Premier Wall’s Abolition Commentary is not routed in Canadian History

Premier Wall’s statement that the provinces are an effective counter balance to the federal Parliament is just silly. Think about it, the Parliament and the Federal Government has exclusive control over criminal law in Canada. So not only do they control the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Parliament of Canada unilaterally dictates all of the rules that describe criminal behaviour and defines the state of criminal law for every citizen, government and police force in Canada.

Furthermore, the Canadian Government has exclusive control over a range of areas that affect citizens’ rights. The Federal Government controls my ability to enter or leave Canada and records it through the Canada Border Services Agency.  They control our country’s securities forces including the Canadian Securities Intelligence Services, Communications Security Establishment (CSE) and the Canadian Armed Forces. Through the Canadian Coast Guard, the Federal Government has the ability to scour most of our major and minor coastlines.

But it does end there. The Constitution gives the Federal Parliament exclusive control over banks, the definitions of marriage and divorce, the postal service, unemployment insurance programme, coastlines navigation and inland fisheries, shipping, quarantines and the establishment and maintenance of Marine Hospitals, currency, bills of exchange, promissory notes, interest, bankruptcy and insolvency, the patents and immigration.

While, the appointment of Senators, Lieutenant Governors, Senior Provincial Court Judges and all Federal Judges, including the Judges of the Supreme Court of Canada, happen at the behest of the

Governor-General, the Prime Minister is “consulted” on all of these matters.

In fact, the only major powers left to the Provinces were the powers to deal with health care, education, the registration and sale of insurance and securities products and the enforcement of criminal law. Or put differently, Provinces in many areas cannot stand up for citizens or minorities. Throughout, our Country’s history, Provinces have not stood up for minorities. In fact, provinces have a disgusting and dishonourable history in dealing with the least among us. While Manitoba joined Confederation in 1870, the Franco-Manitoban community had to wait until 1982 before their language rights were protected. It wasn’t that the Courts had not tried to apply the Law. For, the Franco-Manitoban had won three decisions. The problem was up until 1982, provincial legislatures could ignore those decisions if they chose. Consequently, only the passage of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms could allow the Judiciary to implement any Law. The same story was retold in Quebec and BC when the Courts became the last refuge for many Aboriginal Bands, pre and post Charter.

But it does not stop there. In 2011, Abousfian Abdelrazik, a Canadian Citizen, had to wait six years for the Canadian Court System to force the Canadian Government to create entry documents so that Mr. Abdelrazik could enter the country again. No province stepped up to intervene. That was also true in the case of Mr. Maher Arar – an innocent man that the US sent to Syria to be tortured – and in the case of Omar Khadr. Now with Khadr’s case, one might understand why no one stepped forward. Mr. Khadr, either as a terrorist or child soldier, killed an American soldier. With that being said, the Canadian Court system stepped up to defend Mr. Khadr. Accordingly, while the Courts might be seen as a balance the Federal Government, Provincial Governments have never been. For, Provinces have been too busy defending their own self-interest.

It is true that Brad Wall and the government of Saskatchewan stood up to an Australian Mining Giant, BHP Billiton, so that he could preserve a Canadian Company and that Danny Williams stood up for the interests of Newfoundland in negotiating various oil deals. Since the Charlottetown Convention in 1864, Colonial and/or Provincial Officials have tried to stand up for their own self-interest. With that being said, for just as long as Canada has stood, even the Provinces have been either neglected or ignored by the Federal Government in a host of areas. For example, Kathleen Wynne had to wage more than a year-long public relations battle to just get a meeting with Stephen Harper; while Stephen Harper has not held a first Minister Meeting since 2009. (Trudeau, Wynne lambaste Harper for skipping another first ministers’ meeting, Jason Fekete, Postmedia News, January 30, 2015, Last Updated: Jan 30 10:28 AM ET). Or think back to the late 1970s, when the provinces had to take the Trudeau government to the Supreme Court because that same government was going to unilaterally patriate the constitution. At the time, the Supreme Court said that the Provinces had a moral but not a legal recourse. It is lucky for them that Prime Minister Trudeau felt like talking. For as Stephen Harper proved, a Prime Minister with enough arrogance could have acted unilaterally.  Given that the provinces have proven that they are ineffective at getting a meeting, let alone stopping legislation; how can Premier Wall even claim that Provinces can replace the Senate?

Since 1988, the Senate has made it clear that they are willing to ruin the hopes of a Prime Minister. When Brian Mulroney tried to pass the GST, the Senate made it clear that they were not going to support it. So the Rt. Hon. Brian Mulroney asked the Queen to use a little known provision of the Constitution to appoint new Senators and get the majority he needed to get the desired outcome. However, those same hastily appointed Senators, a few years later, would stop his governments’ attempt to replace abortion legislation which had been struck down by the Supreme Court. Or think of the Liberal Dominated Senate who pressured Jean Chretien into watering down the draconian terror legislation he wanted passed after September 11th. Since 1988, the Senate has been able to stop or make drastic changes to pieces of legislation; while the provinces have just had to accept what the Federal Parliament decides.

Premier Wall seems to forget that the only attempt by provinces to stop legislation – the Gang of Eight – crumbled in time. The truth is that Provinces have never provided a balance for minorities or individuals, but have only provided a balance when it comes to their self-interest. So as it comes to shared programmes, the social safety net, contracts and health care, we have a defender. But when it comes to everything else, provinces are no match for the Federal Government. For, as Premier Wall doesn’t remember, the RCMP had files on two Premiers: Quebec Premier Rene Levesque and Saskatchewan’s own Tommy Douglas.

Consequently, the truth is that Premier Wall’s words don’t hold up to the candlelight provided by logic and analysis and as such the abolition of the Senate is a foolish public policy proposal.


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  • commented 2016-04-15 20:31:00 -0600
    I think that sometimes people confuse popular clout with actual power and while most of the time this is sufficient (and it works in many cases with companies), there are times when that is just not enough to stop a determined leader. The Senate is not important for ordinary times. In a typical year it does little beyond review, edit and tweak legislation. An important function, but not one compelling enough for an entirely second chamber. However, it is important for extraordinary times, as a check on the incredible power of the Prime Minister.

    As an individual, the Prime Minister of Canada is one of the most powerful democratic leaders in the world. Between strict party discipline and the enormous power granted to them by tradition through the Governor-General, a Prime Minister has the power to squash dissent and debate. Harper widely used this power in various forms, whether through prorogation, withholding information (leading to an unprecedented contempt of parliament ruling), curbs on media, or by gagging anyone who did not answer directly to him. A PM has the power to choose his cabinet, who gets what committee assignments, and generally control the operation of the house. As party leader, he can demote a member to the backbenches, banish them across the aisle to sit as an independent, strip them of their nomination for the next election, or expel them from the party. An MP who displeases the the leader has no recourse. While an uprising among the entire caucus could force a leader to back down, how is one to organize with other members when one can at any time be removed from the party?

    The Senate is an important safeguard to the Prime Minister. While it may be stacked with appointed loyalists, the Prime Minister cannot do anything beyond strip them of their party colours. He cannot remove them from office (which a nomination veto effectively is). He cannot silence them by sending them to the backbenches.

    Sometimes the power of public opinion is enough. But is it enough to entrust every possible decision to Parliament/the Prime Minister without some form of safeguard? I think not, given the concentration of power in the PMO.