Friday, June 28, 2013

A blow for free expression

On Thursday, the Senate gave third and final reading to Conservative MP Brian Storseth’s private member’s Bill C-304 to repeal Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, striking a much appreciated blow in favour of freedom of expression.

I believe most Canadians, like myself, understand that in a modern democracy we must all accept limits to rights such as free speech. The example most frequently used here is that one can’t yell “fire” in a crowded theatre. Most, though, would accept as I believe, that any such limits must be reasonable and—as stated in our constitution—“can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.”

To me, limits imposed on Canadians by Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act were not reasonable—especially as they were being interpreted by some human rights commissions and tribunals—for mere hurt feeling were being used to justify hash penalties. This was made all the more egregious by virtue of the fact that under Section 13.1, “intent” is not a requirement, and “truth” is not a defence. All that is required is that a human rights tribunal finds that one has expressed “any matter that is likely to expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt” and that the person be a member of certain specified groups.

It’s worth noting that repeal of Section 13 doesn’t give a free rein to hate mongers haunting the Internet, for as Sun News’ David Akin reminds us:

With elimination of Section 13, producing and disseminating hate speech continues to be a Criminal Code violation but police and the courts will adjudicate rather than human rights tribunals.” [emphasis mine]

Once Bill C-304 receives royal assent, we can only hope provinces with similar legislation will follow suit, spelling the end of the practice of un-democratic, free-speech deniers using such legislation to overreach in their campaigns to enforce political correctness or to advance other agendas.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Senate on the job

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The Senate is showing Canadians that it’s on the job and doing that which they are constitutionally mandated to do: providing sober second thought to legislation it considers flawed. In this case its Bill C-377, a Commons private member’s bill that would have forced trade unions to file financial statements and disclosing to the public any expenses over $5,000, along with the salaries of their employees making more than $100,000.

For the record, I like Bill C-377 and would not have so thoroughly gutted it, as the Senate has, by making the legislation apply only to unions with more than 50,000 members and not to locals or branches. Nor would I have made an amendment that raises the threshold at which a union official would have to divulge his/her salary to $444,661.

Consider, however, that the latter amendment imposes the same threshold Conservative MPs used when they amended (gutted) their own—at that time—MP Brent Rathgeber’s private member’s bill on the disclosure of federal public salaries. This drips with irony, eh?

I like the idea that senators are standing up for themselves, as much as I lament that so many MPs have abdicated their responsibility to their constituents by acting like a bunch of trained seals, following to the letter all edicts and messaging emanating from the PMO’s unelected boy wonders.

Complaints from members of the lower House that unelected senators should not change or block legislation sent to them by the elected House of Commons have never resonated with me. The Senate has an important role in our system and should take this role seriously and be far more vigorous in pressing its constitutionally protected prerogative.

There is, undoubtedly, fault to find with the Senate. But that fault has far more to do with the lack of care in making selections for Senate appointments than the fact senators are appointed rather than elected. After all, Supreme Court justices are appointed not elected, and they can overturn laws made by parliament—and do so with some regularity. So, if we are capable in making excellent appointments to that august body, why not to the Senate?

For too many decades, successive prime ministers have been too partisan and too inclined to patronage when they have appointed senators. Consequently, the Red Chamber has been stuffed with party hacks, bagmen and failed or retired politicians expected to rubber stamp legislation from the lower house and otherwise stay quietly out of the way.

If we were to put prime ministers in office who are real statesmen who appointed “bulletproof” senators, they wouldn’t be disappointed and embarrassed with or by Senate scandals, and—even more important for Canadians—we’ll be the recipients of better all-round, thoroughly vetted legislation.

Of course, a country-before-party approach may be too much to ask of any career politician—or am I being too cynical?

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Supreme Court denies appeal of Rob Ford’s conflict case

The Supreme Court of Canada has dismissed the appeal of Toronto’s mayor, Rob Ford’s much-publicized conflict of interest case—and rightly so in my opinion. No reasons for dismissing the appeal were provided by the court. The dismissal, however, did not seem to surprise legal experts who reportedly say the court only accepted 12 per cent of appeal requests made last year.

There seems to be an influential—and, apparently, well heeled—left-of-centre faction in Toronto, including one major newspaper, who seemingly will not accept the democratic election of Rob Ford in late 2010. Since then, their holding of the mayor to account has shown excessive zeal to the point of downright harassment—such as spying on the mayor when he was at home in his backyard.

Of course, Ford’s lot is not been helped—as I have said before—by him providing one silly, mainly avoidable, controversy after another: reading while driving on the highway; illegally chatting on his cell phone while driving; passing the rear door of a streetcar, while its front door was open; to name the most avoidable. I say “avoidable”, because, as mayor, Rob Ford is entitled to a driver and car, but has chosen to turn down the city-provided benefit.

In my view and despite the controversies, Rob Ford has done a great job of tempering the fiscal appetite of Toronto City Hall, slowing down its tendency towards waste and an attitude that public service unions know best and should be catered to. For that he’s a winner and Torontonians should feel grateful for his efforts.

For his part, though, Mayor Ford needs to learn how to act like a big-city mayor. He’s got the right ideas to be one, and he’ll walk the talk. He’s already demonstrated that. But he needs to loosen what seems like a “mental block” when it comes to implementing his ideas. He needs to smooth out his public demeanour. And it wouldn’t hurt to be seen as being a bit more sophisticated.

Mayor Rob Ford has the right message, namely, “Toronto has a spending problem, not a revenue problem.” Remember his 2010 campaign, “Stop the Gravy Train!”? Large numbers of voters agree with Ford’s contention that Toronto politicians had lost respect for the city’s taxpayers and that there was far too much wasteful spending at City Hall. With Ford in charge, labour unions—who for decades were pretty much calling the shots in Toronto’s municipal politics—would take a backseat to taxpayers and their families.

The news of the Supreme Court’s decision will be welcomed by the mayor and his many supporters, I’m sure, and lets hope it’ll help stop—or, at least, slow—the ebbing away of personal goodwill felt by local taxpayers and other resident voters.

Friday, June 7, 2013

About Edmonton MP Brent Rathgeber’s resignation from the Conservative caucus

The recent resignation of Edmonton MP Brent Rathgeber from the Conservative caucus highlights once again the opening of small fissures in the once rock-solid public face of the federal Tory party. From this we are reminded that a prime minister who expects intelligent, educated men and women to offer unquestioning adherence to strict party policy year in and year out is probably setting himself up for a major disappointment—and unnecessarily so.

Surely Conservatives deserve a party that is bigger than one man—i.e., Stephen Harper—and one narrow view of the political landscape and, most certainly, one that is much, much bigger than a PMO whose ineptness has become far too obvious in the years since the Tories gained power in 2006.

Senate misconduct, mindless secrecy, un-ending annual budget deficits, shoddy record keeping in government departments leading to billions of dollars being unaccounted for, sophomoric performances in the House of Commons during Question Period and now “a secretive fund operated out of the PMO to pay for political party costs.”

And all this against a backdrop of a group of hyperpartisan “kids in short pants” running the PMO and telling elected MPs twice their age (and considerably wiser) how to do their jobs. And without the commitment to transparency and accountability we’d all been told to expect. After all, wasn’t that one of the big differentiators between us and the Grits?

Makes one wonder if the federal Tories, who practice political expediency at every turn, or so it seems at times, are anything like the party I thought I was voting for—and I’ve been voting for conservative parties since the 1960s.

As to the churlish suggestion by a PMO representative that Mr. Rathgeber should resign and run in a by-election: such petulant responses have become all too typical a reaction on the part of the current Tory government. Of course, no such suggestion seems to have been made to David Emerson, who after quitting the Liberals following the 2006 election, joined the new Conservative government as a cabinet minister.

The manner in which the government neutered Mr. Rathgeber’s Bill C-461 (a.k.a. the CBC and public service disclosure and transparency act) might suggest the caucus left him, and his resignation only formalized the de facto relationship.

In his I Stand Alone blog entry, Mr Rathgeber lamented, in part, “I fear that we have morphed into what we once mocked.” I’m sorry to say his fear seems well grounded.