Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Mr. Harper: Can You Even Read?

If I didn't know better, I'd swear that Harper doesn't know how to read a legal decision.  Yesterday, in Question Period, Harper said the following:
“The Supreme Court has ruled in its wisdom that the federal government can neither abolish the Senate nor, in fact, can the federal government actually propose reforms -- significant reforms -- to the Senate,” Harper said in the House.
This is complete nonsense.  The Supreme Court ruled that the Federal Government cannot unilaterally alter the Senate.  In other words, the Supreme Court ruled that changes to the Senate require the government to work in the framework of the Amending Formula embedded in the Constitution of Canada.
“That is all now, according to the Supreme Court of Canada, within the purview of the provinces. So my position has not changed. If the provinces believe as I do that there should be reform, they should bring forward those reforms forthwith. If they don’t believe that, they should bring forward amendments to abolish the Senate.”
Read more: http://www.ctvnews.ca/politics/provinces-should-propose-senate-reforms-forthwith-harper-says-1.1798071#ixzz30NXb5Yo6
Apparently, this is as close to negotiating consensus as Harper can get.  Acting like a petulant little child who has just been told "no, you can't have all the cookies", he tries to shift responsibility to somebody else.  In this case the provinces.

Frankly, if Harper wants to change the Senate, he is responsible for putting forth a vision for what a revised Senate should look like, and then work with his peers - the provincial premiers - to come to a consensus.  If he cannot build consensus among the provinces, that is his failing.

The amending formula for Canada's Constitution is a neatly crafted package which ensures that you can't make arbitrary changes to it without actually engaging with the rest of the country.  It requires that someone be able to foster consensus among the provinces to make amendments.  This is a good thing - it stays the hand of an autocrat, and requires actual leadership to achieve meaningful change.

Brian Mulroney was at least willing to try.  Both the Charlottetown Accord and Meech Lake Accord ultimately failed, but not because Mulroney was unwilling to negotiate with the provinces.  Instead, Harper sits there and acts like a petulant little child because the Supreme Court essentially told him to go do his job as Prime Minister.

Stephen Harper's legacy will be the redemption of Brian Mulroney.

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