Category Archives: Politics

Be counted… or else

Today I got this envelope from Statistics Canada saying “2016 Census: Complete the census – it’s the law.” (Equally rude in French: “Recensement de 2016: Répondez au recensement – c’est la loi”.) I am told the government is the servant of the people. But this peremptory tone, giving orders without even a pretence at “please,” is not how a servant speaks to a master. Quite the reverse.

Remember how all the right people were shocked and appalled when the Harper Tories got rid of the long form census? Without accurate data, they complained, social scientists would find it hard to engineer satisfaction of the human units to a sufficient number of decimal places. Which I always found rather an odd conception of the proper role of government and of its abilities. And look how they talk to us now that it’s back.

The smart set make a lot of fuss about “evidence-based decision-making”. But a decision to trust the intelligence or benevolence of government doesn’t seem to me to be based on much sound evidence. Not even the personal stuff I have to provide or else, according to this envelope that just marched into my house, waved a pair of handcuffs at me and started shouting questions.

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Judges please be nice

An odd piece in today’s National Post by former federal justice minister and attorney-general Peter Mackay laments that “Over the last decade, the Supreme Court has often seemed at odds with elected governments over legislation designed to emphasize enforcement of the rule of law and reflect the public demand for greater accountability.” The complaint is not odd given how often the Court was at odds with the ministry in which he served or given how often Courts do now make law. What is odd is that he offers no remedy.

In the piece, which I’m not linking to because I can’t find an online version, he complains that judge-made law seems not to meet the needs of the situation: “Lost in the activist celebration in some circles are the basic facts. Recidivism rates in some areas of our justice system are on the rise and public confidence in our system is waning and turning victims in particular away from reporting.” And he notes that judges increasingly go beyond their mandate to strike down blatantly unconstitutional law to override decisions made by legislators elected in campaigns in which those issues were thoroughly debated. But his argument seems to be mostly against the substance of what judges are doing, not the process.

To be sure, his concluding paragraph says “Today one branch encroaches on another over mandatory minimums or truth in sentencing. Let the next activist victory not be at the expense of society’s most vulnerable.” And the first part seems to point to rebalancing our constitution. But the second seems to me to be a plea to judges not to misuse their mighty new powers.

I say “activist” victories should not be at the expense of society’s elected representatives, and of the right of the rest of us to control government and set the terms under which it operates. All three branches of government, that is. Which is why, again, we launched our “True Strong and Free” project to fix the constitution, including restoring balance with respect to the judiciary rather than just begging judges to be nice to us.

 

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The right to what?

A curious story in today’s National Post says PEI’s Liberal administration will start providing abortions because it doesn’t believe it can defeat a court challenge claiming abortion is secretly a Charter right.

Frankly it sounds like one more case of politicians using judges as a handy excuse to do something they want to do anyway without the hassle of defending it to voters. Time was ministries felt an obligation to defend existing law in court unless they were willing to stand up in the legislature and urge that it be changed or repealed, which arguably contributed to accountability in government. I’m not sure what was wrong with that system. But there’s a deeper question here.

Specifically, how can the Charter mandate abortion so clearly that governments fold like cheap lawn furniture before an activists’ challenge when (a) it doesn’t mention it (b) many of those who wrote the Charter opposed abortion and would be both astounded and horrified to be told that without realizing they’d secretly written it in?

Alternatively, if it’s that obvious, why didn’t the brave politicians notice and act on it before the challenge was filed?

This sort of disingenuous legislative-judicial two-step is no way to settle important and contentious questions. Instead, it’s one more reason we need a real Constitution, based on popular consent, with a real Charter of Rights that guarantees real rights in plain language even citizens can read and understand, with no invisible ink.

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The old flag

File:Flag of New Zealand.svgIt’s great news that New Zealanders have voted to keep their flag instead of adopting an ugly empty substitute. And revealing news.

At first the traditional flag seemed doomed, partly because it was the traditional flag. Why, it even had the Union Jack, and the usual suspects were saying New Zealand couldn’t be all grown up until they dumped their heritage and… what? Got a new one?

Oddly, the incoherent answer there, as so often here in Canada, was implicitly if furtively yes. The other ugly options with ferns were somehow meant to represent the real New Zealand, which didn’t spring from the Anglosphere but by some strange coincidence had all its virtues while being trendily postmodern, inclusive and amorphous or something, And typically it was the “centre-right” party that was pushing the change.

Unsurprisingly it was veterans’ groups who spearheaded the opposition early on. And possibly people with taste. And in the end the politicians managed to make the whole thing sour and skewed, and in the aftermath people are going after PM John Key, claiming that by intruding his own preferences for a new flag he prevented the people from voting the old one out in favour of a blank space into which some false new traditional emblem could later have been easily inserted.

It’s one thing to be sensitive to failings in our past and determined not to repeat them. And, to be fair, to worry that your flag looks too much like Australia’s, as some New Zealanders did. It’s quite another to reject the past but deviously, substituting an ersatz one instead of owning up that you really don’t like the place as it actually evolved and want to get a new better one. And when consulted, people with a heritage worth keeping will reject the latter every time. As I very much imagine Canadians would have done if given a vote on whether to ditch our Red Ensign for a logo in the Liberal Party’s colours back in 1965.

I don’t think it’s coincidence that the traditional New Zealand flag is actually nice to look at and the various replacements were not. They had that focus-grouped-logo look, smooth, manipulative, contrived and off-putting. And in that they accurately reflected the deeper impulse behind the move to replace the traditional emblem and the tradition itself with something artificial and uninspiring.

Anyway, congratulations to New Zealanders for keeping the old flag flying. And not just, I hope, on the flag pole.

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Did you say resurrection?

In an official statement on Easter, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said “Easter is the holiest of Christian holidays, and marks the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.” With commendable, and remarkable, direct affirmation.

It may be a sorry commentary on our times that I find his statement remarkable. But here’s a politician who professes to be a Roman Catholic commenting on a Christian holiday without inserting a bunch of weasel words about “Christians believe” or “some say” or “what they consider”. Instead it states the resurrection as a fact.

People who aren’t Christians don’t consider it one, of course. And there’s a time and place to acknowledge their views. But Easter isn’t it, for people who are Christian. For as Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:14, “if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.”

Easter is a time for Christians to hold up their heads and their beliefs, stating the reason for the hope that is in them. On Easter Friday itself our Prime Minister apparently just did so.

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