Thursday, July 30, 2015

Worth Reading - July 30, 2015

A significant group of Canadians have become disenfranchised. Canadians living overseas have now lost the right to vote

Brent Rathgeber (IND-Edmonton-St. Albert, AB) writes that the Universal Child Care Benefit has everything to do with the election and little to do with good policy. 

Jonathan Kay at The Walrus writes why Donald Trump can exist in American politics but not in Canada. 

Chateleine magazine did an interview with Ruth Ellen Brosseau (NDP-Berthier-Maskinonge, QC), better known as the Vegas MP. I've heard many positive things about Brosseau as an MP, and the article touches on gender and politics.

Maclean's has a piece by Alice Funke arguing that the Prime Minister could break our electoral system with the current financial regulations. 

Prime Minister Harper has announced his "plan" to fix the Senate, choke it into total ineffectiveness and lead to a constitutional crisis

The federal Conservatives have been riding roughshod over the Province of Ontario's priorities and goals in the interest of partisan politics. The Conservatives have been approving lower priority spending in their MPs' ridings to boost support

This piece in the Globe and Mail highlights that the existing cab industry in Toronto had major issues worthy of disruption. 

Austin Walker at Gianbomb writes about the connection between superheroes and cities

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Reform the Senate: Two Competing Proposals

The idea for this post originated a few weeks ago. It is a pleasant coincidence that Prime Minister Harper recently announced his position that the provinces must come together on a reform or the Senate should be abolished. After reading Protecting Canadian Democracy edited by Serge Joyal I began to consider a broader range of reform choices available to Canadians. For a different perspective I invited my friend Simon Andrews to contribute his own proposal. We wrote these proposals ignorant of what the other would write. Simon is a historian who studied the early American republic. He is currently working on a project called "America, On Paper" where he exams topics through the lens of documents from the period. I asked Simon for his thoughts because we often diverge significantly on constitutional questions; I support the monarchy and he's a republican, he values the American constitution and I believe it is in desperate need of reform, to name just two points. I will warn you in advance that this is quite long, but I hope interesting.

How can we change this place to better serve Canadians? 

The Rules

Simon and I were starting from a basic set of assumptions. First the only reforms were for the Senate. There's no corresponding proposal attached for proportional representation in the House of Commons, or restriction of prorogation allowed. Second the proposal had to fit within a certain political reality that we face in 2015.

Reforming the Senate - Steven's Proposal

I think it is paramount that Canadians find a way to reform rather than abolish the Senate. Some of the major concerns in the governance of this country is the declining power of MPs and the stranglehold of party leaders, particularly the Prime Minister on power. Abolishing the Senate, if anything, would only exacerbate this problem. The more legitimate Senate could offer a valuable counterweight to executive power and help set other things to rights.

My inspiration for reforms largely comes from the Australian Senate, the United Kingdom's House of Lords and Germany's Bundesrat. My proposal is guided by a few basic assumptions. All large federations in the world are bicameral. The idea that Canada should move away from the international norm strikes me as strange. A country as large and diverse as ours needs ways to express that in its governing institutions. The Senate of Canada needs to include some democratic component to grow its credibility with the public and increase its legitimacy. The Senate must continue to represent geographic regions, minorities and isolated interests commonly excluded from the democratic representation (ex. women, or linguistic minorities). My specific proposal most resembles plans to reform the UK House of Lords. Another principle to keep in mind is that Quebec needs to be protected. It's easy to dismiss Quebec as just one of the ten provinces but its distinct political and social culture as a large minority in this country that needs to be safeguarded. It is a fair compromise and the Senate can help accomplish that. In other upper houses around the world few countries use the completely equal system found in the United States Senate. States/provinces tend to be represented on a distorted or disproportional population basis, I will be using that as a guide.


Senators must be largely elected. I am surprised that I have moved away from a fully elected Senate in my proposal but a certain number of appointed Senators could significantly improve the quality and representativeness of Senators. I am willing to make that compromise to protect the representation of minorities. I would suggest then that one third of the Senate be appointed and the rest be elected through a ranked ballot. I think depending on the province it would make sense to do province-wide contests, or regional contests. For example, in the case of PEI I don't see a reason to divide it into constituencies, but Ontario, with a larger number of Senators and distinct internal regional differences, could make the argument for a Northern, Eastern, Central, and Southwestern division of seats. That determination can be revisited every 10 years after the census and when seats are adjusted for the House of Commons.

Appointed Senators should be non-partisan and selected by a special standing committee independent of the Prime Minister. Composition of the Appointments Committee could look like the Electoral Boundaries Commissions; non-partisan, led by a jurist with technical assistance. The goal of the Appointments Commission should always be to correct imbalances in the Senate with underrepresented populations of their respective provinces and provide expertise to the body. Some groups for special consideration in my opinion would be women, First Nations, M├ętis and Inuit, linguistic minorities, ethnic minorities and young people. The Appointments Commission should likely consult with the provincial/territorial legislatures for their input as well as accept public feedback. The goal is to represent regions and slices of the Canadian public, not necessarily provinces.

Senators, elected and appointed, would serve an eight-year term on fixed dates, barring a double dissolution or simultaneous election with the House of Commons in the event of deadlock. They may stand for re-election if they so choose. Appointed Senators should be generally replaced after one term to infuse new blood, but they may stand for election (independently or with a party) if they so choose. In the event of a retirement, resignation or death of a sitting elected Senator the Appointments Commission should fill the seat, either with a non-partisan or person of the same party, with consultation of the provincial legislature.


Current Senators
Reformed Senators (Elected + Appointed)
Population (2014)
British Columbia
Nova Scotia
New Brunswick
Newfoundland and Labrador
Prince Edward Island
Northwest Territories

*Quebec will always be in Tier 1 regardless of population changes.

Under my proposal the Senate will switch from a fixed number of Senators to a tiered system based on population. Tier 1 will be for provinces with over 10 million people, must always include Quebec and cannot number more than three provinces.

Tier System

Number of Senators
10 000 000+
5 000 000-9 999 999
3 000 000-4 999 999
1 000 000-2 999 999
500 000-999 999
0-500 000

Unlike the fixed model we currently use the tiered system would be a fair and transparent way to allocate seats. The numbers I have chosen likely mean we would see a few provinces move around in the coming decades as they sit on the edge of either going up or down. The flaw with the system is that it is based on fixed population numbers. It might make more sense to use a quintile system or something like that to avoid any future problems. It is entirely possible that in distant future all ten provinces will have over 10 million people and this system would break down.


Ronald Watts' essay in Protecting Canadian Democracy makes the argument that bicameral systems work best when the two houses are distinct from each other. A reformed Senate should be comfortable vetoing or amending the legislation of the House of Commons as their legislative powers and legitimacy should roughly be equal. The House of Commons should remain in exclusive control of money bills, but the thoughtful and meaningful inclusion of the Senate in matters is paramount.

Historically in Canada the Senate has been very active in defending the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Constitution. Having the Senate approve of appointments to the Supreme Court and have a standing committee dedicated to constitutional questions might be wise. I would hope the Senate would continue its valuable contributions through studying questions and providing the country sober second thought. These studies could be transformed into more focused scrutinizing of the government to better ensure accountability. It may also be wise to have the Senate make the appointment of Parliamentary Officers, such as the Auditor General. This way they are independent of the Prime Minister and better define the Senate as a watchdog.

Canada under this Proposal

It is difficult for me to imagine that Canada would not benefit significantly from this arrangement. Obviously the fear of deadlock is a real possibility, but it also ensures that the chamber of sober second thought can have its thoughts heard. The power of the Government and Prime Minister would be significantly curtailed. Legislation would have to have greater consensus and governments would have to get the backing of a good number of the non-partisan Senators to pass their programs. More legislation would come from the Senate representing the diverse needs of the country as a whole.

Western provinces gain significantly under this proposal, but we are a much more Western country today than we are at our founding. Atlantic provinces, while reduced in influence in the Senate are not substantially so. I also believe there is significant value into improving the representation of our territories in the Senate. The inevitable conflict between the Senate and House of Commons is, in the end, positive, as both represent different, important facets of this country. That's democracy.

Reforming the Senate - Simon's Proposal

Reforming the Canadian Senate: A Modest Proposal

Though it may at times escape the attention of the average Canadian, we do indeed have a Senate in this country. Perhaps it escapes our attention because, thanks to being inundated by American news media, we’ve come to think of a Senate as an activist body. Senates do things; they pass bills, and offer amendments, and confirm executive appointments. And they filibuster, or threaten to filibuster, or threaten to threaten to filibuster. We hear of no such thing in this country, and so we must not have a Senate.

Or if we do hear tell of our fabled upper house it is in tones of disdain, dishonor and disappointment. It’s such a Canadian emotion, disappointment. Anger would ask too much of us. We can only get angry at things we care about. Who cares about the Senate? So we shake our heads and cluck out tongues, content in the knowledge that at least we know what’s right even if the men and women who govern us don’t.

But that’s not enough.

We have a Senate. It performs no useful function. It is a stain on our national character. But it’s ours. It may have become perverted, twisted into a wild parody of its original purpose, but there is a reason it exists to begin with. There is a reason for bicameralism. There is a reason for an upper house and a lower house, for wanting to balance differing national and regional interests against each other. As it stands Canadians look upon majority governments as good and natural and minority governments as aberrant and unpleasant. We have lost our taste for debate, it seems. We prefer government to function smoothly. We want the Prime Minister to take us by the hand and show us the way forward. And with all the power the office of Prime Minister enjoys, why not? Even in a minority situation, the government almost always holds the winning hand. Challenges from the House can be met with any number of constitutional countermeasures from prorogation to dissolution. Meanwhile the Senate spends public money, makes a show of examining legislation put before it, and hums along doing nothing of any great import. What average Canadian can name their Senator? Or do they belong to us at all? Perhaps we don’t know them because they represent interests all their own, and are beholden to a much smaller constituency than we thirty million strong. 

But look again to our southern neighbors. Look at what a Senate can do. Functioning bicameralism is messy, yes, contentious, un-Canadian in its apparent disorder. But maybe that’s what we need. Maybe something to shake us out of our complacency, something that introduces a degree of dynamism into the very core of our political process. A reformed Senate could do this. Or at the very least the process of attempting reform should spark debates we’ve long been in need of in this country. We are in danger of becoming a ceremonial democracy. Canadiana reclines on her pedestal, bedecked in cobwebs, enshrouded in dust. We need to put the old girl through her paces,

We need to reform the Senate.


While many aspects of American political culture are the farthest thing from being worthy of emulation, the logic that underpins their basic constitutional framework is by contrast quite measured and sensible. The Framers of the United States Constitution, notwithstanding how their work has since been interpreted, gave careful consideration as to how different social and human forces could be harnessed, regulated, and balanced in such a way that weakness and ambition could be made to benefit the greater public good. American bicameralism is perhaps the crowning achievement of this attempt at creating a stable, well-adjusted government that was at once consistent and regenerative, restrained and dynamic. 

This is because bicameralism makes sense. A country as large and complex as the United States or Canada, with as many strong sub-federal units of government, could not hope to be easily represented in a single elected body. There are too many different interests, too many social classes, too many factors that might push and pull on prospective legislators to support policies that reward or deny the layered and often competing sovereignties of which such large nation states are composed. There are, to continue with the present example, things that concern Americans as citizens of a single country composed of many diverse geographic regions and communities. There are also things that concern Americans as citizens of one of the fifty distinct, sovereign political and cultural communities that comprise the American federal union. Sometimes a person needs to have their needs represented as a citizen of Beaumont, which just happens to be in Texas, and sometimes they need to have their needs represented as a citizen of Texas itself. This is a subtle but fundamental distinction because these dual sets of needs are not always compatible. Yet they all must be heard, debated, compared, contrasted, and reconciled. A unicameral legislature, unless located in a sparsely-populated community, would be ill-equipped to do so.

Furthermore, representation by population alone must obviously favor more populous regions. Texas has more congressmen than Rhode Island, New York more than Delaware. This makes sense within the logic of majority rule, but a true democracy must make considerations for the least among its citizens. The smallest minorities and the tinniest constituencies must have their day, lest the majority became a tyranny unto themselves. Rhode Island may contain among the smallest overall percentage of the total American population, but as a state it is the legal equivalent of Texas, New York, or even mighty California. Its citizens must not be punished for being born or choosing to reside in Warwick or Woonsocket by having their elected representatives’ voices continually drowned out by the legion that are their big-state contemporaries. In some sense, in some forum, little Rhode Island’s voice (or PEI’s voice, or Newfoundland’s voice) must be made to carry equal weight. 

We call this forum the Senate.       


In order for our Senate to conform to the democratic logic discussed above it must become two things first and foremost: equal and elected. If Canadian Senators are to serve the function of representing the citizens of this country as members of the distinct political and cultural communities we call provinces, they cannot do so as the appointees of a grateful Prime Minister who at the end of an election cycle owes perhaps one favor too many. If Ontario is to have Senators they must represent Ontario. They must be able to speak to the issues that concern the people of Ontario, and they must have the confidence of same if their claimed authority is to mean anything at all. At present Ontario’s twenty-four senators represent the province in name only. No one who resides in any of Ontario’s communities chose them, and so their legitimacy as popular representatives in a nominally democratic system is entirely non-existent.

Yet this cannot be enough. The people of Ontario must feel as though they are being accurately represented by their Senators, but so too must the people of Prince Edward Island feel as though their Senate delegation has an important role to play in the legislative process. As it stands said deputation possesses but four members, and thus their interests must ever be subsumed into those of the greater Maritime Provinces if they hold out any hope of moving the legislative needle. Some might protest that this is simply the nature of compromise. PEI cannot act alone, and so it must negotiate in order to have its voice heard. But this is true in the House of Commons, is it not? There too smaller provinces must hustle their way into getting their regional concerns placed on the national agenda.

If the Senate is to be something different, then let it be different.

Every province and territory, regardless of size, will elect between five and ten senators, for a maximum of one hundred and thirty members. Elections will be held on a proportional basis, with citizens voting for their party of choice on a province-wide basis and seats being allocated from prepared party lists in accordance with the percentage of the total vote that each party receives. A Senate election in Quebec, for example, in which the NPD receive 40% of the vote, the Liberals 30%, the Bloc 20%, and the Conservatives 10%, would, with ten seats available, result in a Quebec delegation composed of four NDP Senators, three Liberals, two Bloc, and one Conservative. These are purposely round figures, of course, but the logic is clear enough. Senators will be elected to six year terms with no limit on re-election, and Senate elections will be as closely coordinated with House elections as possible.  


Because the seat of executive government in Canada will remain in the Commons one of the most important roles a reformed Senate can fulfill is that of holding the government to account. This is a role the Australian Senate has performed to great effect, and considering how easily recent Prime Ministers have made use of our loosely defined constitutional conventions and the prerogative powers at their disposal via the office of Governor-General such a check is absolutely essential. This can be accomplished by, on the Australian model, vesting the Senate with a number of regulatory, investigative and accounting responsibilities as expressed through a robust committee structure. Among other things it could potentially fall under the purview of the Senate to investigate government budgets and policy implementation, conduct audits of various publically-funded organizations, and generally direct inquiries to government ministers and other public officials. This theoretical supervisory role would be facilitated by the fact that the reformed Senate, whose members would be elected proportionally, and the House, whose members are elective via FPP, would infrequently be dominated by the same party. Thus, even in case of a strong majority in the House of Commons a reformed Senate would be more likely to have its seats spread across a larger number of parties and would consequently be more inclined to check the power of the government of the day.  

This being the main role of the reformed Senate, their legislative responsibilities would be somewhat reduced when compared to the Commons. Though they would be capable of originating, approving, rejecting or amending most forms of legislation on an equal footing with the House, they would not be able to create or alter appropriations bills. That they would still be able to reject appropriations – thus blocking supply, in the parlance of Westminster – could potentially lead to a deadlock with the House, specifically in cases when the government refuses to resign having maintained the confidence of the lower chamber. Such an eventuality could be avoided by putting in place a relatively simple procedure. In a slight twist of one of the provisions of the UK Parliament Act of 1911, the Prime Minister could be vested with the authority to dissolve the Senate as they can now dissolve the House in order to call an election, but only once an appropriations bill has been approved by the Common and rejected by the Senate three times in succession. This would permit the Senate to exercise some degree of input and oversight concerning the parliamentary appropriations process while simultaneously ensuring that constitutional crises do not become a regular fixture of Canadian political life.

Beyond its regulatory and legislative roles, the reformed Senate would also be responsible for confirming the nomination of the Governor-General and of the Justices of the Supreme Court of Canada. This would serve the purpose of both lessening the powers of the Prime Minister as well as increasing democratic input into the selection of some of the most important officers of the Canadian government. Under the current status quo the Governor-General is for all intents and purposes an appendage of the Prime Minister’s office, chosen by them for reasons which do not bear explaining to the Canadian public. In that sense the Governor-General, though it isn’t often stated, is to some degree beholden to the PM for their position. Traditional or not, this isn’t a tenable state of affairs. Permitting Senate confirmation would at the very least give the provinces, as embodied in the Senate, some say in who ends up wielding the very important constitutional powers vested in the monarch’s vice-regal representative.  


Simon and I took very different approaches to address problems we jointly perceive. This is the debate we should be having in this country. I would take some of his points and incorporate it into my own for sure, such as the appointment of the Governor General. Throwing our hands up or arguing whose Senators are more corrupt does absolutely nothing to advance Canada. I see flaws in Simon's proposal, and I am certain he will have issues with mine, but even still both offer citizens more than what abolition does on its own. The status quo is unacceptable, but we need an upper house, so, as a country, let's discuss what we can do. Please feel free to comment and share your thoughts on these proposals and check out Simon's blog for more of his work. 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Worth Reading - July 23, 2015

As I have written previously on this blog the federal government under Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservatives has gone way too far in blurring the line between the government and the Conservative Party. In the latest dust-up are the ridiculous 'announcements' being made by Minister Pierre Poilievre (CPC - Nepean-Carleton, ON) for the Universal Child Care Benefit in Conservative logos and with CPC candidates. 

Granola Shotgun is one of the more interesting blogs I encounter on a regular basis. Here the author talks about the real-estate pendulum and how the suburbs have grown, changed and moved over time and even offers an idea of what might be next. 

The Toronto Star once again beats the drum to kill the Scarborough Subway

The next two go hand-in-hand. Toronto Star reporter San Grewal reported that the proposed Hurontario-Main LRT in Peel will be well short of forecasted capacity. Sean Marshall, active commenter on urban and transit issues, wrote a response to numbers Grewal cites he found inaccurate

Gerry Caplan in the Globe and Mail asks why Harper's democratic record isn't an issue in the election? I can personally say it is for me, but I can see how others might let it slide into the background.

Conservatives in this country like to thumb their chests and say they stand up for men in women in uniform. This piece in the National Post is a damning indictment of the Conservative's naval policy and now we have returned to another 'decade of darkness'. 

Ontario is constantly trying to push up the graduation rate in its high schools. This has come from reforms, but also the lowering of standards

NDP strategist Jamey Heath writes that the Liberal Party is not a true progressive party and stands in the way of meaningful change

This piece made me laugh. PhD student David Moscrop asks why do we need a Liberal Party? Though clearly he has a point of view I think it is a question worthy of reflection.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Book Review: Protecting Canadian Democracy edited by Serge Joyal

Protecting Canadian Democracy: The Senate You Never Knew lands in 2015 with a dull thud. Serge Joyal, a Canadian Senator for the Liberal Party, assembled this book to defend the value of the Senate as it currently stands. It includes essays from political scientists and politicians on the positive features of the Senate, how it can be reformed, and why reforms have failed. The book was originally published in 2003 and it shows considerably.

What Protecting Canadian Democracy does well is make a case for the status-quo Senate and explain how it came to be. The book is a collection of essays so it is difficult to assess as a whole as the strength of each individual essay and its effectiveness varies significantly. The best essay in my opinion is "Forty Years of Not Reforming the Senate - Taking Stock" by Jack Stillborn. Stillborn, as the title suggests, outlines all of the major proposals to reform the Senate from the 1960s to the 2000s. The interesting thing about this is how proposed reforms for the Senate have evolved over time. Senate reform pressure originated in the belief that the body had to better represent the provinces, perhaps transforming it into something like Germany's upper house, the bundesrat. In the 1980s, originating mostly from Western Canada, proposals for Senate elections and seat redistributions gained greater prominence and has largely been central to the debate since. I had heard that the Senate had been criticized since the time of Confederation, but I had assumed it was from the perspective of democratic representation. I was surprised to see this was a relatively recent intellectual development in Canada.

According to a few of the authors the Senate was one of the most contentious parts of the negotiations what led to confederation. The explanation is simple. At that time the colonies understood that Ontario's much larger population would dominate the House of Commons. A wise observation given that Ontario makes up a third of the House today. The Senate offered the opportunity to provide a counterbalance. Many of the authors make the argument that the best feature of the Senate is that it represents minority populations and regions within the country. This seemed to be part of the original formulation of the Senate.

Another valuable essay in the collection is "Bicameralism in Federal Parliamentary Systems" by Ronald L. Watts. The Canadian Senate stands out from other upper houses around the world for having an appointed upper house. Watts also pointed out that the trend in recent decades has not been to eliminate upper houses but give them better ability to hold the government to account. This essay provides excellent comparison on how upper houses can function and possible avenues of reform.

I wish to be clear. This book does not fail because Stephen Harper became Prime Minister, but because of the actions the current Prime Minister has put in place since 2006 has left fewer of the virtues expounded in this volume intact. Many of some of the most compelling arguments made in defence of the Senate seem to hardly apply any more. The institutional memory of the Senate was badly undermined when Prime Minister Harper allowed a large number of vacancies to accrue. In the 1990s the Senate released twenty major reports which helped shape policy and political discourse in this country. In many ways they provided a cheaper alternative to royal commissions. Perhaps I am ignorant but the Senate seems to have failed to uphold this tradition in the past fifteen years. I have to imagine this in part is due to the declining number of senators during Harper's early premiership. The Prime Minister Harper appointed a large number of Senators all at once, foregoing his pledge to reform the body which introduced a large class without being introduced to the Senate's traditions. I should note that as I write this 22 vacancies have piled up again.

Perhaps the biggest criticism of the Senate is that it is increasingly losing its credential as the house of 'sober second thought'. In the 1990s the Senate amended only about 7% of the legislation introduced. It was considerably higher in decades past. Between 2000 and 2013 the Senate did not give royal assent to 75 bills. The cause of the vast majority of these appears to be prorogation or dissolution and not the deliberations of the Senate itself. Of course when the Senate goes against the will of the elected House of Commons it can stir controversy because in the mind of Canadians it lacks legitimacy. This is the fundamental contradiction that the authors in this book seem to say is irrelevant, that the appointed model can work and gain legitimacy if Canadians better understand its work.

Serge Joyal and David E. Smith, among others, offers avenues for the Senate of Canada to be reformed. Senator Joyal accepts the consensus view that amending the constitution is not reasonable and explores some of the non-constitutional options. Most of these reforms seem sensible to me, but don't address many of the basic issues people have with the appointed upper house.

Defending the Senate as an institution in the current status quo is difficult for a simple reason. Like the House of Commons it requires many players to act on good faith and carry out their duties sincerely. The Senate could hold impressive and dignified Canadians and legal and policy experts, but that is left entirely to the discretion of the prime minister. There is nothing preventing any prime minister from appointing a wholly unrepresentative group with no better qualifications than loyalty to his/her party. I think this book could badly do with a revision to address some of the obvious decline the upper house has suffered since 2000. I would recommend a selection of the essays, particularly the ones cited above, for those interested in exploring Senate reform. For more casual readers I would say pass on this one, it fails to provide enough insight on the current Senate. 

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Worth Reading - July 16, 2015

Andrew Coyne writes about the question of whether we're not in or heading into a recession and how silly that specific debate is

Jon Kay in the Walrus writes in defence of the much-maligned Pan Am Games and Toronto's whining as it develops into a world-class city

Neil MacDonald at CBC writes about what Canada can learn from the United States. He raises some very interesting points.

Life on Brampton's City Council has only become more difficult for Mayor Linda Jeffrey in the wake of the delaying vote on the LRT. Grain of salt, the article cites Councillor Sprovieri who has many critics of his own.

Ever wonder what political parties spend their money on? A reporter from Global has some answers. 

Jen Gerson (someone you should definitely follow on Twitter) writes that Stephen Harper's approach to media is childish. My word choice, not hers.

Martin Regg Cohn writes that Harper's aversion to meeting with Premier's will only increase the importance of Premier conferences going forward. 

Finally, two articles from Granola Shotgun. The first is about accommodating growth and success in suburban cities and the obstacles that it presents. Second, one about Cincinnati and redeveloping old urban properties.

This is the maiden speech by Mhairi Black, the youngest MP in the UK House of Commons of the Scottish Nationalist Party. Quite impressive, in my opinion. 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Amalgamation, De-Amalgamation and Governing Cities

It's hard to come to consensus with a group of people who fundamentally disagree, or see the world in different ways. On the provincial and federal levels we have political parties that help smooth out the disagreements between different regions and interests. At the municipal level the small differences of geography play a much greater role and often feed into fundamentally different perspectives on how a city should be governed. Last week the Fraser Institute released a report that suggested that amalgamation did nothing to cut the costs it was intended to do.

The metaphor that you cannot put toothpaste back in the
tube is often applied to amalgamation, but is it impossible to undo?

Spacing had a piece by Sean Marshall about the recent Toronto vote on the Gardiner East's future and amalgamation. Some observers looking at how the vote broke down said that this was the perfect argument for de-amalgamation. Amalgamation in Toronto has been blamed for a number of woes, including much wasted time on transit projects and the election of Rob Ford.

Toronto is hardly unique in its concerns. In the Region of Peel there has always been squabbles between the three municipalities that make it up: Mississauga, Brampton and Caledon. For much of Peel's past the conflict has been between Mississauga, the largest of the three, and its smaller partners. Former Mayor Hazel McCallion often raised the spectre of Mississauga as a single-tier city, like Toronto or Guelph, and leaving the Region of Peel altogether. However, recently the concern has been from Caledon being forced into a decision by Brampton and Mississauga over development. At a recent Regional Council meeting the Caledon representatives walked out of the room.

A similar discussion is occurring in Niagara, which has to deal with many more municipalities and a much greater disparity between urban and rural areas. 

As Marshall points out, and is echoed by Ashley Csanady in the National Post, the real consequence of amalgamation has been a more equal share of services across larger municipalities. Marshall cites the example of libraries which have much improved across the entire city since amalgamation.

Csanady argues that proponents of de-amalgamation would be wise to look at what has happened in Montreal where partial de-amalgamation has resulted in convoluted governing structures. In addition a regional government would likely still have to be in place unless, in the example of Peel, Mississauga becomes completely independent.

I think of myself as an urban progressive. I can share the frustration of urban/downtown representatives forced to accept half a loaf, or no loaf at all, because of political compromise with their suburban or rural colleagues. At heart I think the more locally one can make political decisions the better off everyone is. For Torontonians I can imagine if Peel was amalgamated and city governments done away with I would not be happy. Toronto and Canadian cities are somewhat strange on the international stage. London, England is much larger than Toronto, but it has independent boroughs under a regional council. Seoul, Tokyo, Paris, Berlin, among many others, each have a model much more like old Metro Toronto, a regional government (sometimes province/state-like in powers) and districts with independent elected authorities. As Toronto grows ever larger I think the centralized, unitary government it has will become more and more unwieldy. It would likely be beneficial not just for governance reasons, but civic engagement to devolve power more locally, shrink the size of wards and the cost of elections and better represent the diversity of individual neighbourhoods. Rather than undoing amalgamation I would much rather see our governments talk about devolving power back to the more local level.

The truth of the matter is the local politics is often as fiery as national politics and for reasons that are harder to ascertain why. This likely isn't a matter of the "best" system but different systems with both worse and better outcomes. Toronto can overcome the differences between urban and suburban, and all localities can overcome their internal conflicts given sufficient compromise and leadership.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Worth Reading - July 9, 2015

I spent my night last night at Brampton City Council watching delegations present on the Hurontario-Main LRT (I also wrote about this on Tuesday). Peter Criscione wrote up the story, which concludes with Council delaying the decision a further six weeks after a six-hour meeting. 

A study by the Fraser Institute suggests that amalgamation was a misstep

Stephen Maher writes that political parties need to become more accountable

There is a proposal to build a massive statue, the Mother of Canada, on Cape Breton Island to commemorate our war dead. Colby Cash in the National Post ridicules this grandioise, narrow symbol and redirects to where it matters more. I would add that I have previously supported more public art and statues in this country.

Vox has an article on how the American Revolution was a terrible mistake. I found this essay novel, but there are major flaws in it as well. Fun to think about though.

Alice Funke scrutinizes our election laws and finds another gaping hole that explains why a Quebec separatist party has a candidate in the Peterborough, Ontario by-election. 

Prime Minister Harper has shed a significant number of prominent cabinet members since the last election. Andrew Coyne writes that he increasingly stands alone

Adam Radwanski asks how is Premier Kathleen Wynne impacting the federal Liberal vote

As the author writes, underfunding transit is becoming as Canadian as maple syrup. Here is an explanation of why. Oddly appropriate given last night.