Monday, May 10, 2010

Alberta Senators-in-Waiting Call on Stelmach to Reverse Decision & Hold New Elections This Fall.

I spoke with Link Byfield today about the three remaining Senators-in-Waiting (SIW)calling on Premier Stelmach to reverse his decision to delay the elections until 2013.  The law in Alberta says the terms of these three SIWs expires in November 2010.  But the loop hole in the law is that the provincial government can change things, like extending terms.  But that discretion should be exercised prudently and for reasons of good government and promoting and preserving democracy...not for puerile political reasons.

I heard the rationale for the deferral of the SIW elections to 2013.  It would cost $5m to run them in conjunction with the municipal elections but no indication of how much more it would cost 3 years from now.  Then there was the possibility of Saskatchewan passing similar Senator-in-Waiting legislation and it was suggested Alberta' democracy be delayed until we know if another province would also have such a law.  What is that all about and why? 

The third facile and farcical reason for the delay was that Alberta Senator Bert Brown had just introduced a Senate Bill S-8 "An Act Respecting the Selection of Senators.  OUrugovernment has insisted that Albertans right to choose SIWs should wait to give that new law a chance to pass before we went into a new election.  For you information - and thanks to SIW Link Byfield for the Bill. 

Here is the summary text of Senator Brown's Bill that has caused a delay in democracy in Alberta: 

This enactment establishes a framework for electing nominees for Senate

appointments from the provinces and territories. The following principles apply
to the selection process:

(a) the Prime Minister, in recommending Senate nominees to the Governor
General for a province or territory, would be required to consider names from
a list of nominees submitted by the provincial or territorial government; and

(b) the list of nominees would be determined by an election held in
accordance with provincial or territorial laws enacted to implement the

Section 3 of Bill s-8 puts a duty of the Prime Minister to recommend to the Governor General "to consider names from the most current list of Senate nominees elected for that province or territory" if a province or territory has enacted Senate selection legislation that is consistent with the principles in the Summary above.  Well Alberta has has such legislation since 1985.  How does Bill S-8 justify the suspension of a law that provided Albertans with a democratic right to select SIWs?  Bill S-8 only puts the duty on the Prime Minister "to consider" such nominees selected by provincial or territorial law.  It is not even binding for crying out loud.  And this justifies a deferral and delay of democracy in Alberta? 

OK I agree there are bigger issues and concerns facing Albertan that this theatre of the absurd Senate nominee election process.  However, if our government is going to ride roughshod over these kinds of somewhat less than profound democratic rights, what is stopping them from staying the course and disregarding more significant democratic rights?  This is at best causal corruption and at worst abuse of power for partisan political purposes.  In no way shape of form is it good governance.

I am strongly opposed to this delay by the Stelmach government because it is unwarranted and an abuse of the discretion of the Alberta government.  There is no good reason for such a delay except for pure political reasons.  It seems like the PCs are running scared of the Wildrose and an election of Senators-in-Waiting this fall would likely result in Wildrose candidates winning. For the record Byfield ran as an Independent and the other three winners ran as Progressive Conservatives although they were all Reform and Alliance party faithfuls.

The result this time would see candidates running but likely mostly for theWildrose Party.  This is because the Wildrose is the only party in Alberta really interested in an elected Senate for Canada. Last Senate election saw about 160,000 Albertans either refuse the Senate election ballot or spoil it as a protest.  The political optics of Stelmach losing Senate elections this fall to Wildrose candidates will be seen as another referendum cum by-election result on his low popularity.  He want to avoid that obviously, so the democratic deficit in Alberta deepens and widens as a result of pure political posturing - not the respect for the Rule of Law.

Integrity, honest, open, accountable and transparent government is missing with the Stelmach decision to delay the next Senator-in-Waiting election.  This abuse of discretion and poor governance process to defer the next time Albertans get to say who they want be considered to represent them in the Senate until sometime in 2013 will put it after the next provincial and the next federal election too,  most likely.  Ironically the extension of the current crop of SIWs from 2004 to 2013 puts them in limbo longer than the eight years Harper would limit Senators terms of service.

So here is the Statement the current crop of SIWs put out for your information.  For the record I don't endorse all of what they are saying but I do applaud them for standing up for citizen's based democracy - not top down command and control centrist power based politics.  That democratic deficit disease is creeping into Alberta and is  rampant in the feckless Harper federal government.  Looking forward to your comments.

Why we need elected senators representing us in Parliament

As Alberta’s three remaining senators-elect, we want to state publicly our belief that the Alberta government should hold a new Senate election with the province-wide municipal elections this fall. We say this solely in the interest of the province, and not for or against any provincial political party.

The government’s exercise of its legal option to extend our elected status by up to three years is not helpful to the cause of Senate reform in our view.

It is likely that one and perhaps two Alberta Senate vacancies will occur before there is a further province-wide opportunity for a Senate election.

However, in the event the government does not hold an election this fall, it would be wrong for us to leave Alberta in a position where a prime minister (be it Mr. Harper or Mr. Ignatieff) has no option but to appoint personal or party favourites to represent our province. We will therefore accept the government’s extension of our elected status until Albertans have been given a new chance to choose Senate nominees.

To illustrate why Albertans must not be represented by unelected senators, consider the recent Senate activities of Claudette Tardif.

She was picked to represent Alberta until the year 2022 by then-prime minister Paul Martin in 2005, five months after Albertans had cast 2.2 million votes to fill three vacant Senate seats. Neither Tardif nor Martin’s other two appointees ran for election.

On April 13th, 2010, Tardif introduced in the Senate Bill C-232, which if passed will require all future members of the Supreme Court of Canada to be fluently bilingual, not just in conversation but in complex and subtle points of law. The purported aim is to render translation unnecessary for judges in Canada’s highest court.

The many reasons why this private member’s bill is bad for the Supreme Court, bad for Canadian law, bad for national unity, and bad for unilingual regions, have already been aired in Parliament and in the media. Suffice it to say here that very few lawyers in Canada – and close to none in Alberta – qualify to hear a superior court legal argument in French without the aid of translation. This bill effectively kills the chance of most legally-qualified western Canadian lawyers and judges to sit on our highest court.

Neither of our two western Supreme Court incumbents, Beverley McLachlin and Marshall Rothstein, would qualify for the court under this statute.

Unfortunately, because bilingualism is so sacrosanct in Ottawa, Bill C-232 cleared the House of Commons by three votes on March 30th, with the combined support of the Bloc Quebecois, Liberals and NDP.

To add symbolic insult to material injury, C-232 was then put before the Senate by Claudette Tardif, an Alberta senator.

Instead of boosting official languages, Alberta’s six-person Senate delegation should be asking some searching questions. Is bilingualism actually working? Apparently not. According to Statistics Canada, “knowledge of [both] English and French” is a declining phenomenon, not a growing one. How much do official languages actually cost – not just for governments, how high is the immense cost of translation and compliance in the private sector? Ottawa doesn’t ask because Ottawa doesn’t want to know. Instead we blindly persist in the wishful thinking of half a century ago.

This is why we need provincially-elected senators in Parliament: to address questions the national government can’t or won’t. This is the “sober second thought” the 21st century demands.

It is time for parliamentarians to ask uncomfortable questions about productivity in the transfer-dependent regions of Canada, about our lack of success with official languages, about EI, multiculturalism, national marketing boards, and the economic value of subsidized industries.

These questions can’t be answered in the House of Commons because they can’t even be asked in the House of Commons. No national party can afford to lose the seats such candour would cost.

Nor can they be resolved in provincial legislatures, because there is nothing provinces can do about them. These are national issues under the authority of Parliament, best handled by the Senate.

In fact there is only one place where it would be politically possible to raise them and constitutionally possible to resolve them, and that is in a provincially-elected Senate such as Prime Minister Harper’s government is proposing. Not a Senate that is merely appointed, and which therefore dares not exercise the immense power it possesses under the constitution – powers equal to those of the House of Commons. And not a Senate filled with national party cheerleaders beholden to the same leaders who run the Commons.

No, to exert power the Senate must be elected, and to represent the diversity of Canada the elections must be provincial – provincial parties, federal issues.

This is what Canada needs, this is what the Prime Minister has asked provinces to provide, and this is what all Albertans should support.

Alberta Senators-Elect:
Betty Unger
Cliff Breitkreuz
Link Byfield

So dear Reader, what do you think?  Is this a tempest in a teapot?  Is this just the way things are and there is nothing you as a citizen can do about it? Or are you coming to realize that democracy is not free and free speech is not free either.  They both have to be exercised and valued to do any good.  Let you MLA and the Premier's office if you are tired of the disregard and disdain for democracy in Alberta.  Whose Alberta is it any way?