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Jason VandenBeukel

Jason VandenBeukel is a PhD student in political science at the University of Toronto.

A thought for Justin

Won't someone spare a thought for Justin Trudeau? Think how hard life must be for the man, caught as he is between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, his 2015 election promise, which was clear, principled, and incontrovertible: "We are committed to ensuring that 2015 will be the last federal election conducted under the first-past-the-post voting system." On the other hand, his current predicament, expounded on in a recent interview with Le Devoir: "Under Mr. Harper, there were so many people who were unhappy with the government and his approach that people said, ‘We need electoral reform in order to stop having governments we don't like.' However, under the current system, they now have a government with which they are more satisfied. And the thirst to change the electoral system is less striking." It's not his fault, you see. Trudeau never wanted this public adoration, nor expected it. He's just too darn popular. It's what the people want, no doubt about it. He'd love to introduce the sort of meaningful electoral reform that he promised, even if it meant that his party lost the false majority it currently holds in the House of Commons. But haven't you noticed the crowds clamouring in the streets, begging Trudeau to maintain a system which gave his party one hundred percent of the power with less than forty percent of the popular vote? "No Justin, break your promise! It's for the good of the country!" the people shout from Victoria to Iqaluit to St. John's, whipped into an adulatory frenzy by his latest shirtless selfie. A sceptic might say that this midterm conversion has more to do with the fact that the Liberals now benefit from the disproportional effects of first-past-the-post. Never-mind that Trudeau's 2015 majority election win was based… Read More

The Problem with Government by Judicial Fiat

The ongoing debate over the regulation of euthanasia and assisted suicide in Canada provides a perfect example of the problems caused by judicial supremacy. Since the Court struck down the previous law banning euthanasia in the 2015 case of Carter v. Canada, Parliament has been scrambling to come up with a workable replacement that would meet the Court’s deadline of June 6. Well, barring some unforeseeable circumstance, Parliament has failed. The proposed legislation, Bill C-14, having only just passed through the House of Commons on Tuesday night, there seems little prospect that it will make it through the Senate in time to meet the Court’s deadline. Yet parliamentarians can hardly be blamed for the legal limbo in which Canadian doctors and those wishing to seek out assisted dying will find themselves come Monday morning. After the Court struck down the ban last February, they delayed the ruling for one year to give Parliament time to craft a replacement law. The one small problem with this seemingly generous timeline was that a federal election fell right in the middle of this period, which meant that Parliament’s already arduous task of crafting a law on such a contentious issue was further complicated by several months of campaigning, followed by a change in government from Conservative to Liberal. Small wonder, then that the Liberal government was forced to ask for a six-month extension deadline to the original one-year deadline. The Supreme Court gave it four. What has become abundantly clear in the ensuing months is that the Court’s actions have severely undermined the ability of parliamentarians to perform their duty. Had the justices decided to consult a calendar, they might have realized that the presence of a federal election in the middle of the one-year window had the potential to completely upend whatever… Read More

Life after Tom: What’s Next for the NDP?

The rejection of Tom Mulcair at the New Democratic Party convention in Edmonton last weekend was perhaps inevitable, given the position that the party finds itself in. Just a year ago, the NDP had a solid base of support in Quebec, a growing lead in the polls, and the benefit of being the Official Opposition to a government that was, for many Canadians, well past its best-before date. To fall from those lofty heights to third place in the House of Commons, and then to see the already weak support achieved in the election decline even further in post-election polling, must be a hard blow for the party to bear.   As the leader who oversaw this disastrous decline in NDP fortunes, Tom Mulcair unquestionably has to take a hefty share of the blame onto himself. The party’s failure to run a separate campaign in Quebec, despite the fact that they were counting on the province to deliver about half the seats they would need to form government, meant that they were already vulnerable to attack when the niqab debate exploded onto the political scene. Mulcair’s relatively poor performance in the debates was perhaps the result of inflated expectations due to his stellar record in the House of Commons, but there is no denying that when people were actually paying attention, he failed to deliver. And perhaps most devastatingly of all, his shift towards the centre of the political spectrum in the lead up to the recent election failed to deliver centrist voters even as it left the NDP vulnerable to attack on the left from, of all parties, the Liberals.   Yet in many ways, Mulcair was the victim of his own success. His inquisitorial prosecution of the Conservative government during Question Period was a major factor in making the… Read More

Harper and the Senate

It’s now been over a year since the Supreme Court handed down its position on Senate reform, effectively ending any hope of reform or abolition of the much-derided Red Chamber. For the most part, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been silent on the issue, aside from an admission that any hope for Senate reform in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling would now go unfulfilled.   Last week, however, Harper finally addressed the issue. His position, which has already been met with scepticism and criticism from those who think that it will not pass constitutional muster, is that he will simply refuse to appoint any more Senators for as long as possible.   As a comprehensive position on Senate reform, it seems to leave much to be desired. Aside from the obvious fact that the provinces may be less than happy to find that their actual share of representation in the upper chamber is ever more out of line with the number of seats to which they are constitutionally entitled, Harper's stance also apparently violates the Canadian Constitution, which says that the "Governor-General shall, from time to time... summon qualified persons to the Senate." If anything, this new stance on the Senate seems to be just another Supreme Court defeat waiting to happen.   And yet, perhaps Harper's position on the Senate is not as simplistic as it appears. For one thing, it is hardly a new position: the last time the Prime Minister advised the appointment of a new Senator was in March of 2013. In that sense, Harper is simply making official a stance that he has stuck to for over two years.   Furthermore, Harper's attitude towards the Senate actually has the potential to bring about real change. To see how true this is, consider the… Read More

It’s long past time for electoral reform in Canada

Wait! Stop! Don't turn away just yet! I know what you're thinking: another progressive pontificator whining about our electoral system simply because they are incapable of properly taking advantage of it. I promise I'm not one of them. Indeed, until quite recently, I believed that Canada's first past the post system (FPTP) was one of the greatest features of our parliamentary democracy. Majority governments, a far off dream for most political parties across the democratic world, were par for the course in Canada. Not for us the indignity of coalition negotiations, or the fracturing of our party system into a dozen different groups advocating for everything from internet piracy to the reconstruction of the Berlin Wall. Canadian politics were of a different breed than the politics of those countries that used proportional representation: where their governments were chaotic and shaky, ours were ordered and stable. Of course, to be perfectly honest, it never hurt that the party to most recently benefit from FPTP was the Conservative Party. As a conservative (and for the most part, also a Conservative), I was quite happy to see my party win a majority government with less than forty percent of the popular vote. So what if it wasn't exactly representative? At least Stephen Harper was the Prime Minister. And after all, hadn't Jean Chretien won a majority government in 1997 with even less of the popular vote? Now it was our turn. I also once thought that, as a conservative, it was my solemn duty to support any aspect of the Canadian political system, which had survived since Confederation. If it made it this far, I figured, it must have some merit. So what if that merit was largely the ability to perpetuate the electoral dominance of those parties in power? Shutting out fringe… Read More
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