Why Canada Needs the Senate: Omnibus Crime Bill
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 , 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…
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.
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:
- Critics of omnibus bill ‘advocate for criminals,’ Conservatives charge (Globe and Mail): http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/critics-of-omnibus-bill-advocate-for-criminals-conservatives-charge/article2205213/
- Texas conservatives reject Harper’s crime plan – ‘Been there; done that; didn’t work,’ say Texas crime-fighters (CBC): http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/story/2011/10/17/pol-vp-milewski-texas-crime.html
- Study: Prevention Fights Crime Better Than Jail (Seattle Times): http://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com/archive/?date=19960620&slug=2335526
- Tough on crime will likely lead to more crime, bigger deficit (Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives): http://www.policyalternatives.ca/newsroom/news-releases/tough-crime-will-likely-lead-more-crime-bigger-deficit-report
- Crime rates fall to lowest level since 1973 http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/story/2011/07/21/crime-rates.html
- Open letter to the Government opposing mandatory sentences from over 550 Canadian experts and public health professionals (Urban Health Research Initiative): http://uhri.cfenet.ubc.ca/content/view/90
- A Meaner Canada : Junk Politics and the Omnibus Crime Bill (Alex Himelfarb) http://afhimelfarb.wordpress.com/2011/05/29/a-meaner-canada-junk-politics-and-the-omnibus-crime-bill/
- What’s Wrong With Harper’s Omnibus Crime Bill (Behind the Numbers) http://www.behindthenumbers.ca/2011/09/20/whats-wrong-with-harpers-omnibus-crime-bill/
- Rough Justice in America: Too many laws, too many prisoners – Never in the civilised world have so many been locked up for so little (The Economist): http://www.economist.com/node/16636027
- Salvaging a faulty crime bill (Irvin Waller) http://www.themarknews.com/articles/6942-salvaging-a-faulty-crime-bill
- Incarceration and Crime: A Complex Relationship, (The Sentencing Project) http://www.sentencingproject.org/doc/publications/inc_iandc_complex.pdf
- For the full text of the bill, see the Parliament of Canada website: http://www.parl.gc.ca/LegisInfo/BillDetails.aspx?Language=E&Mode=1&billId=5120829
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.