Whoa! Canada

laurel l. russwurm's political musings

Why Canada Needs the Senate: Omnibus Crime Bill

with 10 comments

yes, another one... against a cyan sky

legislation

In the world of books, an omnibus is a perfectly acceptable way to package a collection of previously published stories, related either by content or author, in a single over sized volume.

black and white head and shoulders photo of uniformed officer from behind

But in government, especially in a democracy, an omnibus bill is problematic.

An omnibus bill is several pieces of unpassed draft legislation lumped together into an unwieldy package, and inevitably fast tracked. Because the original drafts have already been part way through the process, they have received varying amounts of scrutiny and debate. Legislators can have a sense of déjà vu about the disparate parts of an omnibus, even without having completely examined it all.

The sheer size of an omnibus bill makes it difficult or impossible for it to get the same kind of scrutiny any individual piece of legislation would receive. It is allotted about the same amount of time as any individual piece of legislation. It’s one thing to skim a book you’ve already read; but it is something else entirely for a legislature to skim through draft legislation.

Laws need to be debated and weighed to ensure they fulfill the needs of a democratic society.

The problem, of course, is that our less than perfect “first-past-the-post” adversarial political system allows any government that holds a majority of parliamentary seats — the “majority party” — to pass any law it wants.

And they frequently do. This is the government equivalent of a parental rules that exist “because I said so.”

I don’t know about you, but I would rather see laws made with care instead of rushed to completion. Fast tracked laws have more chance of unintended consequences than laws that are more carefully considered.

crime

black and white snap of toddler and mother

Not just as a citizen, but as a parent, Bill C-10 strikes me as totally wrong.
My child was raised with logical consequences, not unreasonable harshness. Punishment should always be a last resort.

Experience has taught me that prevention and inclusion are far more effective than punishment and exclusion — in both parenting and society — because they deter bad behaviour. Isn’t that the point of law?

Child poverty in Canada is as bad — or worse — than it was when first identified as a priority years — maybe decades? — ago. Modern statistics say crime rates have been dropping across Canada. So I don’t understand why our government wants to invest vast sums into building bigger jails and incarcerating more Canadians.

Black and white: looking up at the Don Jail

If it costs around $100,000 a year to incarcerate someone, shouldn’t we be concentrating on prevention? Canadian tax dollars could be better spent on social programs that address child poverty and the appalling conditions in which many of our first nations citizens struggle.

black and white police car parked in a lot

What I don’t understand is why our government would spend money we don’t have on jails we don’t need.

As a parent I know that the children who are excluded are the ones that become a problem.  The same is true for citizens.  People who do not feel a part of society have no motivation to fit in or follow societal laws.  Harsh punishments result in hardened criminals.

You don’t have to take my word for it: that’s what the experts say, too.

senatorial oversight

The Canadian electoral system is archaic and horribly overdue for reform. Our “First Past The Post” system was established in the days of quill pens, so it isn’t surprising to find it unsuited to the computer age.  Nonetheless we seem to be stuck with this unstable adversarial system that confers an unfair advantage to the political party that achieves the most seats, and thus a majority government even without a majority of votes.

The inequities in our system are so great that it is common for political parties that are not in power to rail against the inequity. They can clearly see how Canada’s outmoded electoral system is detrimental to Canada — until their own party benefits from the inequity and achieves a majority.

It is an adversarial system which has winners and losers. But the biggest loser is always Canadian democracy, particularly when we have a majority government typically elected by 30-40% of the popular vote.  With a system so imbalanced, huge numbers of Canadians vote “strategically” in futile attempts to make their votes count.

Fewer than 30% of eligible voters voted for the Conservatives, who currently hold the majority of seats in parliament. 

Our system makes no provision for a majority of Canadians to oppose any draft legislation. The majority government is vested with the authority to act as an effective dictatorship until the next election.  The majority has the power to pass any law it likes, and there is nothing Canadians can do about it.

Canada is out of luck…

black and white emergency poleOr is it?

Isn’t this why the Senate exists?

Senators are appointed for life which frees them to make their own choices. Senators can’t lose their Senate seats for stopping harmful legislation and sending it back to the drawing board.

Which is why Senators are appointed for life.

Many Canadians question the validity of the Canadian Senate, since succeeding governments have attempted to suborn the institution by “stacking the deck” with patronage appointments intended to turn the Senate into a mere rubber stamp for their party agendas.

sober second thought

The Senate exists to provide necessary checks and balances to our imbalanced system of governance. The Senate has the opportunity to slow or stop laws that may well prove terribly detrimental to Canada.

It is far better to legislate with care rather than with haste. Bundling many different bits of draft legislation together into an omnibus bill is always dangerous; and without proper scrutiny, laws passed hastily can cause harm.

But it is within the Senate’s purview to review the evidence. The Senate’s constitutional role is to make substantive analysis of legislation, especially for bills of far reaching consequence, and then submit needed improvements through amendments which are then sent back to the House of Commons. The Senate’s role is most crucial when we have a majority government.

This is why our Senate has the power of oversight, to ensure that a single political party’s agenda doesn’t act against the public good.

black and white image of a stop sign at an angle

What’s the rush?

We are at the beginning of a new term of a majority government.  We are told that majority rule is “more stable,” since majority governments have both the luxury of time and the last word. So what harm is there in taking the time, doing the research,  listening to the experts and examining the evidence before rushing to legislate?

Bill C-10 has been fast-tracked, and the House of Representatives has passed it hastily in the wake of growing objections from many quarters.

The Crime Omnibus is precisely why Canada need an Upper House. We need the Senate to perform the function for which our Upper House was created. It should not matter which government appointed a Senator; the Senate’s purpose goes beyond party politics, stretching into the wider purpose of serving Canada.

Canada truly needs some sober second thought.


Bill C-10: What The Experts Say

References courtesy of leadnow.ca:

The leadnow.ca page has a form e-letter to make it easy for you to send a message to your senators. For those of us who prefer crafting our own missives for our elected representatives, I’m putting together an online senatorial contact list to allow easy contact with the appropriate senators.

a horizontal border of red graphic maple leaves

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Written by Laurel L. Russwurm

December 12, 2011 at 6:50 pm

10 Responses

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  1.  

    Senators are appointed for life which frees them to make their own choices”

    Except for the ones Stephen Harper appointed to stack the Senate in his favour. You won’t find a single one voting against Dear Leader.

    Marc

    December 12, 2011 at 7:38 pm

    • Perhaps you will be proven right, but I prefer to reserve judgment. Human beings are complex creatures; and many are able to think for themselves.

      Laurel L. Russwurm

      December 12, 2011 at 9:05 pm

  2.  

    …confers an unfair advantage to the political party that achieves the most votes…

    Surely you mean confers an unfair advantage to the political party that achieves the most seats?

    Also, Canadian senators don’t serve for life, but only until they reach 75 years of age. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Senate_of_Canada

    –Bob.

    Bob Jonkman

    December 12, 2011 at 8:02 pm

    • Yes, thanks; corrected.

      Currently Senators are appointed “for life” with mandatory retirement at the age of 75. Once appointed, they have the job until retirement (which means lifetime job security).

      There have been various attempts to “reform” the Senate (13 in the last Century) to reduce the term to a finite period, but it has yet to happen. Currently Bill C-7 The Senate Reform Act seeks to have “voluntary” elections and limit terms to a single maximum of 9 years… we’ll have to see what happens.

      Laurel L. Russwurm

      December 12, 2011 at 10:04 pm

  3. Excellent Research…thank you! Regular Canadians are becoming more informed about our archaic electoral system and a revolution in politics is on the horizon…keep up the great work everyone!

    M. Palmer

    December 14, 2011 at 12:55 am

  4. [...] Canada is also fast tracking legislation that will assault Canadian civil rights with the Omnibus Crime Bill [...]

  5. When writing to senators on this issue, is it safe to assume that only Conservatives would dream of supporting this bill? Would it be a waste of time to write to all the senators?

    Dianne

    December 21, 2011 at 10:13 pm

    • I don’t think it’s ever safe to assume anything when it comes to politics.

      One reason why I think that if Canada has a senate, senators should be appointed for life (until retirement) is that political parties may appear to be static, but that is more public relations than reality. Political parties change over time, and the Conservative Party certainly has. Our current Senate has senators appointed by Mulroney (some even date back to Trudeau) and the conservative party has gone through some major changes since Mulroney.

      Not only that, the Senate is undergoing major scrutiny just now, with talk of changing the way it works. I would not be at all surprised to learn that our Senators might be rethinking what they want to be able to do. I will talk about that in my upcoming Senate post.

      If we tell them your views, and they choose to ignore it, we have gone on record. Sometimes if enough of us go on record, they will listen. It would be better if we had a representative government, but I doubt we will see that before we achieve electoral reform. But it never hurts to go on record. And sometimes it helps. The more who tell them, the better off we will be.

      Laurel L. Russwurm

      December 22, 2011 at 1:30 pm

      • Thanks for that advice. I’ll write to all the senators, telling them that a “tough on crime” approach will be expensive (costing about $9.5 billion to build new prisons, and resulting in a doubling of annual operating costs to $9.5 billion per year); doesn’t work (30 years of evidence from the United States shows that locking up more people, for longer, does not reduce crime, and in fact results in streets that are less safe because of the increase in recidivism that comes from increased prison sentences); and isn’t needed (Statistics Canada says that 93% of those surveyed feel satisfied with their personal safety from crime, which happens to correlate with the fact that Canada experiences historically low crime rates).

        Dianne

        December 22, 2011 at 11:30 pm

  6. [...] had hoped the Senate would fulfil its legislative function and provide oversight by preventing the passage of this law that hasn’t even been properly [...]


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