Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Abolish The Senate

Many Liberals, like many Canadians, are of the view that either the Senate should be abolished or it should be elected. This only goes to show that many Liberals have not given the matter much thought. It also shows just how abysmally bad the media coverage of the issue has been and that the media have focused almost entirely on the feasibility of changing the senate.

Canada is already a de facto unicameral state. Yes just like the queen, constitutionally senators have all kinds of power and every once in a blue moon the Senate has stalled major pieces of legislation (e.g., free trade and the GST). However the aforementioned instances of stalling are so rare they are the exceptions that prove just how "ineffective" the senate truly is. Moreover, no senate I can think of has pursued a legislative agenda of its own accord; opposing legislation is one thing; purposing legislation is quite another. The reason the senate is not an "effective" body is that senators are not elected and as such lack legitimacy. Furthermore, senators are members of legitimate federal political parties and the parties that they belong to are loath to have their unelected members exercise real authority least their actions undermine the party. Finally, the fact that it is the ruling federal party and not, say, provincial governments that appoint senators defines a clear pecking order, with the Senate answerable to the House.

To try to argue as the supporters of a Triple E senate do that the current senate is both undemocratic and ineffective makes no sense. A body that adds nothing to the genuinely "effective" process can not take away anything either. The notion that the senate is undemocratic because it is unelected is as absurd as leveling the same criticism against the British monarchy. Both should scrapped yes. However, both are decorative.

The difference between electing senators and abolishing the senate is thus huge. It is the difference between abolishing an expensive debating society and transforming that debating society into a intellectual and democratic abortion.

The problem with an elected senate starts with implementation. Being unable to reform the Senate in one fell swoop, Harper has proposed electing Senators piece meal. Under the Conservative plan, new senators would be elected and would be limited to serving out a 8 year term. The elephant in the living room is that if the senate's lack of effective powers flows from the senate's lack of legitimacy, then electing senators might provide the senate with a degree of legitimacy it currently does not hold. One problem with proceeding thusly is that current senators are free to serve until the age of 75. As a result, Harper's actions could either transform an unelected political body with no real power into a largely unelected political body with real political power or commit Canadians to the farcical and expensive act of electing people to office who hold no real power. Always content to play the Tin Man and Lion to Conservatives scarecrow, the Liberals, with the notable exception of Stephane Dion, remain largely mum on the subject.

Of course the problems with an elected senate go far beyond problems with how to implement it.

First arguments for regional representation rests on a false contrast; seats in the House of Commons are supposed to be assigned on basis of population, but in actuality that is not the case. Consider the 905. There are currently 4,356,617 in the 905 and there are currently 32 seats for an average of just over 136, 144 people per riding. There are 5 ridings with over a 190,000 people in the 905, Bramalea - Gore - Malton (192,020) Brampton West (204,146) Halton (203,437), Oak Ridges - Markham (228,997) and Vaughan (196,068). By contrast there are 4,676,552 people in Sask, Man, NWT, Nuv, Yuk, PEI, NS, NFLD, and NB and there are 62 seats for an average of 75,428 people per riding. Moreover, there is but one riding in the 10, St John's East (100,559) with over 100,000 people. Given current growth trends, the 2016 census might show there to be more people in the 905 than the aforementioned provinces and territories. Now 15 seats are being added in Ontario, but Harper would have to give Ontario almost 70 seats to make things equal. 15 is just not enough. Of course, the problems do not stop there. Not only are the smaller provinces grossly overrepresented so too are rural areas in most provinces. For example, the riding of has Labrador has 26,728 people as compared to the riding of St John's East which has 100,559, Kenora has 55,977 and suburban riding of Oak Ridges - Markham 228,997, Miramichi has 51,996 and Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe 98,539, Kootenay - Columbia has 88,026 - Port Kells 160,129.

Second, simply by virtue of having provincial jurisdiction and provincial representation people living in Canada’s less populated provinces already have a means of leveraging far more attention and support from the Federal government than their numbers warrant. Danny Williams had the government's attention in ways that the mayors of Surrey, Red Deer, Brant, Fredericton and Churchill did not even though we are talking about equal number of seats in both cases. There is more. There is also the asinine Canadian tradition of handing out cabinet posts based not on talent but region.

The third reason is that while one person one vote is bedrock principle of any democracy, one province one senate vote is something else entirely. People, not provinces, deserve equal representation. A province is no more or less than the people that make up that province. Giving the 140,204 in PEI the power to determine everything under provincial jurisdiction, provincial representation and 4 MPs well all the while giving the 228,997 residents of Oak Ridges - Markham (228,997) one MP is bad enough as it is. Piling on and giving the 140,204 people in PEI the same number of “effective” senators, as per the American Triple E Senate model, as 12,851,821 Ontarians is beyond stupid and grossly undemocratic. Equally silly is having one "effective" Senator for every 75,117 New Brunswick residents (10 senators in total) versus one Senator for every 733,343 BC residents (6 senators in total). And that is what the current configuration gives us.

Four, as Benjamin Franklin put it, having two equally matched houses makes as much sense as tying two equally matched horses to either end of a buggy and having them both pull. Having two houses is not only a lobbyist's dream, it is a recipe for political gridlock and pork barrel politics. The only thing that would be worse is if one needed 60% of the votes in the senate to overcome a filibuster.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Team Garneau Answers Survey

I sent out the following survey to candidates and Stuart from Team Garneau was kind enough to answer.

1) Canada lags behind behind virtually every other Western nation in terms of the number vacation days its citizens are guaranteed. Is it time that Canada bridge the vacation gap?

EU minimum is 4 weeks Switzerland 4 weeks New Zealand 4 weeks Norway 5 weeks

Stuart: Marc believes that it is essential to reconcile a more productive Canada with a better quality of life. However, at this time idont think he would commit to support a higher minimum vacation time, and believes that a larger national discussion with the provinces is required that benefits all parties equally.

Koby: Let me say again. Canada lags far behind the rest of the Western World in this regard. Yet Marc believes that Corporate interests and right wing premiers need to be consulted before bringing Canada in line with everyone else.

2) Should Canada legalize some form of euthanasia?

Stuart: This a difficult and controversial issue, and one that will require much more study. I think he is empathizes for the need for it but isn't totally there yet. As a man of science, Marc believes that all policy should flow first from a solid base of research, analysis and debate.

Koby: Yes policy should flow from a solid base of research, analysis and debate. And if this was Liberation therapy we were taking about and this would be perfectly good answer. However we are talking about euthanasia and there are whole sections of university libraries devoted to the subject. Marc might not have familiarized himself with literature, but it is absurd to claim that there is not enough been said on the subject to have an opinion.

3) Do you support the Legalization of marijuana?

Stuart: Marc supports the legalization of marijuana. Marc understands that rigorous scientific study is required before making any legislative decisions on the decriminalisation and legalization of marijuana but Marc fully supports the idea of regulating the marijuana industry in a manner similar to the alcohol and tobacco industries.

Koby: Good.

4) Would you scarp the F-35 contract?

Stuart: Marc has publicly questioned the government's position on the F-35 contract, and believes that the procurement process must be transparent and detailed. Should the F-35 fighter prove to be the best for Canada's defence purposes, then it should be procured. But there needs be a open tender process first.

5) Would you scrap the temporary foreign worker program?

Stuart: Marc believes we must do a complete review of the temporary foreign workers program. The Conservatives had vastly expanded that program and there are serious questions on how many workers are coming and their treatment when they get here.

Koby: Most important of all is why the government is paying to have hundreds of thousands of unskilled foreigner guest workers brought in for the sole purpose of driving down wages.

6) Every election there are a slew of grassroots efforts to get young people to vote in greater numbers. All have been miserable failures.

Getting young people to the polls is vital for the future health of Canadian democracy. Many Canadians in their 20s will move into their 30s never having voted and it remains to be seen just how many will start voting.

Do you support mandatory voting as the solution to this problem?

Stuart: To be honest, we've never asked him that question! He proposes we reform our democracy to a preferential ballot to make our first past the post system more representative

7) This is two part question. 1) Do you support reinstating the per vote subsidy? 2) If so, will you promise to help pay for such a subsidy by no longer making contributions to political parties tax deductible?

Stuart: Again, don't know if he would bring back the per vote subsidy.

8) Will you end the charitable status for overtly political organizations such as the Fraser institute and Manning Center?

Stuart: I don't think Marc would comment specifically on those two organizations.

Koby: I was not asking him to. They were just given as examples. I was asking if Marc would end the charitable status for overtly political organizations -- organizations,I might add, that do no charitable work whatsoever.

9) How much your vote counts for depends whether you reside near or in a major urban center. For example there are 228,997 people in Oak Ridge Markham and mere 55,977 In Kenora. There are 26, 728 In Labrador and 100, 559 in St. John's East. Would you support a measure calling for there to be equal representation within provinces?

Marc supports making sure our tidings better reflect population changes. That has been at the heart of the ongoing discussions on seat redistribution. It is controversial though!.

Koby: God knows why. If you live in or around Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver you are getting doubly screwed. Compared to ridings in other provinces you grossly underrepresented and you are grossly underrepresented when compared to rural ridings within your province. It is high time this stopped. There is only so much that can be done to address the largest provinces underrepresentation. However, there is no reason why an act can not be passed to insure that each riding within a province has roughly the same number of people.

10) Consider the following argument for the gun registry:

The number of legal gun owners in Canada, is huge (1.85 million) and with any large population certain very accurate predictions can be made about their future behavior. One thing we can know for sure is that a small percentage of "law-abiding duck hunters and farmers" will be convicted of a crime sometime in the future and that a small percentage will develop a mental disorder that will render them unsuitable for gun ownership at least for period of time. Now, even though this number is small in percentage terms, in absolute terms the numbers are quite large, in the 10s of thousands. Enter the gun registry. It made it easier for authorities to seize the guns of people who should no longer have them. Why? Because the onus is on the gun owner in question to produce any registered weapons. If the police do not have proof that someone owns any unrestricted guns, how can they demand that he produce them?

Do you find fault with this argument?

Stuart: As to your gun registry question, it is Marc’s stated position that the long-gun registry will not be brought back. Although supported by a majority of police associations across the country and by victims groups, it was strenuously opposed by many Canadians in rural areas across Canada. Marc has publicly stated that it is not his intention to spend more money to bring it back. Marc intends to focus on ensuring the protection of Canadians from gun violence through measures that will result in stricter penalties for those who commit crimes with a gun. As well, Marc proposes stronger interdiction measures at the border to prevent firearms trafficking, along with taking action to prohibit weapons that could be turned into assault rifles.

Koby: That is not what I asked. I asked if he found fault with the above argument. Apparently, Marc's commitment to rigorous debate stops when he feels the need to mirror the opinions of Justin Trudeau. Leaving aside a very weak legitimacy argument, the notion that Canada could reduce gun related violence by imposing tougher penalties on individuals who have committed gun related crimes is ludicrous. It certainly has not worked down south. Such measures also fail to address the issue of gun related suicides. The registry servers two purposes. One, "Studies have shown that in the US, states with both licensing and registration (versus one or the other) had fewer guns diverted from legal to illegal markets." Two, as explained above, it makes it easier to take guns away from gun owners who should no longer have them.

It should also be pointed out that calling for all hand guns to be registered, but not long guns makes about much sense as saying only pick up trucks should have valid registration but not cars.

11) Given the support for campaign spending limits, will you support a ban or least a limit on pre writ political advertising?

Pre-election, and indeed all government advertising is something that clearly needs to be looked at. The governing party in power shouldn't be allowed to spend taxpayers money on what has clearly become partisan advertisements and we should limit political advertising between elections. No one needs partisan spam!

12) What was the last two books you read?

13) What was the last two movies you saw?

14) What is your favorite non Canadian vacation destination?

Stuart: His favourite non-Canadian vacation destination? Space, of course! ;)

Koby: I do not know that he went there for vacation! But I like this answer.