A bit more than ten years ago, John Ibbitson asked that question in the Globe and Mail. It appeared to him, then, that “Canada is a nation of strong provinces with a weak federal government, hobbled by minority Parliaments and uncertain of its own relevance.” Not much has changed, has it? He also said that “The Liberal Party has become principally the party of Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, while the Conservatives are the party of Alberta and rural English Canada, although they are steadily encroaching on the Liberals’ remaining urban bastions. In that sense, the major parties encompass the solitudes of urban and rural, multicultural and white, Alberta and the rest.” That also seems eerily familiar, doesn’t it?
Six months ago, Globel News reported that “The majority of Canadians think politicians aren’t concerned with people like them and experts don’t understand them … [and] … They say society is “broken” and the economy is rigged in favour of elites.” That report was based on the findings of an Ipsos poll, “which shows that populist attitudes — as well as nativist (or anti-immigrant) sentiments — have gained new ground in Canada.“
Now, the National Post says that nothing has changed. Stuart Thomson reports that “In a time of widespread disagreement and ever-increasing polarization, there remains a bitter solidarity among Canadians in the belief that the government doesn’t know what it’s doing … [because] … In the wake of regional discontent from the western provinces and blockades jamming up the country’s rail network, a towering majority of Canadians agree with the statement, “Right now, Canada is broken.”“
The data says that “Sixty-nine per cent of Canadians agree with the statement, rising to 83% in Alberta:” This is the output of a DART & Maru/Blue poll which was conducted for the National Post:
“The poll,” Mr Thomson says, “spells bad news for Justin Trudeau with a majority of people believing that the country is not headed in the right direction and that the prime minister is not governing well. The Liberals also get most of the blame for the rail blockades.“
But, later the report gets to what I believe is much more correct: ““Canada is not broken. Canada’s institutions are broken,” said Donald Savoie, the Canada Research Chair in Public Administration and Governance at the University of Moncton, who has written extensively about democracy in Canada … [and he added that] … from the beginning of confederation, the governance structures were designed to balance Quebec and Ontario, without much regard for western Canada.“
““In 1867,” he explains “the concern was to protect Canada against democracy, not to protect regional interests,” said Savoie. “Until we have an institution that can speak on behalf of the regions, we are going to have a problem.””
On the matter of immediate concern, Stewart Thomson writes that: “Asked to rank how various people have handled the Wet’suwet’en protests, 67 per cent of people think the rail companies have handled it well. The provincial police get a 57 per cent approval rating and the RCMP get 55 per cent approval … [but] … Politicians, though, get much worse reviews. Provincial premiers get a 45 per cent approval rating, Conservative leader Andrew Scheer gets 36 per cent approval, and only 27 per cent of Canadians think Trudeau has handled the situation well.“
“More than 80 per cent of Canadians believe their politicians care more about their own partisan interests than working on behalf of all Canadians,” he says.
By the way, the National Post says that “The DART & Maru/Blue poll was conducted among 1,511 randomly selected Canadian adult members of Maru/Blue’s online panel on Feb. 24 and is considered accurate within plus or minus 2.9 percentage points.“
I think Canadians’ sentiments are correct. The big problems that they see are:
- “Politicians care more about their own partisan interests than working on behalf of all Canadians;”
- “The government doesn’t know what it’s doing;”
- “The country is not headed in the right direction;” and
- “The prime minister is not governing well.”
The last one is easy to solve and, as I keep on saying, the Liberal Party can and should take action, soon, dump Justi. Trudeau, because it is now abundantly clear that the Conservatives were right in 2015 … he wasn’t ready then, and he’s still not ready now. He’s not a leader; he is, mainly, just a puppet, being manipulated by a few handlers.
But, on balance, I agree with Professor Savoie: ““Canada is not broken … [but] … Canada’s institutions are broken.”” While Profesor Savoie focuses on the Senate, and I agree that Senate reform is needed, urgently, I also worry about parliament, the provincial legislatures, government agencies, including the police, and even the courts.
My belief is that almost all our institutions are measurably weaker since Justin Trudeau’s government was elected in 2015. I also believe, based on good evidence, that strong institutions are essential to a peaceful, prosperous country.
The article also mentions the Buffalo Declaration, about which I have yet to comment. That declaration, sponsored by, inter alia, Michelle Rempel Garner, a politician for whom I have great admiration and one who, I believe has a lot more to offer Canada, and some other Conservative politicians, includes Senate Reform in its “Path Forward” section. As Professor Savoie explains, Canada was designed, in 1867, to frustrate democracy, not to advance it. Political leaders, in the mid 19th century, were worried about the growing demands for things like universal suffrage and, equality … <gasp> even for women! The institutions set forth for the new dominion were, thankfully, modelled on the unwritten British Constitution which means that they are able to evolve to suit our needs.
The Senate has 105 senators, allocated as follows:
- 24 each to ON and QC;
- 10 each to NS and NB;
- 6 each to AB, BC, MB, NL and SK;
- 4 to PEI; and
- 1 each to NU, NWT and YK.
You can see the problem. BC, with a population of 5+ million, has fewer senators than New Brunswick, which has fewer than 800,000 people. That’s an imbalance of more than 6 to 1. Imbalances didn’t matter as much in 1867, but now QC has an imbalance of 54 to 1 versus PEI.
I suspect that the first principle of Sebate Reform in Canada is that no one ever loses anything. Thus PEI will never have less than four senators. It will be a significant outlier and must be accepted as such. I also suspect that Québec will insist that it must be equal to Ontario and greater, in its number of senators, than, say, BC, because it has a population that is 1.6 times larger that BC’s. Therefore, I suspect, an equal Senate, as in the USA (where California has nearly 70 times as many people as Wyoming but where each has two senators) while desirable in theory is probably impossible in Canada.
But, how about this?
- 25 senators each to ON and QC; )
- 15 senators each to AB and BC; )
- 10 senators each to MB, NB, NL, NS and SK; } 137 senators
- 4 senators to PEI; and. )
- 1 senator each to NU, NSWT and YK. )
It’s not a proposal, just a thought, but I will return to the subject, later, and I will recommend an elected Senate, and I will also recommend that Conservatives make Senate Reform an issue.
Another institution that needs protection is the courts. I have commented, recently, on an apparently ongoing attempt by the Trudeau Liberals to politicize, secretly, the judicial appointments process. There is a role for politicians in the process. Our Queen has, Constitutionally, three “natures:” we have the Queen in Council, that’s the nature with which we are most familiar, but we also have the Queen In Parliament and the Queen on the Bench. This predates even Magna Carta; in fact, I think that King Henry II (1154-1189) established this business if the three natures when he established his own system of laws and law courts for England. This is simple to sort out because it is 100% political. Judges are appointed by cabinet, the Constitution says so, in §96. But cabinet can be controlled or contained by parliament and by the courts, too and parliament can “from Time to Time provide for the Constitution, Maintenance, and Organization of a General Court of Appeal for Canada, and for the Establishment of any additional Courts for the better Administration of the Laws of Canada,” too (§101). The process for selecting candidates to be judges can and should be made much more transparent. We do not need to go as far as the Americans do and hold parliamentary inquiries into senior judicial appointments, but Canadians should be certain that only the best-qualified lawyers are recommended for each bench. I think that the Liberals had the right idea in their first, majority, mandate, but, being Trudeau’s Liberals they could not resist putting their thumb on the scales, could they? The next Conservative leader should pledge to make transparency in judicial appointments happen.
Another institution that requires attention is the education system. Now, education is a provincial responsibility (§93 of the Constitution) but the national government is a mightily important source of funding, often of direct funding to post-secondary institutions, and a Conservative platform should promise to withhold funding from institutions, even from provinces, that do not uphold free speech and open inquiry on campuses.
There are many other institutions that need political care because they, sometimes, intrude into the daily lives of Canadians and can have a significant impact on Canadians’ rights and freedoms: the Armed Forces, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, our border services and customs agencies, the revenue department’s tax collectors and so on. All are governed by statute. All are, despite the arrant, ignorant nonsense that Justin Trudeau spouts, directed and controlled by cabinet (sometimes by provincial cabinets). Political leaders need to ensure that the various armed services (and other services with coercive legal powers) do their jobs in accordance with law and custom.
- Canada is NOT broken, but
- Some of our institutions are under strain, badly bent or not doing what is needed or, sometimes, not doing it well enough; and
- Our institutions matter more than most of us appreciate. Strong institutions underpin healthy, prosperous, democracies.