No, Elizabeth May, that’s not what “loose fish” means

(Note: This had been submitted as an op-ed that wasn’t picked up. I’m posting it here instead).

In Monday’s National Post, a section of Elizabeth May’s chapter in Turning Democracy Inside Out: Practical Ideas for Reforming Democracy was republished, in which May called for parties to essentially be abolished, and for the prime minister to be elected from the Commons as a whole at the beginning of each parliament. The problem? That May was wrong in both her history and her understanding of what Responsible Government means, which undermines her argument and spreads dangerous misinformation about how our democratic system is supposed to work.

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Welcome Back, Wallin

Note: This is a piece I wrote on spec a few weeks ago for publication that didn’t get picked up. I figured I would share it here, and hopefully it’s not too dated.

With her suspension lifted after the dissolution of parliament, Senator Pamela Wallin is reportedly back on the job. Shortly after her suspension was lifted, it was reported that she had requested her BlackBerry back, and my own Senate sources confirmed this fact. And recently it was reported in the Toronto Star that she is back at work, splitting her time between Saskatchewan and Ottawa.

You’ll forgive me if I shake my head a little at this news, because I’m not exactly sure what it is she expects to do with Parliament currently dissolved and there literally being nothing she can do. Just what she has to “catch up on” for the past two years is a little unclear because she literally hasn’t had an office to be away from. If it’s two years’ worth of activity in the Senate, well, I’m not sure why she couldn’t have kept abreast of it during her suspension given that everything is public: reports, committee hearings, the audio stream of the Chamber itself during debates. If she had nothing better to do for the past two years, then I’m not sure what she exactly missed.

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Charlie Angus’ wrongheaded understanding of our democracy

It was no surprise that NDP-turned-Independent MP Bruce Hyer joined the Green Party, if you’d paid the least amount of attention to the House of Commons over the past year or so. Hyer did flirt with the Liberals to a small extent, expressing support to Joyce Murray’s leadership campaign because of her stance on things like proportional representation, but really, Hyer and Elizabeth May have become quite the pair in the far corner of the Commons.

What was also not a real surprise was the outrage that the NDP would show over the move, and what should not have been a surprise was the stunning degree of civic ignorance demonstrated by Charlie Angus in his press release denouncing Hyer’s move.

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On Borg and those accusations of misogyny

After the scathing letter she received on Friday from Conservative Senator Claude Degenais, which was in response to the Senate abolition flier that he received, NDP MP Charmaine Borg decided to move a point of privilege in the Commons, and to claim that Degenais’ letter was somehow misogynistic.

No, seriously.

I’ve read the letter. There is absolutely no gendered language in it. And because it’s in French, that’s quite apparent. In fact, most of the conjugations are in the masculine plural, as he is largely addressing the NDP caucus as a whole (the letter was sent out Hill-wide in response to Borg, not just to her personally). It may have been condescending and rude, but there is no misogyny.

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The romance with half-assed reform proposals


Throughout his press conference this morning around the introduction of the Reform Act, 2013, Conservative MP Michael Chong insisted that the changes he was proposing would simply bring Canada back into line with other Westminster parliaments such as the UK and Australia in giving the caucus the power to dismiss the leader. This, however, is not exactly the case. It relies on the omission of the key fact that the ways in which these parties tend to select their leaders impacts on the ways in which they can overturn them.

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The problem with consultative elections

The romance over consultative elections have been at the heart of the Senate reference before the Supreme Court that we heard last week, but not to be outdone, the five alarm gong show known as Democracy Watch decided to raise the stakes, and propose that vice-regal consultative elections could be held, and that there would be no need to amend the constitution in order to achieve it.

No. Just no.

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Due process versus the culture of expediency

Stephen Harper’s culture of expediency has marked every single aspect of the ClusterDuff affair, from its genesis with the appointment of those senators in 2009, to the abrogation of due process that took place in the Senate tonight to their suspension without pay. Those appointments, made in haste and without proper due diligence, created the crisis of the independence of the Senate that we find ourselves in currently – but it was politically expedient for Harper to declare that he wasn’t going to appoint “unelected” senators until it became expedient for him to appoint a glut of them at once and strain the ability of the chamber to absorb them.

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How Stephen Harper’s high-minded neglect damaged the Senate

A great many things have been said about Senate independence of late, and most of them wrong. Stephen Harper stood up in the House last week to say that the Senate is independent, otherwise those three Senators would be out of a job. This is mostly true. Evan Solomon crowed loudly that the Duffy emails about Marjory LeBreton’s office coordinating with the PMO “shattered the myth” of Senate independence. That is largely untrue. Senator James Cowan, the Liberal leader in the Senate, told Don Martin last week that he doesn’t take direction from Justin Trudeau, but they do consult – which is actually more the model of how things should be run. But the underlying issue is that currently there is a problem with the independence of the Upper Chamber, but the bulk of the responsibility for this lies at the feet of Stephen Harper.

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Being seen to meddle with the Senate

Government and opposition proposals for “fixing” the Senate have been in the news again in the past few days, because everyone wants to be seen to be doing something about it – never mind that due process takes time. Apparently we demand instant gratification, and so, we are being subjected to yet more discussion about things that are not really broken.

To start with was a proposal revealed last week, which saw the government calling in constitutional lawyers to try and MacGyver some kind of mechanism to kick out Senators if they are found to bring “disrepute” to the Chamber. And then this morning, we were subjected to concern trolling by the NDP, who came up with a trio of largely unhelpful new suggestions for rules changes that the House has neither the authority to attempt to implement, nor are they actually thought through.

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“Tecumseh’s Ghost” and Gregg’s reading of history

Allan Gregg’s essay on “Tecumseh’s Ghost” has been making the rounds over the various social media and traditional media platforms today to mark the 200th anniversary of Tecumseh’s death during the War of 1812. It’s a worthwhile project, and an interesting read that I would heartily encourage everyone to do. But in the end, I found it to be rather unsatisfying for a number of reasons.

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