Thursday, 6 February 2014

Senate Red Herrings and the Path Not Taken

While much of the reaction to Justin Trudeau’s first salvo in an attempt to make the Senate a partisan-free zone has been balanced -- excluding, of course, the other political parties (seemingly validating the problems associated rabid partisanship) – there have been a few extreme criticisms that suggest removing parties from the Senate constitutes a massive problem in and of itself, particularly for accountability. These break down into roughly three broad themes.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

The Complicated Accountability of the 'New' Commissioner of Canada Elections

Justice Minister Peter MacKay signals how
much more accountability the Fair Elections Act will bring
The recently tabled Fair Elections Act contains a number of provisions which will, in theory, strengthen the Canada Elections Act but these changes are likely little more than a heavy spoon of sugar designed to sweeten the fatal dose of poison it just administered to Elections Canada. That Act will fundamentally restructure that organization, effectively marginalizing it and, with it, Parliament's oversight of Canadian elections. By relocating the office of the Commissioner of Canada Elections to -- inexplicably -- the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Conservatives are simultaneously weakening the existing chain of accountability and potentially weakening prosecutions. More problematic, the relocation brings the new incarnation of the office uncomfortably close to the political executive. The independence of the new office, despite the trappings of a fixed term and a secure mandate, is somewhat precarious.

Union Station, Confederation and the Legacy of John A.

"Arriving at MacDonald, MacDonald Station …. Please stand clear of the doors"
As the bicentennial of John A. MacDonald’s birth approaches, and with it Canada’s sesquicentennial, the jockeying is on between politicians and civic leaders attempting to demonstrate which among them has the greatest love for Canada's inaugural Prime Minister. By 2015 we could well wake to find that next to every public building and thoroughfare has been converted into the the Sir John A. MacDonald [Fill-in-the-blank]. 

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Fair Elections and the Commissioner of Canada Elections - A New Collar and a Shorter Leash

Reading the first draft of the Fair Elections Act is a maddening experience. If the aim of the Act is to ensure the proper conduct of elections or enhance accountability and transparency, it is difficult to see how this piece of legislation will accomplish it. In fact, the bill is likely to to have the opposite effect because it effectively marginalizes Parliament and brings the conduct of elections close to the centre of government. Indeed, the provisions of the bill relating to Elections Canada run counter to the purpose of the Canada Elections Act (previously the Dominion Elections Act) for nearly a century by allowing the executive in through the backdoor.

The Fair Elections Act and the Future of Elections Canada (and Canada’s Elections)

As a general rule, if you want to understand the impact of the Conservative government’s legislation, simply look to the short title of the bill in question and assume the opposite of what the title implies. It is doublespeak codified in law, giving rise to bills that purport to free grain farmers while empowering large conglomerates or ‘economic action plans’ that are as sedate as rocks. The so-called Fair Elections Act will likely join its namesake – the Fair Representation Act – as legislation running counter to what it so boldly purports.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Partisanship, the Senate and the Lessons of the Civil Service Commission

There is much to be commended in Justin Trudeau’s sudden and unexpected decision to eject the entire cohort of Liberal Senators from the parliamentary caucus. Surprisingly the pundit class have been somewhat overwhelmingly positive in affirming the move – even cranks like Conrad Black approve – while the predictable chorus of partisans on the Hill have derided the move as a ploy and smoke screen. The response from the Conservative and New Democrat benches does much to confirm the relevance of the move demonstrating just how thoroughly partisanship is choking parliamentary politics.