Friday, April 25, 2014

Federalism wins with Senate decision

When Stephen Harper tried to go about his ideas about Senate reform, his belief was that one could have Senate elections and fixed terms without the consent of the provinces. Today, the Supreme Court of Canada reaffirmed that Canada is a federation, not a unitary state like France and not a devolved state like Spain. The Senate is such an important part of the Confederation bargain, it said, that most changes -- especially direct elections -- require seven provinces with 50% of the population. Abolishing the Senate would require unanimous consent.  (Decision is here).

Matter of fact, the only thing Harper won on was the property requirement of $4000 and getting rid of it. This item does require only Parliament, with the exception of Québec which would also require the National Assembly to agree.

All I say about this is, this is proof once again that Harper has nothing but contempt for the provinces. That he has never sat down with all thirteen Premiers at the same time is bad enough. But changes to criminal justice, immigration, employment, even farm assistance, has all been done without consulting the provinces and territories, or by keeping it to the absolute minimum.

Perhaps after losing so many cases at the SCC - especially a big one like this -- the Prime Minister may finally realize that Ottawa alone does not steer the ship.

This doesn't happen to be good for the NDP, though. They have argued they could abolish the Senate unilaterally. Now with this decision, it'll have to come up with a way to work within 7-50 and come up with a solution that Canadians could accept going forward. On this one, I don't think it should be that hard. Given the choice, I think most people in Canada would prefer an elected Chamber, to a system where it's just pure rep by pop so the smaller provinces get shafted.

The Liberals? Justin Trudeau expelling his Senators from caucus was a conniving political ploy. No one buys it. Even many Liberals, myself included. He should just come forward and say what kind of elected Senate he'd like to see. How many Senators per province, the length of terms, whether it will have power of veto over the House like it has now (except for constitutional amendments), and so forth. Claiming victory without a plan for an alternative is like invading a country with no concept of how a provisional government would operate.

Unfortunately, changing the Constitution for this would open up a can of worms as the provinces would demand other reforms, including immigration and shared cost programs (which I agree with) as well as the amending formula and yet another crack at the "distinct society" notion (with which I disagree). There could be others. In this case, Canadians should be able to vote on these line item rather than for an "all or nothing" package like Meech Lake or Charlottetown.

For now, this is a victory for Canada. Particularly, for our federation.  We truly are a "community of communities" (in the words of Joe Clark) and the Supremes recognized that today.

1 comment:

Joel Klebanoff said...

Wow. We're a federation. It's been almost 147 since Confederation. Who knew? It's nice that the Supreme Court is providing Stephen Harper with some evidence of that.