It’s time to reopen our Constitution

The Mike Duffy trial is, mercifully, for all of us, winding down. He has made his final grasping attempts at redemption and, next year the long suffering judge will receive closing arguments.

Mr Duffy is proof of one thing: politicians picking legislators for partisan reasons doesn’t work all that well.

The Senate of Canada is a holdover from the 19th century when the elites (who are still with us) were very, very concerned about the impacts of unbridled popular democracy. It was only 30 years since the Chartists’ reforms had been initiated and only 80 years since the Americans had ratified their federal constitution, when a batch of civil servants in London wrote the British North America Act. Those civil servants agreed with the Americans that a federal state needs a bicameral legislature: one body to represent the people, in their communities (that’s what House of Commons means, by the way ~ house of communities; it is better defined in French: Chambre des communes) on a (roughly) equal basis and another representing the “partners” in the federation ~ the provinces. They also agreed with the Americans that the “upper house” should be appointed, not elected by popular vote (it wasn’t until 1904 that the US began to elect its Senate and the process of switching from appointed to elected took about 20 years to complete). That might have been fine in 1867 but it’s not fine now.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has proposed a commission to recommend “better” candidates to him, he has not been bold enough to suggest that we, Canadians, in our provinces, ought to be able to select ~ elect ~ the people who represent our provinces in the Senate of Canada.

The Supremes have made it hideously difficult for any Canadian prime minister, even one who actually believes in democracy, to reform the Senate without reopening the Constitution ~ something that almost no one (OK, there’s me, I like the excitement) wants to do.

There are three popular options:

  1. Do nothing, except, maybe, what Prime Minister Trudeau wants to try, but, essentially, leave the Senate as is;
  2. Abolish it ~ which requires the consent of the provinces; or
  3. Make meaningful, 21st century reforms ~ which also requires the consent of the provinces.

One can easily understand why the government has chosen Option 1. The Trudeau government sees much more gain in changing how the House of Commons is elected.

There is a case for some, limited change in the way we vote for our House of Commons.

One principle, however, must remain inviolate: it remains the House of Communities … members are elected to represent recognizable, sensible, community based constituencies from Abbotsford  in British Columbia to St. John’s East on the Atlantic Coast of Newfoundland. Any attempt to weaken the local representation of each community must be resisted and, if ever enacted, overturned by whatever means are necessary.

One principle we might want to adopt is that, eventually, each community should elect a representative who has the support of a majority of the voters. The French manage this by having run-off elections. There is something to be said for the French system.

But it appears that the Trudeau regime wants to put together a system, after “consultation” and then impose it on Canada. If we are going to re-open the Constitution for anything it ought to be for this.

The process of electoral reform ought to be serious and complete:

  • Discussion in in Parliament, hearing by both HoC and Senate committees;
  • Public consultation in committees;
  • Votes in parliament;
  • A national referendum; and, finally
  • A full blown Constitutional Convention to affirm the electoral system.

We, the people of Canada, need to bring our Constitution into the 21st century.

Now, as a matter of principle, I don’t like written constitutions. I think ours, and the Australian one and the German and American constitutions, too, are all inferior to the unwritten British one. The problem with all written constitutions is that they reflect, of necessity, the top of mind issues of their day: of the late 18th century for the Americans, of the mid 19th century for us, of the turn of the 19th/20th for Australia and of the middle of the 20th for Germany and India. It isn’t that they weren’t as well drafted as they could have been … they were/are all examples of very good work. But each is “dated” as soon as it is signed and constitutions are, as they should be, hard to amend … so if we’re going to do it, and I suggest we need to do it, then let’s do it for some really important issue like electoral reform.

The late Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau complained that the provinces, in constitutional negotiations, were likely to want to “trade rights for fish,” and I agree that’s a problem … but we can, and must hope for good examples at the negotiating table and if we have to accept some political water in our constitutional wine then so be it.

War is too important to be ;left to generals and democracy is too important to be left to politicians. We need to make our voices heard in electoral reform through, first: a national referendum on electoral reform, and, second: a full blown Constitutional Convention.

When I say (as I have twice) a “full blown Constitutional Convention” I mean one that has delegation composed of both elected politicians from the national and provincial governments (and their officials) and popularly elected national and provincial/territorial delegates and i want the whole of the Constitution “open” for debate and change.

We have never had such a thing in Canada, maybe it’s time we tried it.

I would hope that the result would be annul the existing (written) Constitution and replace it with a few (draft) Acts of parliament regarding e.g. provinces (maybe only five of them), parliament itself, the division of powers, the Supreme Court, voting, and so on.

No one in the world is going to tell us, Canada, they we don’t exist just because we don’t have a written constitution and no one will tell Canadians that we don’t have rights and freedoms just because the 1982 Charter would be consigned to the dustbin of history … the fact is that we could get along, very well, without a written Constitution.

But: It is most likely that we would amend rather than annul, but even so, a properly amended document would be batter, for all of us, than what we have now.

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