Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Senate Saves Canada... Again

How do you save democracy from itself? You appoint a Senate.

In 1990 the democratically elected House of Commons passed Bill C-43 which would have criminalized all abortions. That bill was defeated by the appointed Senate. To this day abortions remain legal solely because of the Senate's actions.

In 2013 the democratically elected House of Commons passed Bill C-377 which would have weakened labour unions. That bill was stopped by the appointed Senate. 

Today the democratically elected House of Commons is preparing to pass Bill C-23 The Fair Elections Act which seeks to undermine democracy. The appointed Senate is simultaneously preparing to stop it.

In all of these cases the majority in the House of Commons also had the majority in the Senate, but still the Senate stood up against the democratically elected Lower House. Despite being unpopular, especially in protecting abortion at the time, the Senate protected fundamental principles.

Democracy depends on womens' rights, labour rights, and actual fair elections to function; all things this Senate has saved. 

Protecting democracy means protecting its principles; but principles aren't elected, and their application isn't always popular. Because of the obvious similarities with the Upper Chamber, for democracy's defense, an appointed Senate sounds perfect for the job.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Public Education Before Health Care

When you replace the fan belt on your 1988 Toyota Corrolla, you can't drive faster than when the car was brand new. Even with the new part, the car, with all of its wear and tear, is likely to be slower than when you first drove it off the lot.

No one expects that a trip to a mechanic for repairs is going to make their car better than new, we all know a mechanic only maintains a vehicle, he doesn't engineer it to be better. When we want a faster, more efficient and more powerful car than the one we have, we don't rely on old gears, we look to the engineering of new ones.

A similar relationship exists when it comes to improving our country, a relationship however that our political parties have perverted. Because instead of trying to improve our society by engineering innovation through public education, the priority has become the maintenance of old gears through public health care. And what Canada is left with is a less than powerful society that gets horrible mileage and has more than a few problems with its steering.

Public education, the only thing that can advance a country, was not always as neglected as it is now by our leaders. When Canada was first founded and for decades after, all the education needed to join the work force was free because our country knew bettering its people was the only way it would better itself.

High school became fully funded by the provinces because for years that diploma was all that was needed to enter trades, business, or even apprentice as a lawyer and engineer. Of Canada's 33 founding fathers only one went to university. But as times have changed and jobs have become more specialized the public provision of education has not kept up. The British Columbian government forecasts that by 2020 77.3% of all jobs will require costly post-secondary education.

Health care on the other hand, though certainly having its flaws, has become the focus of our country. This is a problem because, by itself, public health care does not better our society, it merely maintains it.

This misplacing of social priorities, health care before education, is like believing your car's mechanic is more important than its engineer; that maintaining parts is more important than their design and innovation. If that was true we wouldn't have cars today, we would just have really healthy horses.

Health care does not build a better society, only education does. If the goal of government is to improve our country and not merely maintain it, its first priority should be providing public post-secondary education.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Flaherty's Curtain

Jim Flaherty was unethical, incompetent and he should have been fired. Those aren't my words, they're Thomas Mulcair's, spoken just last year in Question Period. Yet after the former Finance Minister's death, Mulcair has called him a good man and a great public servant.

There's no doubt that the NDP Leader genuinely mourns the loss of  Jim Flaherty, but this recent death and the response to it by all politicians, not just Mulcair, shows the real tragedy of a political life.

Because it's only now, after resorting to the lowest denominator in attacks against Mr.Flaherty for his whole political career, are his opponents speaking highly of him. It is only now after Flaherty's curtain has fallen that all the other actors are describing how they truly felt about him.

What makes this all the more sad is that what Mr.Flaherty's opponents actually thought of him was the exact opposite of what they said to him while he was alive.

Can you imagine, if we are so lucky to have an after life, spending your whole career having opponents level the most sensationalistic attacks against you and after you have gone, and only then, finding out how much those same harsh critics respected you, how much they liked you, and even seeing them cry from hearing about your death?

Now we can say that as a politician Jim Flaherty certainly knew that much of politics is a performance, that he knew the daily attacks he faced as finance minister for eight years were disingenuous, merely for show. But in hearing such words of admiration and respect for Jim Flaherty after he has gone, one cannot say he came close to knowing how highly his opponents thought of him. And that is a tragedy. A horrible unnecessary tragedy.

Jim Flaherty's death highlights the absolute worst thing about politics. It's not the broken promises, it's not the partisanship or the boondoggles, the worst part of politics is that it is a performance that its actors never betray with their true feelings.

But of course, politicians aren't the only ones to lose themselves in their roles. How often in life do we all forget to tell those around us, not just our loved ones, but our adversaries too, how we truly feel about them and how grateful we are for them to be a part of our lives.

Just as Justin Trudeau should admit to Stephen Harper he respects him tremendously and is thankful for what he done for this country (and vice versa), we all should tell those we occasionally fight with, that we care for them and want them to be happy.

In this life we are all performers in one way or the other, but in reflecting on Jim Flaherty's passing, let us in the future not wait until a curtain falls to applaud the other actors.

"All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances."

Jim Flaherty stood before the audience, he smiled, bowed, and the curtain closed.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Conservative MP Celebrates Anti-Bullying Day By Threatening Violence

Yesterday was Pink Shirt Day, it's a day dedicated to ending bullying. Now if you didn't wear a pink shirt, don't feel too bad, because unless you spent the day threatening someone with violence and having to be physically restrained, you're still one up on Conservative MP Ron Cannan.

Because it was on Pink Shirt Day that this backbencher MP chose to make a brave stand for bullies everywhere. Now he didn't ask Parliament why we don't have a national day for bullies, Camoflage Tank-Top Day if you will, he did one better; he brought the bullying to the House of Commons and threatened another MP with violence.

The scene more accustomed to taking place at recess by the bike racks occurred after NDP MP Dan Harris accused the International Trade Minister Ed Fast of making a handgun gesture at another NDP member. A few moments later Ron Cannan began yelling at Mr.Harris, going so far as even leaving his custom-molded backbench to storm the NDP seating area.

It's reported that Cannan became more "belingerant", telling Dan Harris that they should take this outside. Two other MPs had to intervene, restrain Cannan and escort him away. There is no word yet if Cannan was wearing a pink shirt at the time.

Now to his credit, in challenging another MP to a fight, Cannan did bring attention to the fact that bullying is a problem. However it us now who have to challenge Cannan to go outside the Parliament buildings, not to fight him of course, just to leave him there.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Quebec Election Shows Hypocrisy On Clarity Act

Stephen Harper, Justin Trudeau, and Andrew Coyne, among others, are wrong to suggest separatism was recently defeated by Quebec voters. Well they aren't just wrong, they're hypocritical.

Since the close defeat of separatism in the 1995 referendum, federalists have demanded a clear question for any public decision on Quebec sovereignty. Parliament even passed the Clarity Act, enshrining such a requirement into law.

Considering the need therefore of a clear question to decide whether Quebeckers want to stay in Canada or not, it is mind-blowing to see our country's politicians and pundits claim that the Parti Quebecois's election loss proved voters rejected sovereignty. Not only because there wasn't clarity in the question of separation, but because there wasn't even a question.

If such an extrapolation of a general election's results was valid then the converse would be too, and I don't think anyone would say Quebeckers would have clearly decided to separate if the PQ just got 41% of the vote.

Now many in Quebec don't support the Clarity Act, not just because it requires a clear referendum question but because it importantly stipulates that any vote to separate can only succeed with a clear majority. But if federalists want separatists to honour the Clarity Act, then federalists should honour it too. 

Our country's leaders were wrong to suggest the PQ's election loss was a clear rejection of separatism by Quebeckers just as separatists would be wrong to declare an election victory as a mandate to separate.

The only way Quebeckers can reject or accept sovereignty is by a referendum with a clear question, to suggest that this election sufficiently sufficed as that referendum contravenes the very laws federalists supposedly support.

If Prime Minister Harper, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and others continue to claim the election results do mean Quebeckers rejected separatism, than the Clarity Act is worthless. At least that much is clear.