Friday, November 15, 2013

History at the SCC, continued

The SCC Institute for Historical Study
For maybe the first time in my life, I was thinking the last few days that had I been in Ottawa I might have gone down to the Supreme Court of Canada to listen to the arguments about how the Senate might be legally reformed or abolished. From what news coverage squeezed through the Mayor Ford blitz, it sounded like the liveliest Canadian political history seminar around. Lots of bad history, sure, but that happens at lots of historical conferences, too, no? 'Course historians don't get to make their versions into law.

On abolition, it was useful to see the roadblocks being described.  PEI premier Robert Ghiz, on the television news the other night, insisted PEI would not support abolition because the province has only 4 MPs and so its four senators provide valuable additional representation.

"Mike Duffy has given PEI valuable representation?" the interviewer asked, and Ghiz, a Liberal not eager to praise Duffy or the PM, was reduced to saying "We-ll, in theory, ye-es." There's the rub: as long as Canadians continue to tell ourselves that the Senate somehow actually represents or could represent regions in Ottawa, premiers, particularly in smaller provinces, will presumably continue to be reluctant to abolish.  (On abolition, I tend to lean to the unanimity formula, but that's one of the subjects the SCC is addressing.)  
Ghiz's point sets out the (deluded, I think, but still influential) federalist defense of the senate.  For the bicameralist defense of the senate (equally deluded, I would say), here is the political scientist Jennifer Smith's argument for sober second thought -- or maybe it's just an attack on the NDP.

On "At Issue" last night, I was impressed to hear Chantal Hebert argue uncontradicted that if a federal party leader were to act like Rob Ford, at least his caucus would remove him.  I wonder. Surely party leader Rob Ford would be refusing to resign and insisting that since his caucus had not made him leader, it could not remove him.  It is an argument that has worked for lots of other embattled leaders back to John Diefenbaker.
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