Huffington Post Canada

The Senate Reference and taking steps forward

The Supreme Court just released its long-awaited Senate Reference decision. And the response was spectacularly rebuking.

Harper posed the following questions to the Court and the following responses were provided. I have significantly condensed the decision for easy access.

Harper: Can the federal government unilaterally impose term limits on Senators?

Supreme Court: No, they may not.

Imposing term limits is a change that engages the interest of provinces. It requires the general amending formula to be used (seven provinces with at least 50 per cent of the population), also known as the 7/50 procedure. Imposing fixed terms is not specifically written in the Constitution, imposing term limits would alter the fundamental nature and role of the Senate.

Harper: Can the federal government unilaterally develop legislation that allows citizens to be consulted for potential Senate nominees? Can the federal government establish a framework for provinces and territories to enact legislation to consult their citizens for Senate nominees?

Supreme Court: No, they may not.

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Huffington Post Canada

The Conservatives’ clever ploy with the Truth in Sentencing Act

The Supreme Court’s recent ruling on the application of the Truth in Sentencing Actwas depicted in various media outlets as being part of a trend of recent decisions rebuffing the Conservative government’s justice agenda. While this could describe a number of recent decisions, the current ruling is more nuanced.

According to the Canadian Press:

They also represent the latest in a series of court rebukes of the Conservative government’s law-and-order agenda.

Sean Fine in the Globe and Mail likewise stated:

The Conservative government’s attempt to detain thousands of prisoners for longer periods has been blocked, in the newest in a series of crushing defeats at the Supreme Court of Canada.

As the Supreme Court decision notes, enhanced credit is often provided for accused who have been remanded in jail, and historically, there were no restrictions on the reasons for giving credit or the rate at which it was granted. A practice developed over time to grant credit at a 2:1 rate. The new Truth in Sentencing Act caps pre-sentence credit at 1.5:1, but does not discuss which circumstances justify enhanced credit.

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Huffington Post Canada

Why Harper should hug his backbenchers tight

One year ago today, few would have predicted the incredible emergence of an empowered backbench resulting from an increasingly agitated Conservative caucus and an unprecedented ruling by the Speaker.

Beginning with Stephen Woodworth’s motion to re-examine the issue of the definition of a human being, a number of Harper’s Cabinet colleagues, including Jason Kenney and Rona Ambrose, supported the motion despite Harper’s wishes to vote against.

Harper noted in January that he had no intention of reopening the abortion debate; at the same time, three Conservative MPs sent a letter on official letterhead asking the RCMP to investigate abortions as “possible murders.” I’ve argued previously that Harper should have enforced collective Cabinet solidarity on this motion to remain true to his word.

MP Brent Rathgeber recently left the Conservative caucus to sit as an Independent in the House of Commons after the Government refused to support his Private Member’s Bill on public sector disclosure.

On his blog soon after resigning he noted that:

The Committee hearings (as all are) were a charade. The decisions on amendments were made by unelected staffers weeks before the Committee hearings even commenced. Compliant MPs just do what they are told by PMO staffers. That the PMO operates so opaquely and routinely without supervision is an affront to the constitutional requirements of responsible government and is also the genesis of the current Duffy/Wright debacle.

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The Prince Arthur Herald

Has Harper lost control of his backbench?

Last week, the National Post’s John Ivison wrote an interesting column arguing that the Conservative backbench has lost its fear of Stephen Harper. He argues that “the trained seals on the backbench are biting back and we are likely to see more unsanctioned behaviour in future, as MPs relish their new-found freedom.”

Is the Prime Minister, who for years has kept an extremely tight leash on his caucus, losing control? The answer may be more subtle than Ivison suggests. The Conservative Party of Canada is a broad coalition of interests: social conservatives, fiscal conservatives, economic libertarians, red Tories, and the like. Due to its very nature, this coalition will occasionally pit interests against interests. A successful leader will be able to reconcile differences and hold the alliance together.

The Prime Minister can enforce discipline in a variety of ways. He can promote or demote MPs based on their performance. Harper can kick an MP out of the Conservative caucus at any time. Postmedia’s Stephen Maher argues that it was easier to impose discipline prior to the 2011 election. Some MPs want to get their name in the headlines, while others will speak out when the government does something they dislike.

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