Should Dion Liberals have triggered a July election anyway?

Jun 12th, 2008 | By | Category: Ottawa Scene

On Saturday, June 7 it was reported that “ranking members of the Liberal caucus this week repeatedly pushed Stephane Dion to trigger a federal election campaign next week, but the Liberal Leader rebuffed their pleas.” By the following Monday, June 9 a “Canadian Press Harris-Decima survey compared attitudes toward the Tories and Liberals in a head-to-head, two-party format,” and “found that 44 per cent of respondents said they’d prefer a Liberal government after the next election, compared with 37 per cent who preferred the Conservatives.”

So, has Stephane Dion stumbled yet again? Has he blown his more or less glorious party’s latest best chances of unseating the Harper minority government, and regaining its historic place in Ottawa, etc, etc? He has said that he does not “want to provoke a July election.” He does not think July is “the right month to seize his chance because it’s the only month of the year with sun and heat'” in Canada. But is he right? Or is he just a weak leader indeed – as a fresh batch of Conservative attack ads have begun to claim, in the endless boring shadow boxing between Steven and Stphane? (And despite the most recent remarkable adventures of Julie Couillard?)

1. Only two July elections since 1872 …

The historical record lends some degree of support to Dion’s argument about the imprudence of July elections in Canadian federal politics.

The first two general elections of the present confederation lasted over several weeks or even months, presumably to accommodate the comparatively primitive Canada-wide communication networks of the day (7 August 20 September 1867 and 20 July 12 October 1872). Since 1872 there have been 37 elections, each held on a single day. Only two of them have taken place in July (and only one in August, which is at least a close second to July as a month of sun and heat in the northern lakes, forests, plains, mountains, and rugged sea-bound coasts).

The first July election was on July 28, 1930, during the early life of the fabled Great Depression. On the immediate surface this proved a bad day for Liberal prime minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, who called the election. His government was soundly defeated by R.B. Bennett’s Conservatives. On the other hand, you could also say this finally proved fortuitous for King’s later record as Canada’s longest-serving prime minister. It allowed him and his party to escape most of the blame for the worst days of the local variation on the Great Depression.

On the other hand again, the second July election, on July 8, 1974, brought Pierre Elliott Trudeau his second majority government – after the minority government that proved the best he could do in his second contest, on October 30, 1972. On yet another hand still again, however, on July 8, 1974: “The governing Liberal Party won its first majority government since 1968, “and Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau won “his third term” in office. But the “Progressive Conservatives, led by Robert Stanfield, did well in the Atlantic provinces, and in the West.” Only “the Liberal support in Ontario and Quebec ensured a majority Liberal government.”

The general scholarly conclusion here would seem to be that there have been only two July elections since 1872, because this is indeed not such a good month for Canadian federal elections, as the scholarly M. Dion has urged. On the other hand, both July elections which have taken place have arguably been good enough for the Liberal Party of Canada, one way or another.

(And to round this quick and dirty survey of Canadian high summer federal elections out: “The Canadian federal election of 1953 was held on August 10 to elect members of the Canadian House of Commons of the 22nd Parliament of Canada. Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent led his Liberal Party of Canada to another majority government, although the party lost seats to the other parties.” And this time St. Laurent’s Liberals did well enough in all provinces, except Alberta and Saskatchewan. Alberta was dominated by the old Social Credit Party, and Saskatchewan by the CCF predecessors of the present-day New Democrats.)

2. Carbon tax plan fuels Liberal unrest … Tory ads attack Dion’s carbon tax proposal …

Another reason Stphane Dion has given for not jumping into a July election, despite all the recent Tory misfortunes and (more or less) propitious polls, is that his proposed new carbon-tax-driven environmental policy needs to be, as it were, test-driven and fine-tuned over the long hot summer months – when too few voters are paying enough attention to cause serious damage if the tests don’t go so well, and so forth.

As if to demonstrate that Dion’s new policy does need some kind of serious fine tuning, the Harper Conservatives have already been proactive on this front. On Sunday, June 8 Lorrie Goldstein of the Sun chain wrote about “a multi-media summer advertising campaign by the federal Conservatives starting today, by which they hope to make Canadians not only cynical about Dion’s proposed carbon tax, but suspicious of the Liberal leader’s motives.”

On June 9 Joan Bryden of the Canadian Press was reporting that “Conservatives are getting a lot of mileage out of fuelcast’ attack ads against Stephane Dion’s carbon tax – even though they may never actually be seen by drivers as they fill up their gas tanks … The novel ads were unveiled Sunday and were supposed to start airing Tuesday on video screens set up at some gas stations in the Toronto area … However, the only Canadian company in the gas-pump TV business – Fuelcast Media Network – said Monday that it has a strict policy against broadcasting any political messages on its screens at 113 Esso stations in and around Toronto.”

On June 10 CTV News was reporting: “A prominent resource economist has pronounced himself disgusted with dishonest’ Conservative attack ads on a Liberal carbon tax proposal that’s yet to be unveiled.” But on the same day Susan Delacourt was telling Toronto Star readers: “Carbon tax plan fuels Liberal unrest … Party has put itself in position to be attacked by Tories, MP says.”

Ms. Delacourt went on: “Dion is facing a restive Liberal caucus, many of whom opposed propping up the government in another confidence vote last night, on top of new Conservative attack ads that mock the Liberal leader and the carbon tax idea he wants to use the summer selling to Canadians.”

On June 11 Jane Taber at the Globe and Mail was explaining “Liberals unsure Dion can sell carbon-tax plan … Party leader delays rollout of proposal amid concerns from some caucus members of ‘weak’ communication.”

Ms. Taber went on: “The Liberal Leader has been promising to announce his carbon-tax plan for weeks now, but so far no details have materialized. The green-tax plan, sources say, would put tax levies on carbon fuels designed to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. Sources say it will be revenue-neutral … Liberal spokesman Mark Dunn said they are still working on the finer details, including [the] rollout.'”

Finally on Thursday, June 12 Globe and Mail columnist Lawrence Martin put at least something of a more pro-Dion spin on the new green Grit vision: The Liberal leader’s “carbon-tax plan, involving significant tax reform, is being hurriedly prepared for a release next Wednesday. The carbon guy, as someone called him, has promised there will be no additional tax on a litre of gasoline. At the same time, however, Mr. Dion will find it difficult to argue that there won’t be an indirect marginal effect at the pump.” Nonetheless: “Dion admirers say he is approaching this issue with the determination he showed on the Clarity Act [from back when he was Jean Chretien’s pro-federalist point man on Quebec sovereignty]. People told him the bill, making it more difficult for Quebec to secede, would backfire. It didn’t turn out that way.”

3. Julie Couillard reprise … Residential schools apology … More polls: Liberals in Ontario, Tories in the West …

Meanwhile, a few fresh revelations about the apparently always enchanting not-a-biker-girl Julie Couillard have underlined some of the current Conservative minority government’s own gathering liabilities of the past few months.

On Wednesday June 11 the Vancouver Sun was reporting that “opposition MPs increased their calls Wednesday for a public inquiry into the [Couillard-Maxime Bernier] affair, saying it is beginning to look like Couillard set out to deliberately infiltrate the top echelons of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government … The calls come following the revelation that a second Conservative has been forced to quit as a result of his relationship with Couillard … Bernard Cote, a senior adviser to Public Works Minister Michael Fortier and a former vice-president of the Conservative Party’s Quebec wing, was ordered to tender his resignation after Montreal newspaper La Presse discovered that he had dated Couillard at the same time that a real estate company with which Couillard was associated was competing for a contract for a new federal office building planned for Quebec City.”

Then on June 12 Daniel Leblanc at the Globe and Mail explained how: “The Couillard affair mushroomed into a case of alleged influence peddling yesterday, following revelations that two Conservative officials discussed a major federal project last year with a woman with past ties to biker gangs … Federal officials confirmed that Julie Couillard raised the [real estate conglomerate] Kevlar Group’s bid on a project worth an estimated $30-million in Quebec City with former foreign affairs minister Maxime Bernier and ex-public works adviser Bernard Ct … The role of Kevlar in the saga appears pivotal, with sources saying last night that it was Philippe Morin, a co-chair of Kevlar, who introduced Mr. Bernier and Ms. Couillard to one another in April of 2007. The then-industry minister and Ms. Couillard ended the evening with drinks at Mr. Bernier’s hotel, Ms. Couillard said.”

On the other hand, the formal apology for the over-a-century-long sad history of aboriginal residential schools that Stephen Harper delivered to the aboriginal peoples of Canada in the federal Parliament on Wednesday, June 11 was also a reminder that his government has been active, in a more or less high-minded way, on three key Canadian constitutional issues of the late 20th and early 21st centuries – the role of predominately French-speaking Quebec in the modern confederation, aboriginal rights and development (despite Mr. Harper’s dismissal of Paul Martin’s Kelowna Accord), and (of course and so what, some will say) Senate reform as an approach to the traditional problems of regional alienation in Canadian federalism.

Especially in Ontario (?), Mr. Harper has not received as much credit as he may deserve on these constitutional issues. And it is easy enough to belittle his residential schools apology as mere words. (Or even to say with the late Pierre Trudeau that such apologies for past injustices never add up to effective present-day policy in the end. Or to note how young Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre finally had to apologize for saying “native people need to learn the value of hard work more than they need residential schools compensation.”) But if you read the text of Mr. Harper’s June 11, 2008 apology with some pretense at an open mind, you might conclude that if such things are going to be done this example illustrates how to do it well enough.

Finally, it is almost certainly worth noting that recent polls are not suggesting massive migration of popular support from Conservatives to Liberals, Canada-wide. The same Canadian Press Harris-Decima survey which found that in some rather artificial two-party head-to-head match-up “44 per cent of respondents said they’d prefer a Liberal government after the next election, compared with 37 per cent who preferred the Conservatives,” also found that more traditional “weekly voting intention numbers had the Conservatives at 32 per cent nationally, the Liberals at 31, with New Democrats at 15, the Greens at 12 and the Bloc Quebecois at six per cent.”

Similarly, a new Strategic Counsel poll for the Globe and Mail and CTV News “suggests the Tories would barely hang on to minority status were an election to be held today, with 32 per cent of Canadians surveyed saying they would mark their ballots for the government – down four points from the 2006 election … The Liberals are holding steady at 30 per cent, the same as in the past election, as are the New Democrats at 18 per cent … The Greens are at 10 per cent, up five from the vote.”

Another statistic from the Strategic Counsel poll points to what at least some might see as another serious enough strength in the Harper Conservative case: “In Ontario, the Liberals increased their lead from last month by three percentage points over the Tories, to 39-31. The Tories continue to dominate Western Canada, with 45 per cent opting for the government, compared to 20 per cent for the Liberals and 23 per cent for the NDP.”

The Harris-Decima survey also noted that their 44 per cent for the Liberals in a head-to-head match-up “held true in every region except the three Prairie provinces, where more respondents favoured a Tory outcome.” (Sometimes, numbers of this sort put BC with the Prairies and sometimes with Ontario and/or Quebec, and/or Atlantic Canada too. But while BC is definitely not part of the Prairies, in the end it no doubt does have more in common with Alberta than Ontario.)

Here someone concerned first and foremost about the political health of Canada at large might guess that one key strength of the Harper Conservative minority government is the extent to which it serves as a vehicle for the rising West – from the Lake of the Woods to the Pacific coast – to have its well enough deserved turn at running things in Ottawa. (Assuming of course that it does serve in this way, while also making some kind of fresh accommodation with French-speaking Quebec, if not quite so exactly through the boudoir of Julie Couillard?)

And from this angle too, until the federal Liberals do at last start to put down stronger and deeper roots in Western Canada (and perhaps most realistically in BC, to start with?), their return to the corridors of power in the federal capital that they know so well may not be the absolutely best thing at this juncture for the future of Canada at large.

From this view at any rate, for a while yet a continuing or even another (perhaps somewhat electorally chastened?) Harper Conservative minority government – or, more remotely, some strange new kind of Liberal-NDP-Green Majority Coalition, with big enough footprints in all regions – could be what the Great Spirit of the Canadian future would appreciate most?

4. But can the Harper government really last until October 19, 2009 … or is early 2009 the date to watch now?

None of this is to suggest that the present Harper minority government can or should last until (in another one of its perhaps ultimately less impressive and more minor constitutional innovations) the first fixed-date Canadian federal election mandated by the former Bill C-16: An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act, on October 19, 2009.

Mr. Harper’s present minority government, even a balanced critic might urge, is still trying a little too hard to behave as if it were a majority government, when it palpably is not. And that is by many estimations turning the federal Parliament in Ottawa into an even more dysfunctional organization than usual. Even on the most high-minded best-for-Canada scenario, it may still take another election, that results in another (and again perhaps somewhat chastened and still more slender) minority government, to turn Stephen Harper into the kind of broadly inclusive Canadian prime minister he will have to become if he really does want to have a career in office of any significant length. And that election could no doubt arrive sometime after the all-too-short hot summer that lies ahead of us now … at some point more or less soon enough?

So there may or may not actually be a fresh federal election sometime this fall, vaguely synchronized with the much more world historical contest among the Canadian Mohawk poet Pauline Johnson’s “Yankees to the south of us.” Meanwhile, Mr. Lawrence Martin of the Globe and Mail has now helpfully clarified another aspect of the Dion Liberals’ current internal politics, that is probably also worth bearing in mind:

Inside his own party Stephane Dion’s “push on the carbon tax hasn’t met as much opposition [lately] as his refusal to go to the polls [as early as this July]. Bob Rae lit right into him,’ said a Liberal who was present at the meeting of the party’s priorities and planning committee last week. There were about 20 Liberals present. No one stood up to support the leader. Not Michael Ignatieff. Not Ralph Goodale. Not John McCallum, not the others. Among those angry after the meeting was Mr. Goodale, a supporter of Mr. Rae in the leadership race.

“Mr. Dion told them that the fundamentals hadn’t changed, that now was not the time to go. In the back of his mind was very likely the same thought that was in the back of the minds of Mr. Rae, Mr. Ignatieff and some of the others … The party holds its biennial meeting in December. Liberal rules say a leadership review is to be held at the first biennial following an election. Had Mr. Dion gone to the polls this summer and fared poorly he risked losing his leadership as early as December.”

Mr. Martin carries on. The current Dionist plot “is for the Liberal Leader to sell his carbon plan throughout the summer. The House normally doesn’t return until the end of September. Some Liberals suspect the Conservatives will delay the recall to avoid a fall campaign. That’s unlikely. They wouldn’t want to appear as cowards. But given the time frames, the chances of an election before the Liberal biennial convention are getting slimmer … In turn that means the chances of forcing out Mr. Dion early are diminished as well. If a campaign isn’t held before December he is likely safe until the following biennial … two and a half years away.” (And on these somewhat twisted calculations Canadian voters might finally go to the polls again sometime early in 2009 – just as a new President of the USA today is settling into office?)

JUNE 4: JUNE NIGHTS 2008 .. Wake us when it’s over, voters planning long hot holidays say?

At least some will still remember the Jimmy Dorsey quasi-hit from the late 1950s: “I’ll hold you, enfold you / then dreams will come true / So give me a June night / the moonlight and you.” In the United States the dreams that have started to come true in June 2008 all turn around Barack Obama (and Hillary Clinton who, it seems, is finally going to do the right thing … probably).

Up in Canada we have the perhaps somewhat cooling biker-girl beauty, Julie Couillard. Then “Ontario, Quebec go it alone on climate,”and “Lutte contre les GES – Ottawa s’oppose au projet conjoint du Qubec et de l’Ontario.” Then again, in case you are stuck somewhere in Central Canada and think that the Harper government has nothing at all going for it these days, consider: “Stymied in Parliament, Harper presses provinces on Senate reform,” and “Manitoba moves on Senate changes … A plan for provincewide hearings adds momentum to push for elected chamber.” Finally, some say Ms. Couillard may even do Stephen Harper some good – and something new about Chuck Cadman has come up, Mr. Harper’s party claims. But the biggest question no doubt remains: how many voting people of Canada are still paying attention to any of this, as the long hot summer draws near?

1. Biker-girl beauty may finally lead to … Chuck Cadman???

Chantal Hbert has written in the Toronto Star: “After weeks of self-defeating silence, the notion that the [Harper] government is embarrassing itself daily to avoid the graver injury of admitting that it brushed off earlier security warnings as to [Julie] Couillard’s past can no longer be ruled out.”

In the Globe and Mail Lysiane Gagnon has reported that the “Couillard-Bernier affair is more damaging than a standard political scandal: This tawdry soap opera is making a laughing stock of a former key cabinet minister, and it seriously erodes the credibility of his boss, Stephen Harper, who is after all the major culprit in this story.”

Meanwhile, the “political storm over the forced resignation of former foreign affairs minister Maxime Bernier [has] entered a new phase … with Opposition Leader Stphane Dion demanding the RCMP be called in.”

And the “opposition parties [have] created a parliamentary inquiry … into the mishandling of confidential documents by former foreign affairs minister Maxime Bernier, but Stephen Harper rejected calls for rare prime ministerial testimony before MPs.”

On the other hand, a contrarian Roy MacGregor in the Globe and Mail has raised the prospect that the Couillard-Bernier affair “is actually good news for Canada. The rest of the world may now stop thinking of us as The Great White Waste of Time’ and see us more as a country of action.”

Moreover, Mr. MacGregor urges, “the biggest beneficiary, in the long run, may be Harper’s own stern party … The talking heads don’t always get it right … Maxime Bernier’s brief fling with Julie Couillard could “show the country that the Conservative Party of Canada isn’t even remotely as tight-assed and uptight and hidebound and boring as we’d all come to believe over these past 2 years … Max Bernier may have paid the price for his weaknesses. But it’s just possible his party may profit a bit by demonstrating it is, to no small surprise, somewhat human.”

Out in the New West that is actually running Canada at the moment the big news is something completely different. Both the Vancouver Sun and the Calgary Herald have reported: “Cadman tape was doctored: Tories … The federal Conservatives [have] alleged … that a tape implicating Prime Minister Stephen Harper in the Cadman affair had been doctored … The Conservatives said a scientific analysis by two of North America’s leading forensic audio experts indicates that the tape of an interview with author Tom Zytaruk was incomplete and contained doctored soundbites’.”

All this is enough to remind voters in all parts of the country that the key Canada-wide problem right now is putting in the dock up at the lake. Or getting ready for a cruise to Newfoundland and Labrador. Or Gwaii Haanas (aka the Queen Charlotte Islands). Or even renting a houseboat on the Rideau Canal.

2. Old green mare: Ontario-Quebec carbon cap-and-trade system

What to make of the news that on Monday, June 2, 2008, Ontario and Quebec held a joint cabinet meeting in Quebec City (which is this year celebrating its 400th birthday, etc)? And in this way the “Harper government” in Ottawa was “put on notice that a strong, united Central Canada is a force to be reckoned with

“The premiers of Canada’s most populous provinces underlined their point that they don’t need Ottawa to make progress … by signing several agreements … The most significant was an accord to establish a market-based trading system to cut greenhouse-gas emissions, which is at odds with the Harper government’s blueprint on climate change.”

At least some in Ontario and Quebec are saying that their market-based carbon trading system is meant to inspire an eventual Canada-wide scheme, of a sort that the current Harper minority federal government just won’t abide. British Columbia and Manitoba, however, have already opted in to a parallel system involving California and several other western US states.

Which is all bound to make at least some of us wonder somewhat about something, in connection with the future of “Canada and the United States” (also the title of a Canadian senior high school history text of an earlier era).

3. Some kind of further modest beginnings for Senate reform in Western Canada could happen anyway?

Neither Ontario nor Quebec is very interested in reforming the unreformed Senate of Canada. And it is clear enough that the same goes for the present Canadian federal Parliament – appointed Senate and/or elected House of Commons. (Who are the Commoners in Canada anyway? Or more to the point, who are the Non-Commoners?)

Neither of the Harper government’s current Bill C-19: An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867 (Senate tenure) nor Bill C-20: An Act to provide for consultations with electors on their preferences for appointments to the Senate is at all likely to get through either the Canadian House of Commons or the Senate – as these legislative bodies are presently constituted. If you are remotely interested in Canadian Senate reform, some vaguely interesting work has lately been done by the Commons’ Legislative Committee on Bill C-20 (CC20). But that’s about it.

Only some subsequent Harper Conservative majority government could move these bills through the House in Ottawa. (At which point even the current unelected Senate might finally feel obliged to give them its assent as well – on pain of otherwise stirring up a constituency for still more aggressive reform still sooner? Though of course who can really say, even on this point?)

At the same time, recent developments in Saskatchewan and Manitoba – and perhaps even in British Columbia – may at least hold out some prospect that Mr. Harper could conceivably appoint the kind of elected Senators envisioned in his current Bill C-20, for at least these three provinces. (And possibly, say, even Nova Scotia as well?)

Growing Senate vacancies. Bill C-20, that is, envisions federally sponsored Senate elections, so to speak, that would advise the prime minister on whom he might appoint to the Senate if he so chooses, without having to amend the present Constitution of Canada – which can of course quickly become a very tedious business. (On arguments accepted by both the Harper government and a number of eminent constitutional lawyers, this would all be quite acceptable since the prime minister would still in effect ultimately appoint the Senators preferred by the electors, as under the Constitution as it stands. Other constitutional lawyers have disagreed. But like others I for one believe they are wrong.)

Given a willing prime minister (like Mr. Harper himself), however, this same scheme will work well enough if provincial governments hold the consultative elections instead of the federal government. And Mr. Harper has already appointed Bert Brown to the Senate, who was elected in just this way in a provincial election held by Alberta. Now both Saskatchewan and Manitoba are making noises about holding similar provincial elections – and Premier Campbell in BC has told the Globe and Mail that he would not be averse to such “consultations” being held in his province, so long as the federal government pays for them.

Growing numbers of vacancies in the current unreformed Senate are also putting some at least mild practical pressure on the whole question of Senate reform. Apart from Mr. Brown in Alberta, who actually has been elected, and one cabinet minister from Quebec (where elected Conservatives have so far been in short supply), Prime Minister Harper has been unwilling to appoint more unelected Senators, to in some serious degree honour the Senate reform principles that have inspired so much of his party’s Western Canadian base.

As a result, there are at this moment 14 vacancies in the 105-member Senate of Canada – 3 in each of BC and Nova Scotia, 2 in each of Ontario and Quebec, and 1 in each of the Yukon, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Prince Edward Island. Of perhaps somewhat more immediate consequence, all told another 13 Senators will be retiring between now and the scheduled polling day of the first fixed-date Canadian federal election, on Monday, October 19, 2009 – 4 in Quebec, 2 in Ontario, 2 in New Brunswick, 1 in Nunavut, 1 in Saskatchewan, 1 in Manitoba, 1 in Nova Scotia, and 1 in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Potential Senate elections in Western Canada (and Nova Scotia?) . Assuming the current Harper minority government did somehow manage to last until the first fixed-date Canadian federal election, on Monday, October 19, 2009, provincial Senate elections in all of Saskatchewan, Manitoba, British Columbia, and even Nova Scotia could clean up at least 9 of the 27 Senate vacancies that would have accumulated by that point. At the same time, assuming only Saskatchewan and Manitoba held elections (which is as much of a very strong bet as current intelligence would suggest), then none of the current 14 vacancies and only 2 of the upcoming 13 vacancies between now and October 19, 2009 could be filled in this way.

(British Columbia would seem a less likely prospect in this last case: Premier Campbell is apparently not enthusiastic, only willing if Ottawa pays. And while Premier MacDonald of Nova Scotia seems personally somewhat enthusiastic, his party is apparently less so. Both Saskatchewan and Manitoba, however, do appear to be moving ahead with provincial Senate election plans, of one sort or another.)

An obvious enough penultimate point here is that even if Senate elections in Saskatchewan and Manitoba only fill 2 of the 13 vacancies that freshly retired Senators will leave between now and October 2009, a prime minister who continues to refuse to make new Senate appointments without the benefit of advice from the people of Canada in consultative elections will put increasing pressure on provinces who do not want such elections to change their minds – or simply have their Senate seats (and whatever subtle but perhaps somewhat increasing regional or provincial influence in Ottawa they might be able to mobilize) remain vacant.

Moreover, insofar as from a Western Canadian point of view one key problem with the present structure of the unreformed Senate of Canada is that all provinces west of the Ontario-Manitoba border have too few Senators, while (more or less) all provinces east of that border have too many, eastern provinces who are not enthusiastic about joining the western enthusiasm, for consultative Senate elections will just have their effective Senate representation reduced.

All quite legal, according to Professor Hogg . There has been some talk about legal action to force a prime minister who is unwilling to appoint unelected Senators to make such appointments, as (perhaps?) constitutionally required. But given the current state of the unreformed Senate, this would seem an odd quest at best.

Quebec in particular has also raised the prospect of appealing the present Bill C-20 to the Supreme Court of Canada, were it to progress further than seems almost certain in the current federal Parliament. Here some testimony by one of the most eminent constitutional lawyers in Canada today, Professor Peter Hogg, Scholar in Residence, Blake, Cassels and Graydon LLP, before the Legislative Committee on Bill C-20 (CC20), is worth noting:

“It could be argued … that Bill C-20 is, in pith and substance, really an amendment to the method of selecting senators and is therefore unconstitutional under paragraph 42(1)(b). My view is that the Supreme Court of Canada would not accept that argument, and I say that because the appointing power of section 24, which only speaks to the Governor General, does not now impose any restrictions on the consultations or considerations that the Prime Minister might take into account before recommending an appointment to the Governor General.”

Professor Hogg carries on with a still more intriguing point: “For example, right now the Prime Minister could, if he wished, commission an informal poll as to the wishes of the electorate with respect to an appointment from a particular province. The Prime Minister could right now, and in fact has done, respect the choice of the electorate expressed in a provincial election, as we know has been done in respect of appointments from Alberta, where those elections have been held.”

Even without Bill C-20, i.e., Professor Hogg is saying that Prime Minister Harper could hold his own “informal polls” to help him decide who to appoint to the Senate. And then Senator Bert Brown, who has been visiting the provinces, to encourage provincial Senate elections lately, has added another piece to the puzzle: “Quebec’s intergovernmental affairs minister, Benoit Pelletier, has warned that his province is prepared to go to court if necessary to block the Senate election bill … Unlike the federal bill, Brown said letting the provinces take the lead on Senate elections would be immune to challenges from Quebec or other provinces… It’s not possible for (Pelletier) to mount a court challenge for something that’s going on in Saskatchewan or British Columbia’.”

4. Wake us when it’s over … Canadians planning long hot holidays say?

Two other somewhat intriguing developments in current Canadian politics have also come to light on Wednesday, June 4. See “Tories say they won’t be bound by NDP climate bill” and “Ottawa wants to help GM build new car in Oshawa.”

And then again there is the much more dramatic news about Democracy in America in 2008 – and now, finally, as the day winds down: “CBS Poll … Obama Leads McCain” and “Clinton plans to end campaign on Friday: reports.”

In fact, along with the historic contest down south, there seems a good enough chance that there will also be a Canadian federal election this fall. It may likely enough take place even before Leonard Gustafson retires from his Saskatchewan Senate seat this coming November 10 – and perhaps more certainly before Mira Spivak retires from her Manitoba seat on July 12, 2009.

Meanwhile, there probably are some signs of what even John McCain in the USA has called “dramatic changes” ahead in North America – for Canada as well as the United States. For Canadian historians at least there no doubt is something about the joint Ontario-Quebec cabinet meeting this week that echoes the old pre-confederation era of the United Province of Canada. But for most everyone else, the northern summer looms ahead. The internecine political warfare in Ottawa may seem even less interesting than usual. Still, maybe there will be some surprises in Canadian politics over the next few months. Or maybe not.

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