Monday, November 29, 2010

Unelected Positions

Strange days here in Canada. The legality of polygamy, the legality of prostitution, the overturning of a bill on climate change. All decisions made by people not elected to the positions they hold.

But some interesting differences: the first two are being mulled over by judges, the third was overturned by the senate. As Stephen Harper carries on on his malicious attempt to rebuild Canada in the image of himself and his distinct minority of followers, the public have, I think, come to regard different unelected positions with different levels of respect.

It will be ironic to the extreme if a handful of judicial breakthroughs leave the Harper Years with an unexpected legacy of progressivism. But it seems to me at the moment that progressivism is much more active in the stuffy halls of the courtroom than in the, well, stuffy halls of parliament. It's been years now since I've actually felt that anyone in Ottawa is very much interested at all in actually moving Canada forward as a country. It turns out that where politicians are unwilling (and let's be a bit non-partisan here: the activist moves in Ontario regarding prostitution were condemned both by Harper's Conservatives in Ottawa and by McGuinty's Liberals in Toronto), judges are more inclined to action. More power to them.

Yet move past Parliament to the upper house, the Senate, and democracy again vanishes. The scam that the Senate is is plain for all to see, really: a house that claims to represent 'sober second thought' but if anything really represents the perpetuation in Canada of an 'old boys' club' committed to holding the actual reins of power while appearing not to. That a bill passed by a majority of elected MPs could be struck down by unelected senators would already be scandalous if it weren't, additionally, hypocrisy of the highest degree from Harper, who spent years decrying the Liberals for engaging in these sorts of tactics.

It's really just reflective of my personal vision of Canada, but it seems to me that judges behave more ethically if they remain non-partisan, and that the Senate becomes a tool for undermining democracy if it is allowed to become excessively partisan. Senators have party allegiances, so it's tough to envision a non-partisan senate. Yet it might be that very thing that would make the Senate more tolerable. Or perhaps nothing can do that. It was an NDP bill that was killed, and this is an area where I agree with the NDP: it is the Senate itself that should be killed. Kill it before it kills democracy.

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