Poilievre’s Democracy Deficit

Every Member of Parliament wants to leave a lasting legacy on the halls of Centre Block for their successors to enjoy. With the recent cabinet shuffle, Pierre Poilievre’s legacy got a helping hand after being appointed Minister of State for Democratic Reform.

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For those who aren’t already familiar with the portfolio, it deals with Canada’s current “democracy deficit” in Parliament. This includes vote whipping, the lack of private member’s bills that become law, the power government leaders have over Parliamentary committees, and the Prime Ministers’s role in assigning committee chairs and members, just to name a few.

But none of those challenges listed are at the top of Minister Poilievre’s agenda.

With the Upper Chamber embroiled with Brazeaugate, Duffygate and then Wallingate over the last year, the junior minister has made Senate reform his top priority.

It’s a tall order. So tall that Poilievre admits the Conservatives are ready to call it quits on reform if the Supreme Court – whom they have asked if Parliament can amend the Constitution unilaterally to enact provincial elections and fixed term limits for Senators – rules against them.

“In the event that these reforms are not successful, we believe that the Senate should be abolished,” he told the Prince Arthur Herald while in Montreal.

“The reforms that we seek are a limit on terms to 9 years maximum, rather than an appointment basically for life.”

On how Canadians would vote Senators into office, Poilievre says the Conservative government has their eye set on copying Alberta’s current system.

“The federal government or the provinces should hold democratic votes among their citizens and those votes should recommend to the Prime Minister candidates for Senate. That has happened in Alberta and the Prime Minister has appointed the candidates.”

Truth be told, the people of Alberta do not have the final say on Senate elections. Senate nominee elections, as they’re known to Albertans under provincial law, provide a prime minister with a suggestive list of senators-in-waiting. The list is non-binding and has only ever been given serious consideration by Conservative prime minister’s in Ottawa.

Paul Martin refused to recommend the appointment of three Progressive Conservatives and one independent after they won the 2004 Alberta Senate nominee elections.

Although Stephen Harper won a Conservative minority in 2006, it was only when seats became vacant in the Albertan delegation to the Senate that he could appoint the senators-in-waiting Martin had snubbed.

That finally happened in 2007 when Senator Daniel Hays retired early and PC senator-elect Bert Brown was appointed by the Governor General on the advice of Harper. It was five years later when another seat was vacated and Harper appointed Betty Unger, who was elected by Albertans in the same election as Brown.

Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach had to extend the original term limit of the senators-elect by three years so that Unger could take her seat. By the next vacancy, it was already too late for the last remaining Senate nominee, Cliff Breitkreuz, who declined to run again in the 2012 Alberta senate election and lost his chance at an appointment.

Link Byfield, the independent candidate who also garnered a nomination in the 2004 Senate election, resigned from his position as a senator-in-waiting in 2010, arguing that taking his seat in the Senate after the extension by Stelmach would be akin to how every other Canadian senator makes it to the Red Chamber: without the consent of the people.

With disgraced senator Pamela Wallin’s expense audit complete and the upcoming hearings in both the Quebec Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court of Canada, the time for pushing the Conservatives case on Senate reform couldn’t be better. Poilievre is trying to get ahead of the game.

So is the Leader of the Official Opposition. Tom Mulcair just wrapped up his nationwide “Roll Up the Red Carpet” tour, outplaying the government’s message from the start by promoting the immediate abolition of the Senate, sans any attempt to reform.

The NDP attack campaign argues that of the 59 Canadians appointed to the Senate since Harper took office in 2006, 51 were major contributors to the Conservative Party. Almost a dozen were high-ranking Tory campaign fundraisers and strategists, including the former president of the federal Conservative Party and eight party members who lost their bid for a seat in the House of Commons before being appointed.

The cost of the Senate? $92 million this year alone.

“I think that Thomas Mulcair looks incompetent in lacking credibility,” said Poilievre when asked if the NDP was undercutting the Harper government.

“Canadians instinctively understand that we live in a nation of laws, that no Prime Minister can flip a switch and turn off the lights permanently in the Upper Chamber, that no government can make that decision all by itself and that we need a ‘how to’ guide from the Supreme Court of Canada. I don’t think Thomas Mulcair has any position on any of those important legal questions. He has a sound byte and a slogan.”

On the Commons

Poilievre’s post was first established under the Liberal government of Paul Martin in 2003. During the Liberal leadership convention of that year, Martin campaigned not on the topic du jour of Senate reform, but for greater independence between MPs and the government in the Commons. He promised his base that he would address – as he coined it – the “democracy deficit” facing parliamentarians.

The first holder of the Democratic Reform post, Jacques Saada, did not achieve much with his position. There were no advances on MPs voting their conscience, nothing on the need for greater autonomy among Parliamentary committees, nor was he promoting the further separation of power between the executive and the Commons.

In fact, Saada was also the Government House Leader at the same time, a key player in determining the Martin government’s legislative agenda and ensuring that his backbenchers would vote in lockstep with the leadership. This was a clear conflict of interest.

Private members’ bills

Poilievre notes that there have already been significant advances on the Commons reform front since the Conservatives came into power.

Since 2011, a record number of 19 private members’ bills have received Royal Assent and become law.

According to a Hill Times article, only 18 of the 1,142 private member’s bills tabled from 1993 to 2002 received Royal Assent. That’s less than 2 percent.

Although 19 may seem like a lot for this Parliament, many of the private members’ bills were used to sponsor government legislation, not the initiatives of individual MPs or their constituents. Some examples include prescribing mandatory minimum sentences to the Criminal Code of Canada and removing preferential access to Employment Insurance benefits for convicted criminals.

The prime ministership of Stephen Harper has not been free from charges of tampering with the private members’ bills of backbench MPs. It was only in June when Brent Rathgeber quit the Tory caucus to sit as an independent among his colleagues in the House of Commons.

Rathgeber resigned after several controversial amendments were made to his PMB titled The CBC and Public Service Disclosure and Transparency Act by a Commons committee.

The bill would have mandated the public disclosure of the salaries of government workers (including CBC officials) earning $188,000 or more per year. The committee in charge of overseeing Rathgeber’s PMB was comprised of seven Tories who voted in favour of amendments that would raise the disclosure threshold to a minimum of $444,661, thereby limiting the release.

The disgruntled MP doesn’t believe that the Conservative committee members voted in the amendments on the basis of any personal objections to the bill, but were in fact ordered by bureaucrats in the PMO to water down the legislation.

“The more popular feeling certainly at PMO and the whip’s office is that caucus members should essentially be cheerleaders for the government and spread the government’s message as opposed to being some sort of legislative check on executive power,” said Rathgeber to members of the media.

Free votes

Poilievre says the Conservative backbench is the most free of any caucus in the House of Commons when voting on legislation.

“We allow dissenting votes all the time in the House of Commons within the Conservative caucus. It happens so regularly it never even makes the news.”

Back in 2007, Nova Scotia MP Bill Casey was booted from the Tory caucus for voting against a preliminary vote on the Conservative budget. Prior to the vote and Casey’s subsequent expulsion, Peter MacKay told the House that members would not be punished for voting their conscience on the budget.

On that same Conservative budget, former Liberal MP Joe Comuzzi was expelled from his caucus after simply declaring he would vote in favour of it.

“Harper’s not only a great democrat, he’s far more democratic than any of the other party leaders.”

@Forian

This article was originally published in the Prince Arthur Herald.

Photo courtesy of the Canadian Press

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A Look Back at Summer 2012: Candlelight Vigil for Maxence Valade

Friends of Maxence Valade, 20, take part in a vigil outside Cégep de Saint-Laurent.

On Saturday, almost 100 people gathered in front of Cégep de Saint-Laurent for a candlelight vigil in support of student Maxence Valade, who remains in critical condition at a Trois-Rivières hospital after having lost his eye from blunt force trauma to the head.

Student associations are alleging a rubber bullet fired from Sûreté du Québec officers was to blame for Maxence’s injuries after authorities attempted to disperse a crowd of 1,000 protesters when they turned violent outside Friday’s Quebec Liberal Party convention in Victoriaville.

Friends made clear that Valade was known for being a pacifist in demonstrations and had never displayed violence against police officers.

The SQ denies the allegations and attributes Valade’s trauma to rocks and projectiles thrown by demonstrators who engaged authorities outside the conference.

Friday’s 106 arrests came after 9 people were injured including 3 police officers in the two-hour-long riot.

Click here for more photos from the vigil.

Follow Michael (@Forian) on Twitter.

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On Compromise and Israel

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) addressing the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa Bay, Florida. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) addressing the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida.   (AP/J. Scott Applewhite)

When Tea Party maverick Rand Paul came to Washington, he rose from the desk that Henry Clay—an ancient Senator from Kentucky who will remain in American history one of the greatest vocal opponents to abolitionism—once called his own. Paul spoke of the profound honour it was to be an orator, like Clay, in the most impactful legislative body in the world.

However, Paul found no honour in Clay—the “Great Compromiser”—himself. The libertarian’s leanings clash with the 50 years of Clay’s career as a stalwart to slavery in the Capitol.

Clay compromised on the 1824 Presidential election when none of the four candidates (including Clay) could reach a sufficient majority in the Electoral College, resulting in a stalemate. He inevitably backed John Quincy Adams and was appointed Secretary of State under his administration. This is referred to as the ‘corrupt bargain’. The cost of Clay’s endorsement would be working under a man who publicly held anti-slavery sentiments. But compromise also meant gaining a coveted position in the White House, even though it was an administration that disagreed with him on the issue that would eventually be settled thanks to a civil war.

Since delivering his maiden speech in the Senate, Paul too has fallen victim to the compromise of Washington.

The Senator, along with 8 other GOP lawmakers, departed for Israel earlier this month and some surprising revelations came to light concerning his stance on foreign aid to the sole Middle East democracy that—up until now—he had been very much in favour of cutting:

The trip is the latest push to boost Paul’s foreign policy cred as he prepares to take his new seat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee later this month. It also offers the Senator another chance to distance himself from his father, retiring Texas Rep. Ron Paul, whose libertarian foreign policy views have been widely ridiculed by the GOP.

Like his father, Sen. Paul opposes foreign aid on principle; but he has tempered that position to focus primarily on cutting aid for countries in conflict with the U.S., like Egypt and Pakistan. In recent weeks, the Kentucky Senator has reached out to assure Republican Jewish leaders that he is not interested in cutting funding for Israel. (Business Insider)

Quite a change in tone for a man who once referred to the aid as  “welfare” for the Jewish state, but with U.S. support for Israel at an all time high, Paul has little to lose and much to gain by endorsing continued aid to Israel, especially if he has the 2016 Presidential election in his sights.

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My Prediction on The Predictions

Why do we make predictions? Well, financial gain aside for our betting New York Times statisticians and the relatively decent salary they’re paid, I think we make them because we have no shame.

As of this post, Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight blog is holding Barack Obama’s chances of being reelected on Tuesday at 85.5 percent (up 10.5 percent since October 28), a ballsy prediction in the eyes of many conservative talking heads.

And although the liberal masses show much fanfare for Silver, who has voted for Democrats in the past and more recently supported Barack Obama in his first race for the White House, he won’t be voting this time around according to his interview with Charlie Rose (Silver hasn’t voted once since joining The Times). One vote lost for the President, but the hoards of progressives who peruse his blog can be rest assured that his early projection of an Obama victory is correct. Or can they?

Silver’s predictions have been wrong before and not just during one campaign season according to Margaret Sullivan (Silver’s public editor):

In 2008, Mr. Silver had John McCain, Republican, favored in Indiana, and Barack Obama won.

In 2009, he had gay marriage favored to pass in Maine, and it did not.

In 2010, he had Sharron Angle, Republican, favored in Nevada, and Harry Reid won.

In 2010, he had Ken Buck, Republican, favored in Colorado, and Michael Bennet won.

In 2010, he had the Tea Party Republican, Joe Miller, favored in the Alaska Senate race, and the moderate Republican, Lisa Murkowski, won.

In 2010, he had Bill Brady, Republican, favored in the Illinois governor’s race, and Pat Quinn won.

In 2010, he had Republicans projected to win 55 House seats, and they won 63.

There were three cases in which Mr. Silver had Mitt Romney favored in the primaries, but Rick Santorum won.

Nate Silver wants to be right because his job depends on it. As do the jobs of two profs at the University of Colorado.

The political science professors, Kenneth Bickers and Michael Berry, have retroactively predicted the winner of each Presidential contest. What makes Bickers’ and Berry’s model so different than all the others? It includes state-to-state economic data from all 50 states as well as D.C. and renders a forecast for the Electoral College, not just the popular vote. Unemployment, both from the state level and nationally, is a key factor as are changes to income levels in battleground states.

They conclude the following:

“Romney is projected to receive 330 of the total 538 Electoral College votes. President Barack Obama is expected to receive 208 votes […] and short of the 270 needed to win.

“Of the 13 battleground states identified […] The model foresees Romney carrying New Mexico, North Carolina, Virginia, Iowa, New Hampshire, Colorado, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida.”

Quite the opposite from Silver’s projections and without the perceived partisan influence:

“… Mr. Obama is at about 50 percent of the vote in the polling average in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Nevada and Michigan; at close to 49 percent in Ohio; and at about 48 percent in Iowa, New Hampshire, Virginia and Colorado.”

My prediction? Someone’s going to be very wrong come Wednesday morning.

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From Moneybags to Pollsters

A couple of weeks ago, billionaire blowhard Donald Trump — whose fascination with the current U.S. president is now beyond concerning — released a highly anticipated announcement to the public via YouTube (how trendy).

Many thought Trump had a copy of decade old divorce papers drafted by Michele Obama’s lawyers (according to Edward Klein’s The Amateur, the couple apparently hit a rough patch after Barack lost an Illinois Democratic Party primary race for a seat in the U.S. House). I, however, thought Trump had something that would actually hurt Obama.

In fact, it wasn’t much of an announcement at all, but a request. He wanted President Obama to hand over his passport and college applications along with any related records. We got fooled. Again.

According to ‘The Donald’, Obama is “the least transparent president in history,” and offered to reward a charity or charities of the President of Kenya‘s choosing with a sum of $5,000,000 if sent the documents in a timely manner. I will not pretend to know what he’s looking for in the records only because I have a feeling — and this might come as a real shocker to you — Trump doesn’t care about the records. We just need some attention ahead of the next season of The Celebrity Apprentice (coming this March! Great tease, ol’ pal! You had us all watching for a second!).

As to whether Trump will be true to his word is not something you should hold your breath on. We’ve hit the deadline, the bet is off, and so the game continues.

Remember when just about every Tea Partier in America thought Barack Obama was ineligible for Office? That the President was indeed an Impostor-in-Chief who hailed from the Kenyan outback was what many of them claimed. Trump spearheaded the campaign to get his hands on Obama’s long form birth certificate. I can’t remember the pre-birther Donald Trump, but if I could, I’m sure I wouldn’t miss him.

The White House published the infamous long form birth certificate on April 27, 2011.

Although it was a bittersweet victory for Birther-in-Chief Trump (great publicity, yet still the village idiot), who paraded on just about every cable news channel following (and before) the release, he did get Obama to do it. He played the President.

I think the President did well channeling his predecessor by taking some advice from my all-time favourite gaffe:

“There’s an old saying in Tennessee — I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can’t get fooled again.” — Pres. George W. Bush in Nashville, Tenn., Sept. 17, 2002

Partisan Grandstanding

Nate Silver is the pollmeister behind the New York Times’ FiveThirtyEight blog, a poll-aggregator that — using a trade secret algorithm — determines the chances of House, Senate and Presidential candidates during election season.

This guy is good, unless his data is hurting your candidate. Then he’s a bastard.

Silver’s website got him dragged into a spat with MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough when the congressman turned morning anchor called him an “ideologue” and a joke. Why? Well, when Scar made those accusations, Nate Silver pegged Obama as having a 73.6 percent chance of winning another four years in the White House. This weekend, Silver’s prediction (again, all based on relevant battleground polls and neat calculus) broke the 80 percent barrier.

Silver rebutted calling Scar “math challenged.”

I agree. Mind you, Joe is a Republican who has a dog in the fight. Not just politically, but also when it comes to who’s paying his $4,000,000 annual salary: would anyone in their right mind watch election night coverage on November 6 if we all had a pretty good idea who the President-elect would be the following morning? I’ll let you draw your own conclusion.

Silver describes himself as a liberal-libertarian who won’t be voting on Election Day. That said, he is publicly partisan, votes for Democrats more often than not and supported Obama in 2008 (see “What is your political affiliation?”).

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy (I detest the use of the term “Superstorm Sandy” — sounds like something I should’ve bought tickets to), I find it absolutely disgusting that people as high profile as Trump and Silver dupe this low (please see below).

After the storm struck the East Coast, Trump extended his initial deadline of October 31 at 5 PM to the following Thursday at noon. Fair, right? The President was busy dealing with a state of emergency that has claimed 185 lives (as of this post) and is estimated to have cost $50 billion in damages.

Silver fell to Trump’s level of civility when he as well put money on the line at the wrong time.

He attempted to make a bet with Scarborough that if Romney were to win on Tuesday, he would donate $1,000 to the American Red Cross (vice-versa if Joe accepted and Obama won). Silver was quickly called out on Twitter for this stunt and rightly so (with 290,000 followers, you’re bound to get some flack). Scarborough agreed to donate $1,000 that day, unconditionally. Silver decided to make a further fool of himself by raising his initial wager to $2,000.

Whether its $5 million or two grand, I have no respect for those who are the new celebrity class of punditry to be playing with people’s lives, especially when they live in one of the cities Sandy crippled and killed in. Would the people of New York City look at you in a better light if you handed over the money without wagering like a pair of bourgeois prigs (thanks, Conrad Black)? I don’t know. However, your lack of humanity, given the state of the city, is pathetic. Your lack of compassion for your own people makes me want to throw up. All in all, Donald J. Trump and Nate Silver have taken their status and tarnished it with these petty games of flaunting wealth and pride when thousands of their brothers and sisters, only a few miles away, have lost it all.

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