Government

Over the past month or so, a number of people in Canada have been demonstrating against the government in various locations, including the nation’s capital.  Some of these demonstrators have been calling for an overthrow of the current government to address their demands.  However, government in Canada is not chosen by coup. 

Canada is a constitutional monarchy within the British Commonwealth of Nations, and our head of state is the Governor General, representing the Crown.  The government is defined under the terms of the Constitution Act, 1867, the Statute of Westminster, 1931, and the Canada Act, 1982.

Under the GG, there are two branches of government—Parliament (legislative) and the Supreme Court (judicial).  Parliament consists of two bodies, the House of Commons and the Senate.  Members of the Commons (MPs) are elected in 338 single-seat ridings across Canada, electoral districts based on population as determined by official census.  There are currently six political parties represented in Canada, and it is difficult, though possible, for someone other than a party member to be elected.  The party that has the most members elected to the Commons is asked by the GG to form a government, and that party’s leader (chosen by party members in a separate forum) becomes Prime Minister (PM).

The party receiving the second-most votes in an election is considered to be Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition.

The Senate is comprised of 105 members appointed by the GG on the advice of the PM, who since 2016 is advised by an Independent Advisory Board for Senate Appointments.  Senators are drawn from four regions, each of which is allotted twenty-four seats (Ontario, Quebec, the Maritime provinces, and the Western provinces), with the remaining nine seats allocated to Newfoundland and Labrador (six) and the three northern territories—Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and Yukon (one each).  Senators must resign at the age of seventy-five.

The Commons is the dominant chamber, being composed of elected not appointed members, but approval of both bodies is required for the passage of legislation. 

The Supreme Court consists of nine Justices appointed by the Governor in Council, on the advice of the PM, and Justices must also retire at the age of seventy-five.  The Court—which sits at the apex of a broad-based pyramid of provincial and territorial courts, superior courts, and courts of appeal (whose judges are appointed by those jurisdictions), and a few other federal courts—constitutes Canada’s final court of appeal, and may consider criminal, civil, and constitutional matters of law.

Federal elections must be held in Canada at least every four years, but may be held more often if the GG, on the advice of the PM, chooses to dissolve Parliament and call an election.  Certain votes in Parliament are designated ‘confidence votes’, and any government that loses one of these must resign.  In any case where Parliament is prorogued, the GG may call an election, or (more unlikely) may choose to ask one of the other party leaders to form a government.

After any election, Canada will have either a majority or minority government.  The first occurs when the leading party’s MPs outnumber the combined opposition parties’ members, thus allowing the government to win any vote (so long as party solidarity prevails).  The minority situation requires the leading party to win votes from a number of opposition members sufficient to ensure passage of legislation.

The government at the time of writing is a minority Liberal (CLP) government led by PM Justin Trudeau, and the Loyal Opposition is the Conservative (CPC) party under interim leader Candice Bergen.  Other parties represented in the Commons are the Bloc Quebecois (BQ), New Democratic (NDP) Party, and Green (GPC) Party.  There are no elected members from the People’s (PPC) Party, nor are there any independent members.  

At any time when concerned citizens decide to call for changes to government policy, they are entitled to mount public demonstrations to advance their grievances.  This right to peaceful assembly is guaranteed under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, 1982, and a number of such demonstrations are what we have been witnessing lately.

However, it is unlawful for any group of citizens to argue for or seek to impose a change in government by arbitrary means.  The only way to choose a government in Canada is through a democratic election conducted under the authority of the Canada Elections Act. Thus, citizens with grievances must seek to influence voters in order to sway their votes in a subsequent election, rather than advocating for an overthrow of the duly-elected government.

Among the demonstrators currently protesting and airing their grievances, the small but vocal faction calling for an overthrow of the government is acting illegally, and must eventually be held accountable.  A recent editorial in the Globe & Mail newspaper summed up my feelings concisely, and this is an excerpt—

…Canada has seen many protests of the legal variety. For example, Toronto last weekend saw one of its regular anti-mandate and anti-vaccine demonstrations. A few hundred people assembled at Queen’s Park and then, carrying signs and banners, they marched down streets that police had temporarily closed for their benefit. Then they went home. You can  disagree with their views and we do but their protest was perfectly legal.

What’s happened at multiple border crossings, and on the streets of Ottawa, is an entirely different story. These aren’t legal protests. They are blockades. As such, they enjoy no protection under our laws. They are, on the contrary, a threat to the rule of law and democratic government itself. The blockades have generally been non-violent, but they are nonetheless an attempt by a tiny minority of Canadians to impose upon the large, silent, law-abiding majority of their fellow citizens.

…[R]easonable people can disagree on all sorts of things. But there can be no disagreement on this: A handful of protesters don’t get to decide which streets will be open and which will be closed, or which bridges and borders will be open to trade and which will not.

Who elected these blockaders? Who gave them this power? Not you. Not anyone.

Government in Canada is not chosen by coup. 

Our Own Worst Enemies

In the early seventeenth century, the poet John Donne wrote: No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main…

Almost two hundred years after he wrote that, I have just finished reading a book loaned to me by a friend, which warns of and laments the decline of democratic society in the USA, which has long proclaimed itself as the world’s greatest democracy.  Written by Tom Nichols, the book is titled, Our Own Worst Enemy: The Assault From Within On Modern Democracy.

On the one hand, the book agrees with Donne’s assertion—in effect ascribing the success of US democratic institutions thus far to the truism that each of us must be part of the greater whole.  Sadly, however, the book asserts that the nation is currently experiencing a rise of individualism that is tearing at the fabric of democracy.

Nichols is a professor at the US Naval War College, a columnist for USA Today, and a contributing writer at The Atlantic.  He is also the author of several other books, a former aide in the US Senate, and has been a Fellow of the International Security Program at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.  In short, he knows whereof he speaks.

As I read the book, I fond myself wondering how closely my own country, Canada—and, indeed, other democracies around the world—might be following in the direction of our neighbour to the south.

Three of the chapter headings give a hint as to what lies inside the book’s covers: a) When Good Neighbors Are Bad Citizens; b) Democracy in an Age of Rage and Resentment; and c) How Hyper-Connection Is Destroying Democracy.

That last one is a central thesis in the book.  It seems, even as we become more and more connected virtually through our electronic devices, we are becoming less and less bonded in person.  Our communications, therefore, are untempered by any intimate knowledge we have of each other’s personalities and proclivities, or by any affection or consideration of each other’s feelings and opinions.  We have almost unfettered freedom to say anything online, to make whatever outlandish claims we want, with very little fear of repercussion or consequence.

The noted American writer, Isaac Asimov, wrote, There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.

Of course, he wrote that long before the proliferation of the internet and the hyper-connectivity it has brought us, which has only exacerbated the trend—and not only in that country.  Everywhere, it seems, ignorant people are now free to spew their venom and disinformation on a worldwide platform unavailable to previous generations.

An unfortunate by-product of this trend is the propensity for each of us to believe everything we think—surely a dangerous practice—and to assume that what we think is always right.  It thus follows that, if I disagree with you on any issue of significance, you believe I must be wrong.

On a grand scale, where no one believes anything espoused by others holding different opinions or political affiliations, the very notion of democracy is threatened.  Democracy flourishes, after all, on a free exchange of contradictory and opposing ideas, and an earnest consideration of the merits of all, eventually leading to a consensus as to how best to proceed.

The Economist Intelligence Unit publishes an annual democracy index, ranking the nations of the world on their adherence to democratic principles.  The scores are based on five categories: electoral process and pluralism, civil liberties, the functioning of government, political participation, and political culture. Based on their scores on sixty indicators within these categories, each country is then itself classified as one of four types of regime: full democracy, flawed democracy, hybrid regime or authoritarian regime.

The USA of which Nichols writes in his book was ranked as a ‘flawed democracy’ in 2020, riven by acrimonious, partisan proselytizing, with no attempt to listen to or understand others’ points of view.  As Nichol’s title attests, Americans have become their own worst enemies.

By contrast, Canada—with all its own warts and blemishes—was ranked at # 5 in the ‘full democracy’ category, behind Norway, Iceland, Sweden, and New Zealand.

Those five nations are small by superpower standards, however, and thus able to exert only minimal influence on world affairs.  The USA, perhaps the most powerful nation the world has known, continues to influence global affairs on a massive scale.  If it were to drift from democracy to autocracy or dictatorship, it would surely draw along many others, some of whom—Brazil, China, Iran, North Korea, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey—are already embarked on that path.

Plato wrote, Dictatorship naturally arises out of democracy, and the most aggravated form of tyranny and slavery out of the most extreme liberty.

After my reading of Nichol’s book, I wonder if I am seeing the beginning of that before my very eyes, where the islands of democracy are slowly shredding.  And if so, I hope we may yet resist, that we, with all our individual freedoms, will choose to remain a piece of the continent, a part of the main…

When the worst of us triumph, they get the government they want; when the best of us sit back, we get the government we deserve.

Imagine It…..If You Can

Indian Residential Schools: Acts of genocide, deceit, and control

Children’s graves a crime against humanity

Many Canadians don’t seem to care about lasting effects of Residential Schools

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Imagine, if you can, the idea of having someone show up at your front door one fine day, armed with a court order from the government that authorizes them to take away your children, ages six and seven, and send them 500 miles away to be raised and educated in a state- or church-run residential school.

Inconceivable!  Couldn’t happen!  I mean, we all have our rights as citizens of this fair land, and so do our children, right?

Nevertheless, try to imagine your horror if it did happen.  Imagine seeing your children whisked away in a government vehicle, in the company of two stern, efficient-looking caseworkers, and you rendered powerless to stop it by the police in attendance.

Imagine your grief when you enter your children’s empty bedroom that first evening, only to see their favourite cuddly-toys lying on their beds, overlooked by the uncaring abductors in their rush to pack and go.

Unthinkable!  This is Canada, after all.

Still, imagine the anger engulfing you as you try over and over again—always in vain—to find out why this happened. 

Imagine your frustration as every phone call, every letter, every face-to-face meeting, every court appearance results in the same outcome.  You are told time after time, endlessly, that your children have been removed to a ‘wonderful facility’ to ensure they receive the best education, the best care, the best upbringing—all designed to guarantee they will eventually fit into the culture and norms of the broader society in which we all live, unencumbered by the standards and values that you, as their parents, might otherwise have instilled in them.

Impossible!  No one has the authority to take children away from their parents unless those parents are deemed unfit.

So then, imagine your shock when you learn that the authorities do consider you unfit to raise your own children.  And why would that be?  Well, maybe because you look different than they do, or you speak a different language, or you worship differently, or you are uneducated, perhaps impoverished, or you don’t live in a respectable neighbourhood—or any of a number of other specious reasons they offer up in support of their decision.

Imagine going to jail if, overcome by exasperation, you take matters into your own hands to recover your children—illegally, according to those same authorities.

Imagine the weariness that finally overtakes you as you try—always in vain—to fight the inevitable.

This is a silly exercise!  I can’t imagine such a thing happening!  This is Canada!

It’s true, this is Canada.  But indulge me by persevering with the exercise a while longer.  Try to imagine the soul-withering despair you would feel as day after day goes by, week after week, month after month, year after year, and you do not see your children.  Perhaps, if you are lucky, you receive letters from them now and then—more frequently at first, printed in pencil in block capital letters—less often as time passes, in cursive writing, using pen and ink.  And always in English.

Imagine writing letters in return.  What would you say?  How sorry you are that you let this happen to them?  How hard you’ve been trying to get them back home?  How much you miss them?  How much you love them?

And then imagine what you would think when their letters stop.  For how much longer would you continue to write to people you hardly know, perhaps grown into their late-teens by now?  Would you write forever?  With no response?

Couldn’t happen!  The authorities would be obliged to keep me informed.

Really?  So in that case, imagine the overwhelming grief and sense of loss that would sweep over you when you are informed—in an official, impersonal letter, typed in crisp black letters, on school letterhead paper—that your children have died.  They have died!

Shallow graves…..deep scars

Even worse, imagine that they die and you are never informed!  They die, and you never know about it.  Your children!  All you know is they were taken and you’ve never seen them since.  Never is a long, long time.

And finally, perhaps worst of all, imagine that you do learn of their deaths—likely not until long afterwards—but you are never told where their remains have been deposited. Try to imagine the unspeakable horror of knowing that, not only have your children been taken from you, not only have they died, but their very existence has been expunged, as if they never even mattered.

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I spent a happy day this past weekend in the company of my daughters and their families, including my five grandchildren.  And, although I am not usually prone to dark thoughts on such occasions, I tried to imagine what it would have been like if my sweet girls had been taken from me in infancy, what life might have been like if I had never seen them again.

I confess—it was nigh to impossible to imagine my family enduring such a horrendous, calamitous event.  I mean, we have our rights as citizens, and so do our children, right?  No one has the authority to take children away from their parents, right?  I can’t imagine such a thing happening!  This is Canada!

Except…except, such things did happen.  As recently as thirty years ago, and going back almost 200 years.  Right here in Canada. 

It seems to me that what happens next—what our nation does about this—will go a long way to informing us all of what it means to be Canada.

Imagine it…..if you can.

Happy Birthday, Eh?

Six syllables, sliding sibilantly over the tongue—ses-qui-cen-ten-ni-al.  One-hundred-and-fifty years as a nation, a vision struggling hesitantly to life on 1 July 1867.  Christened the Dominion of Canada, we were four provinces united against the manifest-destiny expansionism of the mighty republic to the south, but nestled still in the colonial arms of the imperial British embrace.

330px-Fathers_of_Confederation_LAC_c001855

The first priority of this new nation?  To fulfil the calling of its soon-to-be-adopted motto: Ad Mari usque ad Mare—from sea to sea, the Atlantic on the east, the Pacific to the west.  And eventually, a third sea, the Arctic to the north.

And so it happened, the inevitable northward and westward reach, propelled and supported by the building of a transcontinental railway.  After the original four provinces—New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario, and Quebec—there followed: Manitoba, 1870; British Columbia, 1871; Prince Edward Island, 1873; Saskatchewan and Alberta, 1905; and Newfoundland, 1949.

Along the way, three massive territories joined the mix: Northwest Territories, 1870; Yukon, 1898; and Nunavut, 1999.

Now, here we sit in 2017, Canada, the true north, strong and free.

And what exactly is it we celebrate on this sesquicentennial?  What have we accomplished as a nation?  What are the values we stand for?  How do our actions and behaviours, both collectively and individually, demonstrate those values?

What does our country do for us?   Even more importantly, what do we do for our country?

It has been noted by critics, perhaps jealous of our good fortune to be situated on the northern half of the North American continent, that too many of us are apathetic about the affairs of our country—to which, in response, some of us simply shrug our shoulders.  Others, though, rally to the causes of the day, to try to influence the course of events, the outcomes, the future.

There is a long list of accomplishments of which we might be justifiably proud.  In the realm of medicine, the discovery of penicillin, insulin, and stem cells; in the sciences, the first light bulb, the telephone, Canadarm, and IMAX; on the world stage, international trade agreements, endeavours to control the deleterious effects of industrialization on climate, efforts to support peacekeeping initiatives around the world, a robust military response in defence of freedom during several major wars, and our welcoming of refugees displaced by global conflicts, regardless of their ethnicity, religion, or skin colour; and in a more frivolous vein, the invention of peanut butter, the WonderBra, basketball, and Superman.

Of course, there are chapters in our history that might, with today’s sensibilities, bring a sense of shame: the exploitation and displacement of Indigenous peoples, and the horrors of residential schools; the trivialization and suppression of women’s rights; the mistreatment of Chinese and black immigrants; the expulsion and internment of Japanese-Canadians; and the continued exportation of asbestos to developing nations, even after it was banned in Canada.

None of these might happen today because of a singular document: the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, adopted in 1982.

charter

Governments of the day, to be fair, have apologised for the worst of these past crimes, and have established commissions and inquiries to seek a better way going forward.  But it is questionable, still, how much influence their reports and recommendations have had, or will have, on the future; witness the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, or the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Commission, and assess for yourself their lasting effects on national affairs.

As in everything, actions speak more loudly than words.

Still, when I ask myself if there is any country in the world I would prefer to live in, rather than in Canada, my answer is a resounding No!

canada

Despite the tumult and the shouting perpetually foist on us by the lunatic-left and rabid-right of the political spectrum, we are a people that wants leadership to govern from the centre.  We favour moderation, not extremes; tolerance, not xenophobia; dialogue, not diatribe; ideas, not ideology.

Do these tendencies render us apathetic?  I hope not.  Rather, I choose to think of us as slow to anger, quick to forgive, strong in the face of adversity, proud of what we have accomplished, and determined, not only to rectify the errors of the past (even if all too slowly at times), but to avoid similar mistakes in the future.

Canada has had one-hundred-and-fifty years of practice with the concept of nationhood now, and still she carries on—both because of and in spite of, the behaviour and attitudes of her citizenry.  Count me as one who is proud to be called Canadian.

Happy Birthday, eh?