Canadian Politics from Canada's Centre

Monday, December 25, 2006

CCP Anniversary Contest: $355 in Cash and Prizes to be Won

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Centrerion Canadian Politics (CCP) turned one a little earlier this month, and I didn't really celebrate in any particular way. So on the occasion of the blog's anniversary, I thought I would sponsor a contest with cash and prizes for the winner(s). All in all I'm giving away $355 in cash & prizes*. The contest is really quite easy to enter, and open to just about anybody with a blog on Canadian politics. Here's how the contest will work.

The contest's goal is to see who are the most engaging writers in the Canadian political blogosphere, and hopefully discover new talent in the process. At the same time, I obviously hope to gain some publicity for CCP.

Rules for the Anniversary Contest:
1) An entry to the contest will consist of a blogpost linked to in the comments of this post.
2) An entry will review a post or series of posts from CCP's archives, preferably one that affected you or which you found was really well (or poorly) written.
3) Minimum length for an entry is 200 words. Given the depth of some of the posts in this niche of the blogosphere, that shouldn't be a problem.
4) Blogs with less than 3 months history or less than 60 posts are ineligible to win. You can ask for an exception in the comments if you've been blogging on someone else's blog and just branched out on your own, or for other logical reasons. I of course reserve the right to choose who I'll consider for the contest.
5) Contest entries must link back to both Centrerion Canadian Politics's homepage at, as well as to the post or series of posts (each of them) being reviewed/critiqued/discussed.

Criteria for Contest Judgement:
1) Quality of writing: The main point is to show how engaging and/or thought provoking you can be in your writing. Maybe you agreed with it but thought it ignored a particular aspect of the question. Maybe you disagreed with the reasoning(no ad-hominem attacks, please). Maybe you just loved the piece (I know, it's a stretch of the imagination, but humour me) and thought you'd say so. Write well.
2) Grammar: If you write like you speak, take a few minutes to proofread your post. That will increase the quality exponentially.
3) Seeing the bigger picture: If you can link ideas in my post/series of posts to an authoritative, scholarly article on the topic and look at the bigger context of the issue, you're really going to impress me. Note: When I say link, I mean conceptually, but also with a hypertext link to whereever the article is on the web. You can use Google scholar to help you out, as well as Scirus, CiteSeer, Proquest or any of the other academic databases you have access to. The article must also be freely available without a subscription.
4) Thoroughness: Your review should show that you put some thought into it, that you really looked at as many of the facets as possible. I'll be more lenient if it's a discussion of a series of posts, since that's inherently more work (but also more opportunity to impress) and it would be tough to give each the same level of attention as if you were critiquing a single post.
5) Humour and other discretionary criteria: Can you make me laugh? Can you be relevant to the current political context? Can you be original? Show you're worth the attention of the Canadian politics blogosphere!

Note: You can review one of my posts or one of Centrerion Canadian Politics' other contributors. This is obviously somewhat of an ego-centric contest though, so you can guess whose writing I'd prefer you to review ;).

First place prize: $60 Canadian in cash, payable through paypal; a link in CCP's blogroll, worth $50 annually; and writeup and link in the "And the Winners Are..." announcement post, worth $20. Total: $130.
Second place prize: $20 Canadian in cash, payable through paypal; a link in CCP's blogroll; and a writeup and link in the announcement post. Total: $90.
Third place prize: a blogroll link and an announcement post link with a short write-up. Total: $65.
4th-10 place prizes: links in the announcement post under the subheading "honourable mention" with a quick line or two about the blog and the blogger behind the entry. Total: $70.

As a further incentive, I'll be making badges that you can post on your blog to show that you won.
The first place badge will read: "Best online insights and analysis in Canadian Politics."
Second place's badge will read: "Second best online insights and analysis in Canadian Politics."
Third places' badge will read: "Third best online insights and analysis in Canadian Politics."
4th-10th will get badges the same sizes as places 1-3, and will read: "Up-and-coming Canadian political pundit: worth the read."

If someone has a better idea as to what the badges might read, please let me know in the comments section. Also, if you have questions about something I didn't address here, leave a comment and ask the question! Don't be shy.

*I reserve the right to give away more or less prizes, and to alter the giveaways. For example, if only a handful of people participate, there'll probably be a few prizes, and less cash given away. Or I may just give a fixed amount per entry to charity, like $1 per entry.
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Thursday, December 14, 2006

Would Electing the Senate Require Constitutional Change?

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Would electing the Senate require Constitutional change? That's what Stephane Dion, Gilles Duceppe and Jack Layton are all alleging, according to this (obviously biased in favour of the opposition) CTV piece. While I'm not sure the proposed Conservative legislation is a good idea (discussed further down), Dion et co. are mistaken on the facts if they think passing a law that provides for electing the Senate requires Constitutional amendments like the heart-wrencher that was Meech Lake.

Technically speaking, the Senate is part of the Canadian Constitution and would thus require Constitutional change if it were to become an elected Chamber. The problem is that when people think Constitutional change, they think of Meech Lake and Charlottetown. Actually, those failed accords were addressed to one specific formula for amending the Constitution, one which requires the provinces' unanimous consent.

In this case, the amending formula that would apply would only require the general amending procedure, known as the 7-50 procedure. It requires the federal Parliament to pass the law in order to amend the Constitution, as well as the consent of 7 provinces (two thirds of the provinces, officially) representing at least 50% of the population. The formula in question can be found at section 38 of our Constitution, in Part V. Section 38 is titled "General procedure for amending Constitution of Canada" and it reads:
"38. (1) An amendment to the Constitution of Canada may be made by proclamation issued by the Governor General under the Great Seal of Canada where so authorized by

(a) resolutions of the Senate and House of Commons; and
(b) resolutions of the legislative assemblies of at least two-thirds of the provinces that have, in the aggregate, according to the then latest general census, at least fifty per cent of the population of all the provinces."
Section 42 reads:
"Amendment by general procedure 42. (1) An amendment to the Constitution of Canada in relation to the following matters may be made only in accordance with subsection 38(1):

(a) the principle of proportionate representation of the provinces in the House of Commons prescribed by the Constitution of Canada;
(b) the powers of the Senate and the method of selecting Senators;
(c) the number of members by which a province is entitled to be represented in the Senate and the residence qualifications of Senators;
(d) subject to paragraph 41(d), the Supreme Court of Canada;
(e) the extension of existing provinces into the territories; and
(f) notwithstanding any other law or practice, the establishment of new provinces."
Italics mine. The point is that the trauma over Meech Lake and Charlottetown was largely due to the use of the unanimous amending procedure in section 41, and therefore the problems might be avoided by having recourse to section 38.

Another possibility is that "the method for selecting Senators" has a restrictive definition and goes to their appointment process. This would allow for the use of section 44, rather than 42 and 38. So if the Prime Minister is still the one carrying out the selection in concert with the Governor General, we could have a situation like the case of Nat Bell Liquors.

Nat Bell Liquors fought an Albertan alcohol law during Prohibition. NBL said that it was unconstitutional because Alberta's legislature abdicated its powers. Legislatures can't abdicate by virtue of the doctrine of Parliamentary Sovereignty. The basis for the abdication claim was that the Albertan legislature acted in accordance with another law that said it would have to pass anything Albertans approved of in a referendum. A referendum had approved the alcohol law and the legislature acted accordingly.
The ruling of the court (Alberta Appeals, if memory serves) was that the law wasn't unconstitutional. It would be quite strange, the justices remarked, to say that the legislature's role was to legislate in contradiction with popular will ....

Here we would have a similar "people's choice" situation where the executive acted in accordance with the will of the voters. The method of selecting Senators remains with the Executive.
Furthermore, if the referendum is made out to be only a consultational one, it would be possible to get around 38/42 entirely and use section 44. Section 44 allows amendment of the parts of the Constitution relating strictly to the federal executive and Parliament. Therefore, it only needs House and Senate approval (plus the rubber-stamping Royal Assent of course).

Why have the elections to begin with if they're only consultative? The point then would be to create a binding Constitutional convention, similar to those that govern the role of Prime Minister (the PM is only mentioned twice in the Constitutional Act of 1982, in fact). According to the Supreme Court's ruling in the first Patriation Reference (1981), a Constitutional convention arises based on three criteria: (i) precedent, (ii) others following the precedent because they feel bound to (iii) a reason for the convention.

So you could get future Prime Ministers to be bound on a so-called "manner and form" requirement for selecting Senators by a convention. This would avoid going through the soul-wringing of a section 41 amendment or even the moderate challenges of a section 38 amendment.

The question then is whether it's a worthwhile thing to do. Given that the Senate would be better off abolished (would require unanimous consent, again according to the SCC) because it doesn't fulfill its function of regional representation, this reform would be counter-productive. Jack Layton's comment that it would make the Senate even more dysfunctional is accurate (I'm quoting Jacko with approval! It's Armageddon!) in that electing the Senate would reinforce party lines there.

Stephane Dion pointed out that you might end up with the Senate being redundant as a second elected Chamber, which is true. Except that it's already redundant, so there's no big difference there.

IMHO, Harper and Justice Minister Toews need to modify their law to aim for the Constitutional convention and section 44 amending procedure. In addition, if the Conservatives' want to make the Senate more representative of Canadians (a noble goal), make it representative of Canadians on a regional basis, as the Senate was intended to be. [The Fathers of Confederation sought to have the less-populous provinces interests protected at the federal level by these means of regional representation.] Jacko could probably play a helpful role here and earn some points in winnable rural ridings by suggesting such a regional emphasis for the law.

Electing the Senate will require Constitutional change, but it can be easy and painless. With some tweaks, it can even be useful to Canadian democracy.

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Saturday, December 02, 2006

Stephane Dion's Victory: Quip of the Day

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It's just been announced that Stephane Dion has won the Liberal leadership race.

The iggy-nation won't be constitutionalized after all.

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