in caucus before: Premier Ed Stelmach is himself a veteran of the Deep Six, which in the 1990s lobbied for deeper, faster cuts under Ralph Klein. But this cohort arrives at a delicate time for the Tories—the party has dipped to a 16-year low in the polls, due largely to a $6.9-billion deficit, and a recent poll showed the fiscally hard-nosed Wildrose Alliance outpacing the Tories in Calgary. Earlier this month, Stelmach survived a leadership review vote in which one in four delegates cast ballots in favour of tossing him.
So some see in the four a prelude to the balkanization of the Tories. Fawcett, for one, made headlines in September after criticizing Stelmach in the wake of an embarrassing Tory by-election loss. “We both agreed we need to do our jobs better,” he says. All claim they support Stelmach and reject talk they’ll soon join the Wildrose. Others see the four as a clever PR gambit by the premier’s office to safely trial-balloon policy.
Pollster Janet Brown, whose seat projection modelling is notoriously accurate, notes three of the four (those in Calgary) would have risked losing their seats had an election been held in late October. “They’ve come to the conclusion the party needs to make a hard turn to the right to win back the support they’ve lost to Wildrose,” she says. Which begs the question: are these musketeers really just into self-preservation?
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, November 24, 2009 at 11:37 AM - 6 Comments
If the government won’t answer your requests in Question Period, leave.
Frustrated by Premier Dalton McGuinty’s refusal to hold public hearings on the controversial 13 per cent HST, the 25-member Progressive Conservative caucus stormed out of the Legislature’s daily question period today shortly after it began.
“You have lost touch,” Conservative Leader Tim Hudak told McGuinty before the stunt took place, accusing the Liberals of being afraid of a public backlash over the tax. ”If Premier McGuinty is going to show that level of contempt for taxpayers by forcing through the largest sales tax grab in the history of this province without any kind of public hearings . . . we see no point in proceeding with question period today.”
By Tom Henheffer - Thursday, November 12, 2009 at 5:00 PM - 47 Comments
‘It’s a witch hunt,’ says a Canadian religious sister
Nuns are struggling to find a meaningful role in Catholicism, but with Pope Benedict at the helm, the Church is doing everything it can to become more conservative—and force sisters back into lives of quiet obedience.
Since the reforms of Vatican II, and the dawn of mainstream feminism in the 1960s, many nuns have been trying to gain authority and redefine their position within the Church. Now, Rome is launching an investigation into liberal American nuns. The goal: to find out whether nuns’ movement into untraditional ministries (such as social justice work) and refusal to live in convents or wear religious robes is leading them astray. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, September 14, 2009 at 1:01 PM - 22 Comments
Excerpts from a 1988 pamphlet advertising Reform principles and policies.
Reformers believe that many of our most serious problems as a country can be traced to the apathy and non-involvement of Canadians in public affairs, and to decisions that too frequently ignore the popular will. Governments today assume far too large a role in our lives for us to allow decisions to be made solely by bureaucrats, pressure groups, and political professionals. The vast majority of citizens and taxpayers have a right to be involved. The system must provide the opportunity and the responsibility for us to do so.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, August 10, 2009 at 12:31 PM - 8 Comments
Recently, in the process of researching for a magazine piece on Chuck Strahl (on newsstands now!), I stumbled across the University of Calgary’s online database of political papers and documents—a treasure trove of, among other things, old Reform party campaign pamphlets.
My favourite find so far might be this, “So You Don’t Trust Politicians. Neither Do We.” In fact, I’ve since printed it off and hung it on my office wall, right beside Stephane Dion’s first, last and only Christmas card as Liberal leader.
Elsewhere, on page 3 of this flyer, you’ll find a short write-up on an eager young Reformer named Patrick Muttart, who seems quite taken with the promise of free votes, voter recalls and referendums. Pity young Patrick never rose into a position of sufficient power to implement such changes.
At last report, obviously disillusioned with the political process in Canada, he was living in exile in Washington, D.C.