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Edward Wong

Stephen Harper’s iron grip on power (and how to break it)

This spring, Prime Minister Stephen Harper quietly appointed three defeated candidates to the Senate soon after the pompous swearing-in of his new Cabinet. Predictably, the CBC and Jack Layton howled. After all, this is the same prime minister who promised to only appoint elected Senators, in order to reform the Senate without constitutional change. But this promise-breaking is nothing new. Stephen Harper has done undemocratic things before—too many to count, really. The question is, how does he get away with it all?Since becoming prime minister, Harper has done many things opposed by a vast majority of Canadians, including scrapping the long-form census, proroguing Parliament twice, ordering F-35s, and funding new prisons. Given all this, Canadians who oppose the Conservative government often wonder how his supporters can still ardently support him, even as his party is implicated in scandals and unpopular decisions.What is Harper’s secret?We often consider a leader who wins a majority on his first try to be a better politician than one that takes four elections; after all, time is of the essence, especially in politics, where a few years is an eternity. Harper, however, would probably disagree, and not only because he is the latter type of political leader. He witnessed Brian Mulroney and John Diefenbaker assemble electoral coalitions that won the most sweeping majorities in the history of the Canadian Parliament, only to be swept away later. Their strategies for quick success were to appeal to a majority of the population, take power in overwhelming landslides, and proceed to pay off many of those who are in their coalition, often by enacting policies that harm people who didn’t vote for them. Harper is not that kind of leader. Both Diefenbaker and Mulroney’s coalitions imploded because they didn’t govern for all Canadians, they didn’t govern conservatively enough, and… Read More

Democratic reform should be democratic

Democracy in Canada is broken, at least according to some of our finest thinkers. Members of Parliament toe the party line, their leaders tolerate no dissent, and your only shot at getting elected is as a party member. This reality translates to no MP independence, irrelevant House of Commons debates, and non-existent political discourse.But before we form preconceived judgments, we should look at where our idyllic model of the free-thinking, independent MP comes from. The “Golden Age of Parliament”—from the early 1700s to the mid-1800s—was an era of unprecedented legislative drama in Britain. Governments fell every couple of years, prime ministers were ousted, and MPs formed fluid alliances of like-minded legislators, which served as the predecessors of the political parties we have today. These loose alliances formed and broke over different issues that the government and legislature must agree on, while the rule of the Westminster system remained paramount. We call this the “confidence of the House” today. Then, as now, if the government ever disagreed with the legislature on the budget, either the government or the legislature must be replaced, whether by an election or a change-in government, and oftentimes, both.The Golden Age was when the role of the MP was fleshed out, but less often cited is the total lack of democracy during the period. Before democratic reform, there was no secret ballot nor was there franchise for women or the poor. Rotten boroughs with perhaps as few as ten electors sent MPs to Westminster, as there was no representation by population. Some, such as Oxbridge graduates, received two votes, and some boroughs (constituencies in modern parlance), got to send two MPs to Westminster.While violence at the ballot booth was frowned upon, meaningful reform did not begin until 1832. To be sure, we do hear about the dark side… Read More

Does corporal punishment belong in a liberal justice system?

Peter Moskos’s controversial book, In Defense of Flogging, is a breath of fresh air. Moskos opposes the war on drugs and excessive incarceration in the United States. He advocates, instead, the reintroduction of corporal punishment, a conclusion with which I have come to agree over the past few months. It would be a step forward to introduce an option for offenders who are convicted of non-violent offences to choose beatings over jail time.Don’t get me wrong; I am against cruelty. But besides torture, imprisonment is the cruelest form of punishment known to man (and woman, but mostly we do it to men). Gouging a man’s eyes out is cruel, but how is jailing, which prevents him from using them as he wills, much better? Amputation is a cruel way to prevent someone from walking again, but precisely that is what incarceration does.My first point is that incarceration is outrageously cruel because human beings were created to be free. We need freedom in the same way we need clothing or shelter.My second point is that physical punishment is not necessarily bad for the convict, but may instead be beneficial. People nowadays are imprisoned because they have either done something evil or something stupid (I will only consider extraordinary evil evil; everything else is just stupid). Evil is to be locked away so as to keep the public safe; stupid needs correction.While learning anything can prove difficult, one foolproof way of learning, if to the point of involuntary learning, is pain. At my workplace half of the time the doorknobs give me a painful shock of static electricity. Try as I might to not flinch, I cannot help it. I rationalize. I order my body to approach the door, to take the pain it knows might be coming without flinching, and yet… Read More