Saturday, February 10, 2007

Reading In

Today Andrew Coyne gives us a history lesson. His purpose seems to be to defend the Charter against critics who see it as not rooted in Canadian history. Most of what he says I wouldn't challenge because I'm not a historian or a scholar. But when he comes to the end of his piece, he says:
Has that expanded the powers of the courts?(. . . ) A happier example was the "persons case," an important advance for women's rights achieved by the simple expedient of redefining who was included in the category of "persons" eligible for Senate appointments under section 24 of the BNA Act. Today we would call that "reading in."
Coyne is arguing that a decision to recognize women as persons for the purpose of Section 24 of the BNA Act, is analogous to the Supreme Court's decision add a new category of subgroup in need of protections listed in Section 15 of the Charter. But I don't think the argument holds up.

'Person' is a word that has always encompassed both genders. The court recognized a historic injustice when it noted that women had always been ‘persons in matters of pains and penalties, but not in matters of rights and privileges’. It rewrote no definition; it simply acknowledged the full reality of the existing definition.

The section of the BNA Act that summarizes the qualifications of a Senator uses the word 'Person' and uses the (until recently) non-gender-specific pronoun 'he'. None of the other criteria specifically excludes women, as women were allowed to be landowners, they could be residents of a province and they could accumulate money. Since women were already 'persons' for the purpose of punishment, no justification could be made for excluding them for purpose of privilege. Women were not added to the existing definition of 'person' in the 'Persons Case' -- it was simply established that they were always there and no one up until then had acknowledged it.

The inclusion of women might not have been on the minds of the authors of the BNA Act, but their exclusion could have been assured by the simple addition of the word 'male' in front of 'persons'.

Section 15 of the Charter is not so vague. Not only does it specifically list criteria under the equality provisions, the framers debated the inclusion of sexual orientation and intentionally left it out. (That was Trudeau and the gang for all you liberals).

Coyne questions those who criticize the Charter by invoking the Magna Carta and other historic documents:
If it's really important legal innovations you want, you have to go back to the advent of the written law, and the rise of an independent judiciary to interpret it. Much criticism of the Charter, and the constraints it places upon the discretion of policy makers, seems in fact to be a complaint about the written law in general. Fair enough: It is a radical idea that those who govern us should not be allowed to govern by fiat, but should have to put it in writing. Or at least, it was radical, circa 1215, though I rather thought Magna Carta had settled the question -- a written document, if memory serves, as was the Bill of Rights of 1688, the Act of Settlement, the Royal Proclamation of 1763 and all the other legal documents that are a part of our constitutional heritage.
By adding sexual orientation to Section 15, the Supreme Court was not simply remedying an historic injustice, or correcting a misinterpretation, or correcting the misapplication of a statute. It was governing by fiat. Apparently Coyne finds that okay since they are neither elected nor policy makers. I don't get it.

Coyne suggests that the Charter is in the tradition of Canada's historic freeness. He points to recent accusations of judicial activism by the Supremes:

To be sure, the common law is as much a part of the British inheritance. But if it's "judge-made law" you're on about, it's an odd point to raise. The series of legal rulings in recent years upholding gay marriage, in particular, sometimes held up as the height of judical impudence, overturned no statutory definition of marriage, but rather another judge's ruling dating from before Confederation (and from another country to boot).
Marriage was a word like mother. It required no 'legal' definition. It required no statute. Historic tradition and centuries of precident gave us our understanding of the word. Perhaps, given time, it might have evolved to include forms beyond the one man/one woman version we held here, but the courts of the land were impatient. They imposed a new meaning of the institution and in doing so, they have restricted the freedoms of those unready to embrace this expanded version. Unlike 'person' which both in law and in practice has meant to include both genders, the only universal element of marriage has always been the opposite gender requirement. Other elements vary culture to culture -- number of people, age, familial relation, even consent -- but the opposite gender requirement held firm until the 21st century. So, although no statute was overturned, let's not pretend same-sex marriage was as simple as filling in a blank.

No harm of course, because no one has to believe anything they don't want to -- that is, until they do.

The Charter pits the rights of individuals to freedom of speech, conscience and religion against the equality rights groups listed or read-in to Section 15. With regard to same-sex marriage:

You have the right to believe what you want, so long as you don't act on it.
You have the right to say what you want, but not in public.
You have the right to express yourself, but not if it hurts someone's feelings.

The 'Persons Case' might have challenged the ideas held about a woman's place in society, but it didn't prevent anyone from expressing their opinion. It didn't stifle debate. The role of women in government and in society grew from there, but not because people were afraid to challenge the prevailing laws -- but because women proved themselves capable and deserving.

The rulings regarding marriage, as vague as they were, were not intended to open a closed door for marginalized people, but to create a new door which would make the old one obsolete. You can argue that it's a good thing, but please don't pretend that it won't eventually infringe on the rights and freedoms of those who choose to disagree with the change to marriage.


Friday, February 09, 2007

World to Garth: stop gossipping and grow up

I confess that I don't read Garth Turner's blog regularly. When he's doing something particularly foolish, I'll drop by to check out his spin.

Today I was stopped in my tracks by Garth quoting Garth on John Baird. He's writing a piece on how unsuitable Baird is for Minister of the Environment, and quotes a post he made when Baird was first appointed:
I probably know John Baird better than you do. I don’t traipse around official Ottawa on his arm, the way Laureen Harper does . . .
I don't know what the rest of today's post says. I just stopped reading. I couldn't get past this statement, first made on January 8th and repeated today.

Turner would probably say he meant nothing by it. He would likely say that it was irrelevant to the point he was trying to get across. Why then, did he include it? What exactly is he trying to say about Laureen Harper?

The mention of Laureen might just have been name-dropping back in January when it was first written-- a way to show he was aware of who was in the good-books while he was shunted off to the dog house. But Garth has reiterated an irrelevant statement made by Garth, and is using it to support his opinion that Baird is ineffective as Environment Minister and Garth Turner knew he would be . . . It does nothing to advance his argument or to validate his premise. There can be no reason for its inclusion except that it's a bit of gossipy insinuation.

To those who would suggest I'm making a big deal out of nothing . . . my guess is that John Baird hangs out with a lot of people on the Hill, probably a lot of Conservative MPs. Everyone knows that Lurleen needs an escort to official functions when Stephen Harper is away, and John Baird has filled that role. Why not say 'I don't hang out at the pub with the guy like (Clement, Moore, Ambrose . . . anyone) . . . why Laureen?

When the only function of the statement at is to show his own distance from Baird, why did Turner make special mention of the Prime Minister's wife -- twice?

What a tiny, little shade of a man that guy is.


No Men Need Apply

Liberals plan to increase the number of women running for the party in the next election. To reach their self-imposed quota of 33% female candidates, it seems they believe the 'fairest' option is to simply bar men from running in certain ridings.

Apparently it doesn't matter that a man might be more qualified, better the right gender than the right candidate.

The most galling thing here is that Liberals appear to believe that women can't possibly be expected to win if they are competing against a man -- so their answer is to simply remove the competition.

Progressive thinkers might believe that this is necessary to increase the number of women running for and elected to parliament, but there are two bizarre principles being floated here. First, that there must be more women in parliament, and secondly, that the only way to get that done exclude men from the process.

For fifty years or more, dozens of women of all parties have proved their mettle by following the nomination process that's been in place and winning. Does the Liberal Party dismiss their successes as anomaly? Do they think this new generation of young women is frightened of politics? Or do they just think that women are too fragile to compete?

Women are not helpless and needy. We don't need to be led by the hand -- those who want to run, find their way. To suggest otherwise is to say that we need to be treated like children who don't know what's good for them or worse, like morons who haven't enough sense to see opportunities and seek them out.

Voters want competence from their candidates and parliamentarians. In the rush to push more women onto the political stage, Liberals seem willing to ignore quality in the name of number parity.
If they impose the selection of 80 more women candidates to meet their target, there's no question that some quality male candidates will be shoved aside simply because of their gender. And the Liberals think this is both fair and correct.

If they're going to force the numbers to fit the goal of 33% women candidates, why not go the extra step and in any remaining ridings, bar whites from running? If they truly want to reflect the diversity of the nation, impose quotas for all races.

Liberals pretend they believe in gender equality, but by not allowing the natural outcomes of the nominations process, they are telling women that they don't believe they are good enough to compete with men and win. Or maybe the ruling elites believe that the local Liberal riding associations are made up of misogynists who would choose a man over a women regardless of qualifications.

Call it parity, equality, or balance -- it smacks of paternalism and implies that without special assistance, most women couldn't cut it in politics. If that's the case, if females who are potential Liberal candidates require the manipulation of the selection process to ensure somethings as basic as their nomination, how suited are they for the job?

When equality is forced, quality is bound to suffer. The playing-field is already level. Women today are aware of their career options and should they choose the political arena, they should be playing the same game with the same rules as everyone else. And if Liberals think they can't -- it's the Liberals who are questioning the value of women.

We don't need more women in politics -- we just need fewer idiots.


Thursday, February 08, 2007


Smug as usual, Garth Turner is blaming everyone else for his lack of conviction. He won't resign until Stephen Harper calls a by-election. Nothing is ever Garth's fault, he wouldn't be where he is today if other people would just do what's right.

While I maintain that a party-swapping MP is not obligated to go to the people until the next general election, Garth Turner does not. He believes an MP should serve under his party's banner, and, should he choose a new party, that the MP must go to the people and be elected in his new party of choice.

To that end, Garth has issued a challenge to the Prime Minister (from Garth's blog):

Today in Question Period I asked the prime minister two questions:

(1) Will he immediately work towards calling by-elections in Halton, Vancouver-Kingsway (Emerson) and Mississauga-Streetsville (Khan), so we three members can be accountable to the people?

Stephen Harper did not answer. Instead he had House Leader Peter van Loan stand up and say I could resign if I want. So, I said,

(2) If the prime minister calls a by-election in Halton today, I will resign my seat today, so the people of the riding are without an MP only for a few weeks before the vote. Will he do that, yes or no? And if I quit, will he ensure Wajid Khan also resigns, for a by-election for that floor-crosser?

Turner is playing a game here, pretending that because he doesn't "trust" the Prime Minister to ensure Halton's constituents maintain federal representation, he is stuck in a limbo of Harper's making -- a situation he implies can be alleviated 'if only' Stephen Harper would call a by-election.

Two things -- first, the other members are under no obligation to resign their seats simply because the great and pious Garth Turner thinks it should be so. Like it or not, members of parliament must be allowed the freedom to follow their conscience on matters of party affiliation. Imposing party loyalty under threat of removal from parliament would be a severe blow to the freedom of members to be true to their principles. Regardless of the cynical and mercenary reasons that some MPs switch parties, MPs must have the freedom to govern their own political destinies, and because eventually all of them must face the electorate, their motives and movements will eventually be judged.

Second, and more importantly -- according to Elections Canada, a by-election can only be called when a parliamentary seat is VACANT. Until Garth chooses to resign, the Halton seat remains occupied. Only when a seat is vacant:
. . . the Speaker of the House of Commons informs the Chief Electoral Officer by means of a Speaker's warrant. If the Speaker is absent, or if it is the Speaker's seat that is vacant, two members of the House of Commons may address the warrant to the Chief Electoral Officer.
So Garth, if you're so desperate to go to the people, and you're so sure that you're right, take a risk like the maverick you pretend to be --- stop blaming Stephen Harper -- do what's right and get your ass out of that chair.


Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Who's holding Halton hostage?

In the world according to Garth, when Emerson switched parties, it was wrong -- no, not just wrong -- but "unprincipled" and "unethical". Everyone involved was deemed unscrupulous and Emerson was being "disloyal" to his constituents. But that was then and it was someone else . . . how different things appear when the shoe is on the other foot.

Garth doesn't believe loyalty is an issue in his act of opportunism, because he's doing this for his constituents. He knows that a lot of them don't understand that right now, but he thought about it long and hard for them. He feels assured that although they elected Garth the Conservative, and put up with Garth the Independent, that surely they will embrace GARTH the LIBERAL.

An Independent's voice is often unheard. Now, as a Liberal, Garth will have status again -- and that should make his constituents happy. He can be a lone voice of reason within the Liberal Party, the same way he was a lone voice of reason in the Conservative Party. The team doesn't matter -- just as long Garth is there to show it the one true way.

His cynical offer to run in a by-election is typical bravado. With full confidence that Harper is not going to suddenly change his stand on party swapping, the hollow gesture cost Turner nothing and gives the odour of sincerity to this latest stink. Garth pretends he received no inducement for turning in his Independent tag, and yet in one fell-swoop he has gone from impotent and unelectable outsider, to a member of the 'party-in-waiting'.

My position on floor-crossing hasn't changed -- but his has. He can pretend that his grand challenge to Harper to hold a by-election means something, but it only means that Garth is a savvy enough politician to know a good sound-bite.

Garth says:
If I resign immediately, the prime minister can leave my voters held hostage for up to six months without a by-election and without an MP, which could well mean they’re not represented at all until after the next election. Excuse me if I do not trust Stephen Harper, but I don’t.
Apparently Garth didn't trust his constituents enough to remain an Independent for the duration of this parliament, and join the Liberals when the next general election is called. Maybe he didn't trust the Liberals enough to believe that they'd keep that seat open for him to run when election time comes.

He calls Harper untrustworthy, and accuses him of potentially holding Halton voters 'hostage' had he resigned his seat altogether to force a by-election. He writes this without any hint of irony. The voters of Halton elected Garth Turner. As a Conservative or an Independent, Garth could live up to, and speak up for, the principles that got him elected, but whether it's income splitting, the military or child care -- Garth Turner has just signed over his principles to a Liberal Party that shares none of his ideals or political values. Who's holding Halton hostage?

That's okay, I guess. What difference does it make if the party doesn't reflect his beliefs --- Garth can make it over in his image and ruminate about it on his blog. So what if the Liberals are notoriously more rigid in their demand for caucus secrecy, and caucus solidarity than the Conservatives --- Garth has an unshakable record on those fronts. And if it doesn't work out, that's okay. Someone else will be to blame.

Poor Stephane Dion. Stephen Harper's gotta be smirking.