Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Canada's New Democrats: Stuck Between a Rock and Hard Place

Especially on the issue of Senate reform, where Quebec's provincial government is already starting to get its back up:

Quebec is warning Stephen Harper it may go to court, if necessary, to block any attempt by the federal government to unilaterally reform the Senate.

Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Pierre Moreau reiterated his province's view Monday that the federal government alone cannot reform the appointed upper chamber.

Moreau said any change must be done through a constitutional amendment, approved by at least seven provinces.

"It would be, I think, illegal to proceed unilaterally with a federal law and that's what we're opposed to," Moreau told The Canadian Press.

"We are not objecting to modernization of the Senate itself, but we think that any change for that chamber should go through a constitutional amendment ... That is the official position of Quebec; it has been the same for the last 20 years and more."
And don't expect this to be the only provincial government. As the CBC article mentions, Ontario, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland have all stuck a thorn in the government's paw on this issue before; I also suspect that Nova Scotia, with current Dipper Premier Darrell Dexter, may have a bone or two to pick over it. On the flip side, provinces like Saskatchewan and Manitoba may be in favour of reforms, not to mention Alberta and BC.

And as you may be well aware, the New Democrats favour scrapping the Senate altogether, but now as the Official Opposition and Quebec's standard bearer, Jack Layton is going to be forced to address the issue of Senate reform, and come down on one side or the other.

Again, here's the options:

a) either the NDP is an Opposition and sides with the provinces, but drops their Senate and electoral reform positions/concerns


b) champions what they always championed, and risk losing some support (not a lot, but some) on the issue, but run the risk of losing more support as Premiers whip up their populations as they do oh-so-often against the federal government

The third option is do nothing, say nothing, and let the Libs and Cons kill each other over it - possibly a sensible option, but one more effective if they just didn't come off a huge victory and want to keep up momentum. Also, they're the Official Opposition now - people will want to know what they're going to say. If they say nothing, they may just cede the territory of opposition back to the Liberals, who I will guarantee will be hungry for an opportunity to show what's what. Nevermind the fact that we have a former Premier as a leader who helped confer on the old Mulroney Accords which were the very essence of what it is to create a constitutional squabble - and he was one of the more sensible people on it.

It'll be interesting to watch this play out over the next few weeks. Very interesting indeed.


  1. (The previous post deleted due to typos .. sorry .. I'll try again)

    Canada's UNELECTED Senate will have the final vote on any Bill that does manage to come from the ELECTED House of Commons. I believe that the Conservative and Liberal patronage hacks that infest the Upper Chamber will want to do whatever is best for their own respective Political Party.

    In our idiotic version of 'democracy' the Upper House has no real representation for any geographic or demographic grouping. It is clearly based on Party lines.

    I don't like the title of your post because without a '?' at the end of it, it leaves one thinking that the New Democrats are in a difficult spot. I challenge that.

    New Democrats will relentlessly articulate the sorry state of Canada's democracy with the Lib/Con infested Senate - it's pathetic history and unrepresentative and wasteful current makeup.

    Quebec has a good point that Harper can't act unilaterally on this.

    I think that Liberals and Conservatives have a lot of explaining to do as to their history in the Senate. New Democrats are NOT in any difficult position on this matter.

  2. I disagree, Buckdog.

    The NDP are now the Official Opposition. People aren't going to settle for the excuse, "well it's those darn Tories and Grits that did it." You're the Opposition, what the heck are you going to do about it? What will your position end up being when Quebec starts to get louder? You can't simply sit on your hands and say a pox on all their houses - that leaves you vulnerable and looking like an Opposition that isn't willing to do battle on the Senate until it suites them. Isn't that the kind of image you want to avoid in order to, you know, "fix" Ottawa?

    To me, there's no question that the NDP are in a bit of a bind; if this issue becomes more dominate, and no guarantees it will, but if it does, the NDP can't sit on their traditional positions anymore, because it amounts to exactly nothing, when both of your bases are demanding something. Either you support reforms and fight on that path, or you stick with your base in Quebec and the other eastern provinces.

    There's no real compromise position here, unfortunately; you have no power to really change anything, but people expect you to actually say you'll fight to change something. That's the job of Official Opposition. The NDP are now in that job. Cue crisis number one, and let's see how its handled.