Tuesday, October 23, 2007

That pressing, urgent distraction...Senate reform

No, thank you.

Anyone for some arcane constitutional navel gazing? Conservative Senator Hugh Segal is suggesting a referendum take place on abolition of the Senate. His rationale seems to be that in light of the constant attacks on the institution - see Harper, Stephen - let's put nuking it to a cross Canada vote. Well, Hugh, you might want to read this article, "Quebec says it would veto attempt by Harper to abolish Senate," to get a sense of some of the difficulties your proposal will meet with.

Please tell me where the groundswell for substantial reform to this institution is coming from? In its absence, it doesn't deserve a place at the top of the nation's agenda. And it isn't likely to achieve a "Yes" vote without an existing overwhelming base of support. There are other issues which deserve our attention, without a diversion on Senate reform that constitutes nothing more than constitutional house cleaning.

This is exactly the kind of institution Harper and his advisers prey upon...it is not exactly easy to defend it and it could fall prey to a populist, abolish the fools kind of appeal. A lot of their efforts since taking office fall into this category, and they are stealthily and surely causing a fundamental slate of changes to our national fabric.

Note, for example, the sell off of historic embassies overseas. Cost cutting is the rationale and it's difficult to mount a rallying cry at home over such matters. Yet it's tragic:
The sale of Strathmore is part of a large downsizing and review of Canadian diplomatic properties -- something Foreign Affairs calls an "ongoing review." The Canadian government is looking at replacing a $600-million Canadian diplomatic property in London, as well as selling 15 diplomatic residences there, it is selling the chancery in Rome, and is evaluating selling diplomatic buildings in Paris, Stockholm and Lima. London real estate agents say Canada's London Grovesnor Square property, opposite the American Embassy, will be the most expensive property sold on the square for more than a generation.
Where did they get the f*%#ing mandate to do this? Answer, they did not. But they're executing this downsizing quietly and methodically. And no one's doing anything about it.

Note also the cutting of the Court Challenges Programme, ending legal aid, effectively, to those in need of legal advocacy group support at the upper court levels, a costly endeavour in this country. It's gone, and not an easy matter to raise in a public rallying cry either. Thanks very much for coming, all you people out there looking to challenge a government's breach of your rights in court...but you're SOL.

The Harperites also specialize in other tweaks to our democracy that the public may not be noticing, but keen watchers of government certainly are. The muzzles on Cabinet ministers and the restraint on media, the partisan games in the House all may or may not be noticed or cared about by the viewing public. Yet each tactic in its own way diminishes our democratic traditions. The picture to the voters...rounds of applause for Harper in his cabinet meeting, bashing of Stephane Dion by Harper and Layton with the media a willing accessory, a few popular policies sprinkled around like tax cuts to come, and the rest of the destruction gets easily swept under the rug.

No more embassies.

No more legal aid for Charter challenges.

No more free and open media access to government.

No more accountability in the House of Commons.

So do I favour a big brouhaha over the Senate? Not in the least. A referendum on that topic would likely be nothing more than a convenient distraction from the agenda of the Harper team in a federal election. And all attention should be on it, and reading between its lines, not on constitutional engineering that we don't need.