Friday, January 31, 2014

The Senate: Will Mulcair’s rabbits and doves flee in all directions as Mulroney’s did?

Constitutional twins?
Thomas Mulcair gives the impression that he relishes the views of some of him as a tough guy. In Question Period, faced with a cornered Prime Minister Harper who has to appear (sometimes) and answer questions (even if with non-answers), Mulcair is the diligent, remorseless, forceful, and effective cross examiner. He shows that he has done his homework. He shows that he fears not his wily opponent.

And he shows his obvious enjoyment in the detailed, meticulous and vast interchange of the minutia of political give and take and policy discussions.

This is a man who revels in standing up in the House and debating details. A man who loves face to face, one on one, verbal conflict in a parliamentary setting.

A man who would love to be cast in the role of a Canadian-Kissinger, jetting back and forth between parties in conflict, trying through rigorous reason to split the right hairs so as to reconcile the parties, and end up with an agreed, significant compromise.

Like a Meech Lake Accord, or a Charlottetown Accord.

Like constitutional wrangling, ala Canada-style: provinces and territories and federal governments all in the thick of it, tabling positions, marshalling forces, trading horses. Practising elitist politics.
Tough Guy Mulroney & His Accord

Justin Trudeau has just pulled his rabbit out of his hat: a dramatic move to actually reform the way the Senate functions, by removing – at least on the side the former Liberal Senators sat – the partisanship conflicts inherent in a party-aligned chamber of sober second thought. And thereby reducing the need for and opportunity for sleazy patronage by a prime minister.

Trudeau’s proposal has been favourably received by a majority of respondents in a poll, and has met with the support of the former Liberal Senate leader James Cowan:

We are in uncharted waters. No party leader in the history of Canada has taken such a decisive step and encouraged members of his party to openly disagree with him on any matter that may arise – to vote, even if the vote defeats a measure he has advanced. No party leader has demonstrated such confidence in a free and open Parliament best serving Canadians.

We have the challenge and opportunity to work with Canadians to create a new kind of Senate, where partisanship means taking the part of Canadians, first, last and always. That is Justin Trudeau’s vision for the Senate – and it is my vision, as well.

But Thomas Mulcair’s reaction is startlingly different from that of most commentators on Trudeau’s bold, practical and significant move. After taking credit for the idea of removing senators from the Parliamentary caucus of political parties, Mulcair has ventured where no other politician has dared to go: He wants constitutional negotiation to take place in Canada.

What else is behind his taunt to Trudeau?:

Trudeau has long pointed out that abolishing the Senate outright, as Mulcair advocates, cannot be done at the stroke of a pen; it would require Constitutional change, which would entail a conference, on the order of Meech or Charlottetown in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The gambit pushes Mulcair further into the open on this front. Indeed Wednesday morning, in reacting to the news, the NDP leader accused Trudeau of being unwilling to do “the hard work” of constitutional change.

What Mulcair is clearly saying is that he is prepared to open up negotiations with the provinces on amending the Constitution of Canada. He seems to relish this – his policy is the elimination of the Senate, which clearly requires amendment to the Constitution.

Where does that lead the country? And what perils does Mulcair’s desire to huddle in rooms with the premiers to debate amendments to the Constitution pose for Mulcair and for his NDP party?

Perhaps this conclusion of Brian Mulroney’s fate gives us a hint:

Probably the biggest result of the referendum, however, was the effect of most of Canada's population voting against an agreement endorsed by every first minister and most other political groups. This stinging rebuke against the "political class" in Canada was a preview of things to come — in the federal election on October 25, 1993, a year less a day after the Charlottetown referendum, the Progressive Conservatives under new leader and prime minister Kim Campbell were reduced to two seats. They were replaced in most Western ridings by the Reform Party and in Quebec by the Bloc Québécois, the parties who had opposed the Accord. The NDP was also decimated, winning just nine seats, as the party's pro-Charlottetown stance alienated many Prairie voters who turned to Reform as the new party of Western protest. The Liberals, despite their support for the accord, had a new leader in Jean Chrétien, and won a large majority in the new Parliament due to their near-sweep of Ontario. There, only a minority of the voters who had opposed the accord were willing to vote for the Reform Party.

Mulcar is an intelligent man. He must know (unless he is foolish, which I doubt), that any reopening of Constitutional amendment negotiations will lead to most provinces tabling their own wish lists.

Where would Canada stand in those negotiations?

On the one hand, we have Mulcair’s NDP, which has decided to openly flout the law dealing with any province seceding, as outlined by our Supreme Court. And the NDP is now faced with a difficult battle to keep its grip on the MPs that were elected in 2011.

In these decisions, Mulcair and the NDP have misunderstood what drove voters in Quebec to vote for the Layton-led NDP in 2011. It was not because they suddenly realized that the NDP politics of redistribution rather than wealth creation were the best thing for the province. Or that they wished for more political wrangling.

On the contrary, they wanted politics to work.

Mulcair’s need to preserve the geographical bastion of NDP MPs will force him in any Constitutional negotiations to choose the side of Quebec over the rest of Canada, as he believes his party has done with its flouting of the Supreme Court rules for any attempt to dissolve Canada.

How do Trudeau’s views compare to Mulcairs?

Like chalk to cheese.

Like father, like son.

Pierre Trudeau spelled out his view of what Canada should look like.

And Justin Trudeau has done the same in clear language. Some voters now see Justin as fighting for Canada:

Steve Williams of Calgary said he once shook Pierre Trudeau’s hand, voted for Peter Lougheed several times, and once for Preston Manning: “Justin makes me smile, he represents hope,” he said. His wife Deva agreed: “Justin’s fighting for Canada.”

Thomas Mulcair is risking the same fate that befell Brian Mulroney: rejection by the voters in a tidal wave of disapproval, for plunging our country back into the black hole of Constitutional conflict.

This is what happened to Mulroney, when he faced Pierre Trudeau over his proposed Constitutional amendments:

Mulroney simply could not demonstrate the supreme intellectual self-confidence and clarity of purpose that Pierre Trudeau could. Rather than successfully making the case for the traditionally more decentralized Conservative vision of Canada, he sounded more like a hired Quebec advocate than a Canadian Prime Minister...

Trudeau, lofty authoritarianism and all, had an instinctive grasp of mass politics in the mass media age, which he continued to exploit without elected office. He could always provide at least the illusion that he commanded events; Mulroney never gave a similar impression, looking more like a man who had tried to set up a conjuring trick, only to have his stage apparatus collapse, with rabbits and doves fleeing in all directions.

A like fate awaits Mulcair should he open Pandora’s Box with his Senate abolition policy, when faced by the younger Trudeau. He, too, runs the risk of being seen as a prime minister who is simply a waiter, tending to the needs of the premiers:

It was [Pierre Trudeau] who once said, "The prime minister of Canada is not the head-waiter of the provinces." And a question that Mr. Trudeau once asked seems even more apt today: Who stands for Canada?

Thomas Mulcair should heed the caution by Chantal Herbert:

An Angus Reid poll done in the immediate aftermath of Trudeau’s endorsement of a non-partisan Senate found a majority (52 per cent) in support of the proposal and only 16 per cent against. (About one-third are still undecided).

Trudeau is essentially but not exclusively tapping into a major backlash against the Senate...

On that score support in the Angus poll was particularly high among people who have voted for the NDP in the past.

That should probably not be confused with a secret attachment on the part of New Democrat sympathizers for an institution that their party has long vowed to abolish.

But it does show that even within Mulcair’s ranks many are not convinced that he can bring his Senate plan to constitutional fruition.

Leave those Constitutional ghosts be, Mr. Mulcair.


  1. I disagree.

    Fact is, most Canadians want the senate abolished; gone; finito.

    As for reopening the constitution, how difficult can this be? A fact is that the constitution is mainly made up of unwritten convention. Just how do you suppose Harper has gotten away with much of what he did?

    While I admire Trudeau's latest move, I do have questions about the long term affects and should Trudeau become PM, will he return the senate into a hyper partisan lap puppies? But for the sake of this comment post, that's neither here nor there.

    The fact is that in Quebec, polls, pundits and even politicians from the Quebec Liberal Party and CAQ tell us we don't want another referendum on sovereignty. We don't want to talk constitution, but have we been consulted? No. And forget polls, they've been getting every provincial election wrong along with the federal one in 2011.

    The fact is that they're afraid of reopening the constitution is that it would also mean revisiting trying to patriate Quebec into the constitution as well. On the question of Quebec separation v federalism, something has to give sooner or later; either we separate or we sign the constitution once and for all. Until then, there will be instability. It's the elephant in the room and will remain so until one thing or the other happens.

    As for the senate being abolished, or converting to an elected body or maintaining the status quo, why not attach a referendum question on the issue the next federal election and let the people decide?

    On this issue, comparing Mulroney to Mulcair is like comparing apples to oranges; Meech Lake and Charlottetown were about making concessions to Quebec which as we all know, the west hates simply because the west hates us. Nothing more; nothing less.

    Most, on the other hand, agree the senate should be abolished.

  2. CK, once Mulcair opens the negotiations to amend the Constitution to abolish the Senate, everything goes haywire: the premiers will table their conditions for agreement, and the menu of negotiation items will balloon. This happened with Meech and with Charlottetown. You cannot control what people want to talk about once you start negotiations that require unanimous consent. My guess is the Supreme Court will decide 100% of premiers have to agree to abolish the Senate. This gives every province a veto power: they can ask for their respective pounds of flesh. That rabbit hole demolished Mulroney; it will demolish Mulcair. It is political suicide to even consider going down that road: Mulcair is lacking judgment in making this his Senate policy.

  3. Sabatoging the Charletown and meechl lake accords was the most unethical and unprincipled thing Pierre Trudeau ever did, he did it because of his ego, and it was selfish.
    And if Justin Trudeau doesn't want to get rid of the Senate because reopening the constitution and fixing it is hard work, then he's even more unfix to be PM. Fixing climate change, ending proverty, and a host of other issues will be hard and many will fight back against any attempt to fix things, so will Justin not bother because its hard?

    Mulcair is the only leader with the strength, courage, and conviction to get meaningful things done,and get results. If Justin is unwilling to do the hard work he and the Liberal party should stand aside.
    And yes independant senators for now was an NDP idea and an NDP motion, so no Justin does not deserve credit for an idea he stole from the NDP. Especially when he implements it in such a half a** way.

    And your niave if you think this will end Senator patronage from the Liberal party. Mulcair is right, Justin is just trying to dodge the AG report on Liberal Senator expenses.

    Also take note the Tory Senators will not be falling suit, which means if the Senate is meantained instead of abolished, then any future none Tory Governments will be crippled for our life time.

    Mulcair has the ideas, he has ability, he has the talent, he has vision, and he has the courage to fix this country in deseprate need of repair after Liberal and Tory negelect.

    The Liberal Party should change its moto to "If its hard work, why bother!"..

  4. And the idea that Premiers will start making tons of demands over an amendment to abolish the Senate is evidence free, none of the Premiers, not even Quebec's have made even the slightest indication of such intent or demands. And not all forms of constitutional change requires assent from all provinces or even a majority, so changes affecting a single province could be done in a side deal later.

    In fact had Mulorney been smarter he could have given Quebec the destinct society amendment seperately later in a deal directly with Quebec and invovled the other Provinces not at all.

  5. An asymetical approach to the Constitution, instead of a jumbo sized restructuring of the constitution Mulrony style will lead the NDP to success, where he failed.

    Example if Quebec wanted say nation in a nation status (which really means nothing anyways) added to constitution, it has nothing to do with any other province and does not effect those specific areas that require unaminious conscent formula or the 7/10 and 50% formula, so they all they'd need is the assent of Parliament and the Quebec Liesalure to pass it.

    Outside of a few areas like the Senate, a province by province approach makes amending the constitution easy.

  6. Ryan, thanks for your comments; however, your facts about amending the Constitution are not all correct. I suggest googling changing canada's constitution for some good articles on the process involved. It is not a federal government - one provincial government operation. It involves more parties.

  7. Since the patriation of the Constitution in 1982, a more complete amending formula has been adopted in the Constitution Act, 1982, in sections 38 to 49.[1]

    Most amendments can be passed only if identical resolutions are adopted by the House of Commons, the Senate, and a two-thirds majority of the provincial legislative assemblies representing at least 50% of the national population. This formula, which is outlined in section 38 of the Constitution Act, 1982, is sometimes referred to as the "general amendment procedure" and is known more colloquially as the "7+50 formula." The following matters are reserved to the s. 38 procedure, by virtue of s. 42:

    (a) the principle of proportionate representation of the provinces in the House of Commons prescribed by the Constitution of Canada;(c) the number of members by which a province is entitled to be represented in the Senate and the residence qualifications of Senators;(e) the extension of existing provinces into the territories; and(f) the establishment of new provinces.If a constitutional amendment only affects one province, however, only the assent of Parliament and of that province's legislature is required. Seven of the ten amendments passed so far have been of this nature, with four passed by and for Newfoundland and Labrador, one passed for New Brunswick, one for Prince Edward Island, and one for Quebec. This formula is contained in section 43 of the Constitution Act, 1982.

    There are some parts of the Constitution that can only be modified by a unanimous vote of all the provinces plus the two Houses of Parliament, however. This formula is contained in section 41 of the Constitution Act, 1982, and is known as the "unanimity formula." It is reserve for the following matters:

    The above is from Wikipedia on Amending the Canadian Constitution. The above specifically states what sort of Amendments have to be done under the s. 38 procedure and that amendments that effect a single province can in fact be made just by passing the amendment in Parliament and the Province in Question.

    It also shows that this method of Amending the constitution has been done before.

    A future possible use would be PM Mulcair broking a deal with Quebec to sign the constitution, any Amendments could he done very simply, yet the Liberals make it out to be a potiential crisis.

  8. (a) the office of the Queen, the Governor General and the Lieutenant Governor of a province;(b) the right of a province to a number of members in the House of Commons not less than the number of Senators by which the province is entitled to be represented at the time theConstitution Act, 1982 came into force;

    The above is what requires unaminous consent of all provinces.

    So like I said amending the constitution to remove the Senate would not create a constutitional crisis. Its not certain to suceed, it depends on the Premier, some of whom like Brad Wall have come out in support of Abolishing the Senate, but there trying is no real risk to trying either.


Thank you for commenting; come again! Let us reason together ...

Random posts from my blog - please refresh page for more: