Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Let's All Do the Charter

In tonight's debate, Paul Martin came out with a plan to make Canada's beloved and brilliant Charter of Rights even more worthy of celebration - the Liberal government will introduce a constitutional amendment and start the process for the removal of the authority of the federal government to override constitutional rights.

Stephen Harper shot back that a Conservative government would amend the Charter to include property rights.

Jack Layton looked bewildered and, unable to ante up, delivered one of the many painfully dry advertisements (completely with slogan) that he delivered throughout the night, this one about healthcare. (Bravo, Jack, bravo.)

Gilles Duceppe... ah, no one cares about Gilles Duceppe or the Bloc. I'll be pretending they don't exist for the remainder of this.

And so in an odd twist, there is one federal party leader who currently supports the constitutional status quo, and it's... NDP leader Jack Layton. Quite the strategy to marginalize the smiling socialist, and I while I can't speak for other Canadians, it worked on me. (And might I just say, for shame Jack - for someone who supports same-sex marriage rights so vehemently, you should be on board for removing the power of the feds to take them away.) I was leaning towards the NDP going into that debate - mostly due to my support for proportional representation, and because I feel I owed Jack Layton a vote due to his campaigning for gay rights before it was cool, way back in the 70's - but the moment Paul Martin said the words I'd been waiting to hear ever since I first heard about that infernal clause, "[T]he first act of a new Liberal government is going to be to strengthen the Charter, and we're going to do that by removing by Constitutional means the possibility for the federal government to use the notwithstanding clause," I was floored. And the moment Jack Layton refused to endorse Paul Martin's plan, I was up again and sold. It's the Liberals for me in two thousand and... okay six. (For some reason, every rhyming slogan I come up with that includes the number "six" is just dirty.)

But I'm not without respect for the position of Stephen Harper on this one. His support for the notwithstanding clause is shameful and proof to me that he doesn't deserve to be prime minister, but he did say something I agree with. "We feel that the population must have the right to own property, to have a legal process in cases of expropriation, and we feel it's necessary to compensate people in such cases, and I feel those priorities should be protected by the constitution." Stephen Harper wants to amend the Charter to include property rights.

Now I must say, I am a fan of both of those proposals, though I obviously lean towards Martin's more. Just about the only thing Jack Layton could propose that would swing me back his way would be including "sexual orientation" in the list of protected categories. (It's already been read into the Charter by the courts, I know, but it would be symbolic. South Africa has it in their constitution - and I'd rather be more progressive than them. It's a pride thing.) Or possibly eliminating that obnoxious reference to "God" in a document that obviously has nothing to do with him, being that I'm a firm believer that mixing government with religion is bad for both. But even then, removing the notwithstanding clause still might resonate more with me.

Of course, the Liberals may well lose and not get to implement it. But now, at least, they'll go down fighting for something more than just power. Now, if they lose, they'll go down fighting for individual rights and freedoms, just like Trudeau did in what everybody thought was his last hurragh in 1979. (Need I remind you what happened next? Trudeau reclaimed power in 1980 and gave us the Charter of Rights itself in 1982.)

Unfortunately, there is an ugly side to this (besides just the possibility of a Liberal loss.) The ugly side is, of course, politics. Stephen Harper has refused to endorse removing the notwithstanding clause; the reasons for this should be copiously obvious. The notwithstanding clause is the only way for the social conservative wing of his party to legally implement their radical agenda, including stamping out abortion rights for women and scribbling "NO FAGS" in red ink across the pages of the Civil Marriage Act.

But I'm not letting the Liberals off easy. Within minutes of the debate, the Liberal Party called Harper's plan to entrench property rights - another fundamental value in liberal society which is conspicuously absent in our Charter - a "radical right-wing plan". I was actually surprised by that, because the Liberals don't usually venture into the blatant socialist territory of condemning private property. Even the NDP doesn't do that. It's a misstep in my opinion - one of many by Martin's less-than-stellar braintrust - but I can chalk it up to politics, because I know at the end of the day that a millionaire like Paul Martin really has no choice but to support private property, and with people like Scott Brison and Belinda Stronach in his cabinet, I'm not too worried about a socialist takeover of the Liberal Party happening any time soon. Still, it's disappointing rhetoric all the same.

It's disappointing because the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is a wonderful document, but it is not a perfect document. Some would argue that it could never be perfect, and they may be right. But there are some changes that could be made to it in order to push it in that direction. Those changes include removing the notwithstanding clause, or at least making it almost as difficult to use as implementing a constitutional amendment. Also included is recognizing what the majority of people already recognize as the right to property property. Adding the right to privacy in general would, as well, be a boon. Removing the psuedo-theocratic reference to God would also be welcome for the constitution of a modern, secular society - God is best kept in the hearts and minds of his followers, not on a government document. And adding sexual orientation to the list of protected categories, along with gender, race and ethnicity, in recognition of the fact that gays, lesbians and bisexuals are just as much citizens of Canada as straight people. If that were done, the Charter would still not be perfect, but it would be damn close.

(cross-posted at Centrerion)


At 1/10/2006 9:08 a.m., Blogger ToryHitman said...

"I must be honest and say that I don't fear the notwithstanding clause very much. It can be abused as anything can, but the history of the Canadian Bill of Rights Diefenbaker had adopted in 1960, it has a notwithstanding clause and it hasn't caused any great scandal [sic]. So I don't think the notwithstanding clause deters very significantly from the excellence of the Charter."

"...it is a way that the legislatures, federal and provincial, have of ensuring that the last word is held by the elected representatives of the people rather than by the courts."

- Pierre Elliott Trudeau
from the Parliamentary Archives

So who's lying now?

At 1/10/2006 9:11 a.m., Blogger CanadianTruth said...

The Liberals are only fighting for power, this is just a hail mary. He himself said he would use the notwithstanding clause.

Second, even the Layton NDP see the value of having a check and balance. Layton has said he'd use the notwithstanding clause to protect the public healthcare system.

As much as Martin and liberals say it is Harper that wants to be American (I think Martin said it about 5 times during the debate) the truth is that this move would make our system much closer to the American system where courts have supremecy.

At 1/10/2006 11:50 a.m., Blogger Greg P said...

Americanizing the Charter, as Martin has suggested, would be fine and dandy if there was some sort of judicial oversight. In the USA, judges have to have congressional approval before they can be confirmed as Supreme Court justices. This, theoretically, ensures that judges will at least tolerate the views of the people. If either party doesn't like a nominee, they can stall or refuse to approve of the appointment.

In Canada, under Paul Martin's Liberals, judges are appointed without any meaningful oversight by Parliament. To then remove the one overriding ability that Parliament has... that gives the Prime Minister almost dictatorial powers.

At 1/10/2006 2:34 p.m., Blogger CanadianTruth said...

Exactly what I've been saying greg.

While Paul Martin points the finger at Harper and America, he wants us to be more like China!

Scary stuff!!!

At 1/12/2006 2:21 p.m., Blogger Krydor said...

Yeah, it's all well and good, this idea of dumping the NWC to protect minority rights. What happens when the court rules on something like curtailing free speech or association?

As has been shown in the past, the rule of unintended consequences will bite you. It's fairly easy to paint a rosy picture of any proposal, but what might the tangible negatives be?

At 1/12/2006 5:11 p.m., Blogger Miles Lunn said...

I guess I am another Liberal like Blue Grit who supports both proposals. I believe the notwithstanding clause should be removed or if it can't be at the very least raise the minimum threshold significantly like say 80% of the house versus a simple majority. I also support property rights being included and unlike some in the Liberals, I don't fear it will lead to minimum wage laws being abolished, environmental laws being abolished. This protected by section 1 and any judge who struck down a minimum wage law, would lead to huge outcry to have this part amended anyways.


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