Our PM has more power than a rational US president

Let’s compare the powers of our PM and the US president under the assumption that rational persons occupy the position.

image: CTV News

Our PM has more powers than the US president. U.S. Ambassador to Canada David Wilkins pointed them out:

“In your form of government, particularly in a majority government, your prime minister has much more power concentrated in that one position than our president ever thought about having,” Wilkins said in 2008.

Unlike the U.S., our prime minister controls both the executive (cabinet) and legislative (House of Commons and Senate) branches of government.  

“Can you imagine,” Wilkins wondered, “what it would be like for the U.S. president to be able to appoint cabinet members, senators and judges without lengthy confirmation hearings?”

If President-elect Biden had the powers of our prime minister, he would not face the challenge of passing bills through a divided Congress. As a result of the last U.S. election, the Democrats control the House of Representatives and the Republicans control the Senate.

While our PM doesn’t control the Canadian Senate, he exerts influence by virtue of representing an elected House of Commons.

This control isn’t written into our constitution; it’s an understanding that has evolved over time from when Sir John A. Macdonald described the Senate as a body of “sober second thought” that would curb the “democratic excesses” of the elected House of Commons.

The unwritten nature of governance and common sense is something that escapes the U.S. Outgoing President (OGP –I’m tired of speaking his name).  

The American Declaration of Independence states:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Leaders are assumed to be versed in common sense and the unspoken customs of government, and in decent conduct without it being spelled out.

The OGP didn’t hold anything to be self evident. He declared that the importation of Canadian aluminum was a threat to U.S. security and under powers given the president in such matters, imposed tariffs on Canadian metals.

A rational president would have to demonstrate the alleged threat that Canada poses to U.S. security but in the case of the OGP, just saying it made it fact. And since there was no written law that said he had to, he didn’t demonstrate any threat.

The OGP has a habit of claiming things were true because he says they are true. At 2:30 in morning, the day after the presidential election began in the U.S., he declared himself to be winner even as ballots were still being counted. Now he declares that he actually got the most votes without a shred of evidence to back the claim.

Claiming things are true when they demonstrably are not is what most people would call lying. But for this unstable president, his delusional thinking that he can affect the outcome of events with the power of his utterances puts his sanity in doubt.

President-elect Biden brings to office, not just sanity, not just an appreciation of the letter of the law, but the understanding of governmental mores: the social norms that are widely observed within a society.

His presidency promises to be a breath of fresh air.

How Russia could determine our next prime minister

Did you hear about the Canadian commandos who slipped into the Donetsk People’s Republic in eastern Ukraine in 2016? The commandos were targeting the new Republic which, with the help of Russia, was seeking independence. It was a surgical strike to incapacitate the breakaway region.

image: Unian

While it was widely circulated on social media, it’s not true. An English translation of the story was shared over 3,000 times on Facebook alone. A similar story blew up on pro-Russia websites this last May. The new iteration, which spread even more widely, suggested that three Canadian soldiers were killed after their car hit a land mine while they were being escorted by the Ukrainian military (Walrus magazine, December, 2018).

It’s part of Russia’s disinformation campaign to discredit the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and sow general discontent and division -a sophisticated drive in which lies are mixed with truth.

It works. Russia’s Internet Research Agency managed to affect the outcome of the 2016 U.S. election. It microtargeted Facebook ads to stir up conflict in an appeal to patriotism, honour, inequality, race, nationality, and LGBTQ+ rights.

Russia’s propaganda is not dogmatic; it’s an attempt to destabilize Western governments. Moscow is in for the long game –discontent leading to civil unrest and the disintegration of democracies. It’s Putin’s revenge for the collapse of the USSR and economic sanctions against Russia from Western nations including Canada.

The Internet Research Agency is always looking for wedge issues and none is more volatile than immigration. The UN Compact on Migration has recently become a focal point with Prime Minister Trudeau supporting it and Opposition leader Andrew Scheer against it.

Scheer recently rose in the House of Commons recently and stated that signing the compact would mean that “foreign entities” would be able to dictate Canadian immigration policies.

While Scheer’s comments are not true, it does play into Russia’s disinformation campaign. The pact’s preamble states explicitly that it “reaffirms the sovereign right of states to determine their national migration policy,” meaning governments will not sign away their rights to design their migration policies by signing onto the pact. Former Conservative immigration minister Chris Alexander has called Scheer’s comments “factually incorrect.”

Scheer is nervously looking over his shoulder at Maxime Bernier and his People’s Party of Canada and worries about them stealing right-wing votes.

Inspired by the “Yellow Vest” protests in France and fueled by Social media, demonstrations have spread across Canada. In Calgary one protester yelled through a megaphone: “They hate our country and they hate our way of life,” to cheers and whistles, not specifying who “they” are.

Professor Fenwick McKelvey at Concordia University has studied social-media manipulation. He believes there are plenty of other domestic pressure points Russian bots could exploit. “You’ve got language, Indigenous issues,” he says.

When you see how effective Russian was in the 2016 U.S. election, it’s not a stretch to think to see how Bernier could ride a wave of political instability. Immigration fears, Alberta’s anger on one side of pipelines and Indigenous conflict on the other, Right-wing governments in Quebec and Ontario -all provide fertile ground.

McKelvey says Canada is vulnerable to this kind of exploitation, if it isn’t happening already. If the thought of Prime Minister Bernier seems improbable, so did President Trump.

New Zealand’s experience with electoral reform

I sat down with Helen Clark, Prime Minister of New Zealand from 1999 to 2008, to talk about her country’s experience with electoral reform. She was in Kamloops on June 21 at a reception held at a local pub where about 70 people had gathered.

   image: Wikipedia

“You have five minutes for the interview,” the organizer of the event told us. We made our way to a quiet table.

Two referenda were held in New Zealand, she told me. The first in 1992 was non-binding. It asked whether voters wanted to retain the present first-past-the-post (FPTP) system or if they wanted a change. And if they wanted a change, which of four systems of proportional representation did they prefer?

The results were overwhelming with 85 per cent in favour of a change. Of the four systems, Mixed Member Proportional (MMP), was a clear favourite.

A second referendum was held a year later. This time the referendum was binding and the results closer with 54 per cent choosing MMP over FPTP.

I wondered how proportional representation had changed the culture of political parties. MMP leads to minority governments, Ms. Clark told me, which means that parties need to get along, not only after election but before. “Be sure to make friends”, she said, “you never know when you’ll need them later.”

After 20 minutes, I had asked all my prepared questions and we just chatted. “I thought the interview was only going to be five minutes,” the organizer scolded when he found us. Ms. Clark returned to the group where photos were taken and she gave a speech.

Afterward, I thought about the similarly of our upcoming mail-in referendum this fall to the one in New Zealand.

Two questions make sense to me: Do you want a change? If so, want kind do you want?  However, a B.C. lobby group called Fair Referendum disagrees. In a robocall call, they said that there should be just one question. I had to chuckle. The Fair Referendum proposal illustrates what’s wrong with our voting system. They want a single question with four choices, three of which are a type proportional representation and one being the existing FPTP. Those in favour of change will have their vote split three ways and those who don’t want change will have one choice. The ballot is rigged so that even if, say 60 per cent want change, 40 per cent will make sure it doesn’t happen. It seems obvious that’s what Fair Referendum hopes for.

The referendum, to be held from October 22 to November 30 by mail-in ballot, is shaping up along party lines. The Greens and NDP favour proportional representation and the BC Liberals oppose it.

Kamloops-South Thompson MLA Todd Stone says the referendum would be biased in favour of the NDP and that’s probably true –but only because the BC Liberals choose not to cooperate with other parties.

The Greens and NDP have made an extraordinary effort to be nice to each other because, as Ms. Clark suggests, it’s the only way that future governments under proportional representation will work. It’s a shift in party culture that the BC Liberals have yet to realize.

 

Burn all books about Sir John A.

The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario doesn’t go far enough when they recommend the removal of former Prime Minister John A. Macdonald’s name from schools because of his role in the “genocide against Indigenous people.”

Image: Maryland Faerie Festival Blog

Macdonald established reserves in order to clear Indigenous people from the land to make way for the railway. He rationed food on reserves that led to malnutrition, disease, and the deaths of thousands.

He should be erased. Statues and monuments should be torn down. His image on our ten dollar bill should be removed. All traces of his memory should be expunged. Why should we honour such a racist?

I searched the TNRD library and found 12 books with offensive titles such as “John A.: the man who made us: the life and times of John A. Macdonald How could a killer shape Canada? And “Sir John’s table: the culinary life and times of Canada’s first prime minister.” Who cares what he ate while starving children?

I “borrowed” a digital copy from the TNRD library of “The destiny of Canada: Macdonald, Laurier, and the election of 1891.” In it I learn that Macdonald appointed Indian agents in the West who used open ballots to track who voted for whom to ensure the re-election of Tories.

As a symbol of our collective disgust of the treatment of Canada’s Indigenous people, the books should be burned. What a cathartic feeling that would give to Canadians in relieving our guilt at the treatment of Canada’s first people! A good date for the book-burning would be Guy Fawkes Night on November 5 when we would gather in public squares while bonfires raged. How therapeutic it would be to dance in the light of the flames as our national shame when up in smoke!

Public burnings of ten dollar bills would further expunge our blame, similar to the Chinese tradition of burning “joss notes (unofficial banknotes).” Whereas the Chinese do so as offerings to the deceased, wealthy Canadians and corporations could set examples of our collective outrage by burning large quantities of ten-dollar bills. Such burnings would fortify their images as good citizens.

The hard drives of people who downloaded borrowed digital copies from libraries should be seized (except for mine, of course, which is for the purpose of research only.) The names of those library patrons (except mine) who have borrowed hard and digital copies of books should be reported to the Ministry of Pure Thought.

The complete purge should start with Macdonald and continue with other villains such as Hector-Louis Langevin and Egerton Ryerson, who promoted residential schools; Edward Cornwallis, who placed a bounty on Mi’kmaq scalps; Judge Mathew Begbie, who ordered the hanging of chiefs of Tsilhqot’in Nation for defending their land; and Paul de Chomedey, who killed an Iroquois chief with his bare hands.

The cleansing of Canada’s spirit should continue with the re-writing of history. More than just the political leaders of the past are to blame. The majority of Canadians who voted for them are at fault. We cannot let the evil views of Canadians from the past to warp our values today! Those views cast an ominous shadow over Canadians. History should reflect who we are now, not the warped morals of the past.