Canadian Politics

protester holding a sign in the 13 Heros protestGenerally speaking, I don’t like political parties.

What I don’t like is the idea of political parties in this land that is supposed to be a representative democracy.  The way a representative democracy is supposed to work, is that we vote for and elect the candidate we think will best represent us. We elect the candidate we believe will vote for or against proposed laws as we would.  So that our best interests will be represented within the halls of our democratic government.

The problem is, once elected, “our” elected representative is more likely to do the bidding of their party than they are to do what we want.  Which rather makes a mockery of our “representatation.”

The inequity of our “winner take all” political system means any party holding a majority of seats in parliament has absolute power to enact any legislation it wants.  For the entire term.

looking up at protesters and signs

Our political system is older than Canada.  Perhaps our flavour of representative democracy was good enough back in 1867, when communication and transportation were far from instantaneous, and governing a land mass the size of Canada was geographically challenging.  But with today’s connectivity and access to information, our political system is sorely outdated and hugely inequitable.  Worse, our “democracy” has few if any checks and balances to prevent abuse.  When we are cursed with a majority government, what we effectively have is a time limited dictatorship.

(The Senate is supposed to provide “sober second thought,” but partisan Senate padding has resulted in the upper chamber being transformed into a rubber stamp for the party that stacks it the most.)

Because our electoral system is so terribly broken,  when any such a majority government seeks to pass laws  we don’t approve — the only recourse open to Canadians is to apply the pressure of public opinion.  Citizens have to protest in any way we can.  All we can do is hope that our government will take heed of our concerns and correct or drop legislation that is not in the public good.

KW Voted 4 U

Last summer a great many Canadians were upset by the Conservative “Black Mark Budget”  Omnibus bill.   Under our woefully antiquated “democracy,” any majority government has the power to pass any law, no matter how unpopular.  And when many pieces of unrelated legislation are bundled together and called an “omnibus,” it means these laws are very nearly being passed in secret, because they receive only the most cursory public scrutiny and debate.  In a democratic state, at minimum legislation deserves examination and dissent must be heard, even if the system allows for bad law to be passed anyway in the end.  We deserve to know when bad law is made.

Because of the current Federal Conservative Majority, the only way to stop the Bill C-38 ominbudget from passing would have been for 13 Conservative MPs to vote against it.  An awful lot of ordinary Canadians took to the streets in protest.  People who had never lifted before lifted a picket sign in their lives waved them with gusto.   Grandparemts, parents, children.   A great deal of public pressure was in fact brought to bear.  In Waterloo Region, Peter Braid pretended not to have seen the protest outside his office, while Stephen Woodworth magnanimously offered his protesters coffee.  Still, in spite of the many protests made at Conservative MP constituency offices across Canada, not a single Conservative MP voted against Party dictates.

Not long afterward, I heard Stephen Woodworth defending his decision to vote against his constituents at the Kitchener Multicultural Festival.   In the few minutes I was there,  the Member of Parliament explained to two different constituents that he had been unable to vote against Bill C-38 as they wanted,  because it would have meant opposing the directives of his political party.  The orders issued by his party prevented him from representing the voters who elected him.

Omnibudget Protest 2012

Money Makes the World Go Around

twenty dollar bills
Things are pretty bad when a supposedly democratic government ignores the voters.  Our system wasn’t entirely fair back in 1867, but it has been gamed and fiddled with by succeeding governments in attempts to give the ruling party an unfair advantage ever since.  Is it any wonder that almost half of our eligible voters don’t even bother anymore? Canadians know all too well that all votes don’t count, nor are all votes equal.  The system is so badly broken that strategic voting is considered a legitimate option.  Something’s got to give.

The Canada that my child will inherit is much worse than the Canada I inherited. We no longer have the option of leaving politics to the politicians.  Canadians need to start talking and thinking about politics. We have to stand up for change now or things will keep getting worse.

Today’s political parties seem to spend more time fund raising than campaigning. Why do they need so much cash? Seems they all need oodles of money to pay the costs of television advertising, which gets more expensive all the time. Of course, print advertising and robocalls don’t come cheap either…

With the phasing out of the per vote subsidy, money becomes a much bigger issue, particularly for the smaller political parties.

It is always easier for the rich to bankroll their political party (and get the laws that benefit them passed) but the rest of us need some political representation too.  If you feel any political party has stood up for you, or the issues you feel are important maybe you ought to send them a donation.

Perhaps the Pirate Party stood up for privacy and Internet Freedom… or the Green Party fought for the environment… or the Liberal Party is changing the way a political party works… or the NDP is standing up for First Nations… or the Conservative Party put the abortion debate back to sleep.

If you happen to have any cash left on hand after the holidays and want to encourage the party of your choice to keep up the good work, now is the time to make a donation.  A $10.00 donation actually only costs you $2.50 after you get $7.50 back in tax credit.

This is how it works:

Canadian Political Donation Facts

Maximum political contribution limit: $1,200
Donations between 0 and $400 ~ a 75% tax credit
Donations between $400 and $750 ~ $300 tax credit plus 50% of any amount over $400;
Donations over $750 ~ $475 + 33.3% of amount over $750 (max $650 per year tax credit)
Any contributions must be made by Monday, December 31st to be eligible for 2012 tax credits.

Another thing to do is get involved. Find out when and where the local political parties meet, and go sit in. Look for your local Fair Vote chapter or Co-Operate for Canada. Read the news. Follow #CDNpoli on Twitter. Listen. Learn.

Canadians need to start talking about politics, and get involved to effect change in one way or another. We can’t afford not to anymore.

If we’re stuck with a party system, maybe it’s time to join the party.
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Why Canada Needs the Senate: Omnibus Crime Bill

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.

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