Tuesday, August 18, 2015

A Nation Of Laws, Not Men


Thomas Mulcair wants to abolish the Senate outright. Stephen Harper wants to kill it through neglect. Both men propose to ignore the Supreme Court's direction on how change -- or abolition -- should be accomplished. But, if either man pays any attention to polls, he may want to re-think his position. BJ Siekierski writes:

Across the political spectrum, Canadians trust their top court more than they do possibly any other Canadian institution, and certainly more than Parliament. And though they may not always agree with every decision, a majority think the Court has generally had a positive effect on the country as a whole as it protected their rights and freedoms.

The poll, which was done by Angus Reid, reveals that:

[m]ore than twice as many Canadians express ‘a great deal’ or ‘quite a lot’ of confidence in the Supreme Court as express such levels of confidence in Parliament (61 per cent versus 28 per cent,

“Confidence in politicians (12%) and political parties (13%) is even lower, but the institution in which Canadians have the least faith is the Senate. Just one-in-ten respondents (10%) have ‘a great deal’ or ‘quite a lot’ of confidence in the scandal-plagued Red Chamber.”

Notwithstanding a level of confidence in the Senate that barely registers, however, 50 per cent of Canadians agreed with the change-inhibiting Supreme Court senate reference from April 2014, compared to only 20 per cent who disagreed. The remainder were unsure (10 per cent) or unaware of the ruling (20 per cent).

In the Court, it would seem, they have considerable trust.

Mr. Harper's contempt for the Court -- and Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, in particular  -- is well documented. As a lawyer, Mulcair should know that he tangles with the court at his own peril. Mr. Harper has been reminded everyday of late that his contempt for courts has serious consequences. What matters is how they interpret facts, not how he interprets them.

As much as Mr. Harper and Mr. Mulcair may be galled by the men and women in robes, we are still a nation of laws, not men.


thwap said...

Where does Mulcair say he'll abolish the Senate by personal fiat and not according to the rules?

Owen Gray said...

He claims his election will be a referendum, thwap. It can't be done by referendum. So far, he's said that he will negotiate with Quebec. There are a lot of moving parts to this, and Mulcair makes it sound simple. It's not. The Supreme Court has reminded us that it is not simple.

Just as Quebec separation is not as simple as 50% plus one vote.

Anonymous said...

Just to amplify thwap's comment, I do believe that Mulcair has said that he would follow the rules to abolish the Senate. Mulcair should know what needs to be done ... he is a lawyer. And as a lawyer, we have to assume, until proven otherwise, that he believes in the rule of law.

It would mean negotiating with the Provinces. It will not be easy. Who knows if he can pull it off? However, with Harper having poisoned the place with his hyper partisan appointees, who are now in the majority, it is very likely that the Senate will be blocking bills from a non Conservative government on ideological grounds.

Therefore, something has to be done. Filling it with non partisan appointees, as Trudeau had proposed, would only ensure that the balance in favor of Conservative Senators remain with us a very long time, for at least a generation (they can stay till 75 yrs). After all, if Trudeau's process is really non partisan, he would be appointing even more Conservatives to add to those appointed by Harper/Mulroney.

In regard to the 50+1%, the NDP's stand has always been that it only leads to the beginning of negotiations between Quebec and the other Provinces. Perhaps you might find this article interesting as it deals with this matter: http://ipolitics.ca/2015/08/15/what-justin-trudeau-keeps-getting-wrong-about-the-clarity-act/

Owen Gray said...

I've seen the link, Anon. Like you, I hope that, as a lawyer, Mulcair will follow the rule of law. My point is that Senate reform is very complicated. I contend that Mulcair is misleading voters by not acknowledging how difficult the process will be.

At least Trudeau is pointing out that it's a difficult row to hoe. In the meantime, his proposal is the beginning of reform.

Scotian said...


That does seem to be one of Mr. Mulcair's patterns, make things sound far more simple than they really are, or will cover more than they really do (that 15 dollar minimum wage hike's true reach/impact, and the ASSUMPTION that the Provinces would follow, and it IS an ASSUMPTION). As to his being a lawyer means we have to trust he cares about the rule of law, that would be a lot easier to sell if we did not have a recent history being shown of supposedly respectable lawyers in the current PMO showing a complete lack of such consideration, and that is leaving out his issue with that possible bribe way back when (which strictly speaking as a lawyer under the codes of ethics they operate under he should have done something about). He also seems to need to learn how to stop smiling when talking about serious topics (I know, a bit off topic, but it drives the wife and I crazy), I know they told him he needed to stop coming off as "angry Tom" some time back, but an essentially permagrin of varying degrees is not much, if at all, better. Sorry, that lat while trivial in the real sense is still something that comes off as downright creepy at times, in its own ways like Harper's eyes.

Part of the problem I have with Mulcair and the way he sells things is that oversimplification of real process issues in doing what he says he will do. Both the issue of the Senate and the Clarity Act are the Law of Canada as defined by the Supreme Court and in both Mulcair appears to run counter. He espouses the Sherbrook Declaration instead of the Clarity Act (and as PM would therefore be taking a position against the law he is to be sworn to uphold) and he has as you noted more than once talked about his election to power being a "referendum" on the Senate issue, which in itself is questionable leaving aside the point you raised.

I'll grant I am no supporter of the NaDP especially these days, but it isn't because I am a partisan of another party or leader, it is because of their own actions and their own leader (in this case, while I had issues with Layton's choices and embracing the ends justifying the means, I did believe he sought power to try and enact traditional NDP goals, Mulcair, not so much, or at all really) and the kind of leadership I see coming from there. If they had gone with Cullen and gone back to embracing a more traditional NDP approach to politics, I could have been persuadable, after all I could stomach the Libs for the last decade because I saw them as the only way to stop Harper instead of enabling his rise and stay in power. But no, the more I saw of Mulcair the more it became clear the NDP was transforming into the NaDP and the party partisans were so blinded by the nearness to power that they signed on without complaint, thereby showing they were exactly what they always denounced in the Libs and PCPCs both parties and partisans.

At least Trudeau is trying to give complex answers for complex problems, as easy as it makes it to make him sound bad when taken out of context, or like he is not smart enough to solve major issues with simple phrases/answers (a trend in politics I have hated for many many years now). At least Trudeau appears to be looking at governing in the real world with his answers and choices, you can disagree with where he wants to go with them, but that they are clearly sensible and rooted in dealing in the real world, that I would argue a much harder disagreement to sell IMHO. This Senate business is only one example.

Scotian said...

Oh yes, I would point to one other issue of leadership with Mulcair...the way he let Harper, nay enabled Harper, to get away with brushing off the Consortium debates this year. NO respectable LOO of any persuasion should have let a sitting PM do what Harper did in May, he should have denounced it and said "I will not debate you anywhere else until you return to the traditional and by far and away largest viewing venue debates this nation has, period!". What did he do instead? He decided to fine you do that, within a day or two. Since then we have seen Mulcair defer to Harper on what debates he will attend, because when you say you will not be there unless Harper is, you put all the power in HARPER'S hand to make the decisions. If in any prior election the Liberal or PCPC LOO had done that the NDP leader of the day would have been screaming about the inherent anti-democratic nature of such a decision, and with cause. Yet when they are the Official Opposition, it is suddenly OK for them to play this sort of game? And they claim to be the ones who really care about our democracy, and will defend it better than anyone else? Really?

Talk is cheap when it costs nothing, as being against C51 was given the Harper majority, but this is something with real world impacts all around, and this is where Mulcair and his party have shown their true colours on the so called defenders of democracy front. This was where they should have done the right thing, but because it might negatively impact them by risking/letting Trudeau look good to such a wide audience instead of having the floor moped with him by Mulcair (yeah, that sure happened in the MacLeans debate, uhuh) they and especially Mulcair has chosen to side and aid Harper to instead circumvent our traditional electoral structure on the debates, a clear abandonment of his role as protector of our democracy.

I would argue that shows the true nature of Mulcair, and what I have started to take to calling the NaDP, or New anti-Democratic Party. I am starting to see more and more the resemblance between the NaDP and the way the CPC hijacked the respectable record, history and good name of the Progressive Conservatives in this country from the old NDP. This business with the debates reveals Mulcair for what he is, and the way he kept dithering after self imposed deadline after deadline passed on which debates he would attend, well that just underscores his real leadership ability in the heat in the real world, and I for one do not find it comforting, and do not understand why others would.

Anonymous said...

I am Anon above. I do not agree that Mulcair is necessarily misleading voters by not acknowledging how difficult the process is. I would argue that progressive voters, who vote for the NDP and Liberals, unlike Cons voters, as a group tend to be much better informed. Therefore, they would know what it takes to abolish the Senate. Personally, I would rather Mulcair try hard, and fail, knowing how difficult it would be to get all Provinces on board.

And I am one of those who believe that the government we elect should be capable of doing multitasks. Mulcair, if he does become PM, must be able to deal with the Senate while looking after other important tasks (e.g., our economy, jobs, integrity, healthcare, etc.). Otherwise, he loses my vote the next time.

Trudeau's route is the route of least resistance. Not sure how much sense that would make when the Cons Senators end up occupying two thirds of the Senate (see my explanation above). Even Trudeau's bills, should the Libs win, are likely to be blocked.

Owen Gray said...

I agree, Anon, that Harper's senators will be there for quite a while. Who knows? If Mulcair succeeds in abolishing the Senate, their retirements might coincide with abolition. As I said, it will be a long and difficult voyage.

I only hope that progressive voters are better informed than Harper's base.

Owen Gray said...

I wonder if Anon will answer your comment, Scotian. He seems to have more faith in Mulcair than you do.

Scotian said...


So far it appears not. I loved that last bit about how Trudeau's legislation would get blocked, as if somehow Mulcair's would not by implication, that is something either will have to deal with. And this notion that progressive voters are somehow more informed than the rest, again, while I agree that by comparison to the average CPC partisan voter that might be accurate, that is only relative to them, not in an absolute objective sense, and there is where I find the fault in that argument. My experience in ALL wings of the political spectrum is there is a large degree of ignorance abounding, so having that kind of faith strikes me as the same kind of blind faith I used to hear from CPCers in the past if only on a different thing.

As well, it appears that anon fails to see the downsides of trying to get all the Provinces on board and opening up the Constitution since abolishment is a unanimous requirement, but that is another story. As you said, this poster has more faith in Mulcair than I, indeed I would argue it is blind faith at that given the actual Mulcair record. I judge by actions taken with politicians even more than what they say, and when those actions are symbolic versus have meaningful real world impacts, and the debates issue is clearly one of the latter, while the Lib C51 is the former. Distasteful yes, but it made no difference to C51 going through, while the Mulcair debate choices has a clear and obvious direct impact on this election campaign and our electoral process. Not to mention the precedent set of the LOO lying down to the PM breaking electoral precedent and saying "thank you sir may I have another?".

Yes, that is leadership all right...NOT!

Mogs Moglio said...


Anonymous said...

@Scotian: First, I confess that I only scanned thru your comments so I am not going to defend every point I had previously made. Second, you and I are both aware of how difficult it would be to convince the Provinces to abolish, or even just reform, the Senate. Let us save those warnings about opening up the constitution and how difficult it would be, eh?

You are entitled to your doubts about Mulcair just as others are to their doubts about Trudeau. I can assure you that both Trudeau and Mulcair, whoever wins, will not be able to live up to all they have promised. But either will be significantly better (more ethical, integrity, etc), I think, than Harper.

Of course the Cons heavy Senate would block NDP or Libs bills should either become government. I suspect your support of the Libs might have coloured your perception of what I had said. You might want to read my comments again. :)

Last point: this is what a Cons heavy Senate is capable of ... being totally controlled by Harper or whoever is the Cons PM: http://www.buzzfeed.com/paulmcleod/a-secret-internal-memo-shows-stephen-harper-wanted-complete#.ksaOWRkVOg

Do you really think that the above would not affect Trudeau's bills if he forms the government? And just to be clear, I think it will affect NDP bills too if they do become government. And no, I am not a Trudeau hater ... I actually think he has many positive points but even you must know that he lost a lot of votes because of his supporting C-51 ... but let us leave that topic for another day. Cheers.

Owen Gray said...

I take it you agree with Anon, Mogs. I have written before that I'll make no predictions about this election. I only hope, for the sake of the country, that Harper is defeated -- soundly defeated.

Anonymous said...

This current load of Senate bullshit is brought to you by Steve "you won't recognize Canada when I'm through".

No one ever said that the Senate has to be stuffed with narcissistic windbags, hangers on and bag men for the Reform, uh sorry, the Conservative Party.

The Senate has a useful purpose and if the government treats it with the respect it deserves and doesn't interfere, everything would probably work out fine.

But that's the problem isn't it? No respect for Canada, for parliament, institutions, citizens or foreign matters.

The problem was never the senate, it's who put who IN the senate.

I'm disappointed with Mulcair on this. Canadians will not be served by this and we deserve better. Money and more importantly, time will be wasted.

Better rules for senate appointments and oversight by a non partisan committee is what we need.

Mogs Moglio said...

Owen this election is certainly not an ordinary one. This election is not just about voting for MP's and ultimately a PM this election is about saving Canada. This is the most important election we have seen in our lives. Canadians need to set aside partisan voting and vote for who can righteously beat the harper-con in their riding. In my riding the NDP actually stand a very good chance [they came in second in 2011] of defeating the incumbent harper-con. Mulcair comes with the territory. The article linked above states: (quoted)

"Mulcair was re-elected in 1998 and 2003. With the Liberals under Jean Charest defeating the Parti Quebecois in the latter election, Mulcair became Minister of Sustainable Development, Environment and Parks. It was during this period that he drafted a bill for a sustainable development act that included an amendment to the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. The bill enshrined the right to live in a healthy environment and call for a respect for biodiversity. The bill passed in 2006, becoming one of Mulcair’s proudest achievements."

Looks more and more like the greens are superfluous and that's why harper wants May around to split the progressive vote so he can slither in...

Owen Gray said...

If your NDP candidate has the best chance of defeating Harper's candidate, Mogs, the choice is clear.

Owen Gray said...

It's always been about choices, Anon -- Harper's choices.