Monday, 29 December 2008

Christmas and New Year Message Links

Do you get annoyed when the media interprets speeches by government and opposition leaders, rather than letting you hear the entire message yourself? I do.

I often wish the pundits would stop explaining and playing 30 second blurbs of the speeches. I prefer to listen to what is said and make up my own mind what the message is.

In the Spirit of the Season, I am adding the following Christmas and New Year Message links. No comments. No interpretations. Just a chance for you to listen for yourself. I am sure you'll figure out what each of these people is trying to say. And you don't need me to explain.

The Queen's Christmas Speech to the Commonwealth

New Year's Message from the Governor General of Canada, Her Excellency Michaƫlle Jean

Christmas Message from the Prime Minister of Canada, the Right Honourable Stephen Harper

Christmas Message from the Leader of Canada's Official Opposition, Michael Ignatieff

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Monday, 22 December 2008

Sorting out Fact from Propaganda

Hi everyone. I hope your Christmas planning is going well and that all this snow shovelling isn't dampening your Christmas spirit. Here's a little political myth busting that the media doesn't seem to want to tackle. I posted this article on the TWG blog about a week ago. The Word Guild is an organizations for Canadian writers are Christians. Since I know many of my readers are of different faith perspectives, I'm also posting it here:

Let me begin with a verse from scripture: Prove all things, hold fast that which is good. 1 Thessalonians 5:21

Now let me share a couple of historical facts that I've discovered that run counter to what you hear on the news. First, Michael Ignatieff's, promotion to Leader of the Opposition, without an election, is nothing new in our democratic tradition. Both Ralph Klein and Ed Stelmach, in Alberta, became Premiers without an election in their first terms. This has happened several times at the federal level as well.

As loyal members of their parties, the caucus members (MLAs and MPs) of our political parties normally accept their memberships' choice about who should be their leader in the Legislative Assembly or House of Commons.

That is convention. It is not law, although some parties do have by-laws, within their organizations, to require members of the party sitting in the legislature or Parliament (which includes the Crown, Senate, and House of Commons) to follow the party's instruction about who to choose as First Minister or Leader of the Opposition.

But, rarely, a party's caucus (MLAs or MPs who sit as members of that party) chooses a leader without a party vote. That too is acceptable in our system of Parliamentary Democracy.

For example, when Alberta Premier William Aberhart died suddenly in 1943, there was no party convention or consultation. Instead, the Social Credit Members of the Legislature got together at a caucus meeting and made Ernest Manning the Premier. The voters and the Opposition had no say in this decision. This is a perfectly acceptable way of becoming Premier in our system of government.

We are a Constitutional Monarchy. It is the role of the Crown to ensure that there is always a stable government in Canada and the Crown has several options to ensure it. The Crown can also deny unconstitional laws as the LG of Alberta did when William Aberhart tried to deny Freedom of the Press in the Province of Alberta. His decision was backed up by both the Governor General, the Provincial Courts, and the Supreme Court of Canada. I assure you that Albertans are very glad the LG took his job seriously enough in 1935 not to sign away our Freedom of Speech because the Premier asked him to. (Interestingly, this episode is not usually discussed by the popular media, although Lord Byng's decision to deny Mackenzie King an election is.)

Why? Because first ministers (Premiers, Prime Ministers - these words literally mean first minister- are elected as members of an assembly (legislature, House of Commons) for a particular riding (sometimes called 'constituency'). Canadians, like Brits, Australians, New Zealanders, and other Commonwealth Realms elect members of assemblies (Legislatures, Parliaments). They do not elect First Ministers.

It is convention that the head of the largest party becomes First Minister. The leader of the second largest party usually becomes Leader of the Official (or Loyal) Opposition (Also sometimes called Leader of Her Majesty's Official --or loyal- Opposition.

But coalitions are also acceptable: one coalition was between Sir John A. Macdonald and Sir Georges Etienne Cartier. It led to Confederation.

In the 1950s, the parties of British Columbia formed a coalition to deny the Commonwealth Cooperative Federation power. In a rather dramatic story, typical of British Columbia's colourful political scene, the plan led to the election of W.A.C. Bennett's Social Credit Party.

Learning one's history and constitutional framework helps us discern what is being said to us by our 'leaders' and, with prayer, leads us to where we need to go.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Role of the LOCAL MP

05 July 1858. The Province of Canada's new Inspector General rises to speak in the colonial assembly. He has an idea to end fighting and factions in the Canadian Parliament and to save British North America's economy. Why not federate the colonies? Why not bring Rupert's land into the arrangement? Perhaps even the colonies across the Mountains? Surely such a grand country will not remained embroiled in petty squables.

The House of Assembly (also called the Legislature or Parliament) agree to take a chance on Galt's idea, to move beyond their personal prejudices and grasp a bigger vision. They choose three members of their assembly: John Ross, George Etienne Cartier, and Alexander Torrance Galt put the idea before the British Government.

The idea is so big that, when the MPPs arrive in London, many British officials doubt it can be accomplished. But the Colonial Secretary, Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton, gives it a fair hearing. He likes the idea even if it is grand. (Not surprising, Lytton is a novelist and a friend of Charles Dickens.)

It take eight more years before Canada becomes the first nation within the British Empire (other than Britain herself). But, without that first vote in the Canadian Assembly, it would never have happened. Without the authorization of ordinary MPPs (MLAs) on all sides of the house, no moves would have been made.

Canada's House of Commons and Provincial Legislatures are the modern version of that 1858 Assembly. We elect members to represent us in these assemblies. No law in Canada can come into effect without their authorization. Or the Senate's. Or Royal Assent. (In short, the Cabinet has no authorization to govern on its own.)

Over the past 60 years, many Canadians have lost sight of the importance of making sure their Member of Parliament (or MP, MPP, MLA or MNA) carries their vote in these assemblies.

The role of political parties (and the highly paid hired hands in these backroom) has impinged upon the role of elected members of legislative assemblies. So much so, that many people no longer vote for their local member, they vote for a party. They accept that their member of the assembly should be follow the dictates of poltical parties and their funders. Several of these political parties capitalize on regional and ethnic divisions within the country to get support. (That's a separate post.)

But political parties have no Constitutional role in Canada. The Prime Minister is merely the Member of Parliament who has the confidience of the House. Much of the powers that job has garnered in recent years are in fact counter to democracy in Canada.

Given the current political crisis in Ottawa, perhaps Canadians will take greater care to elect members of their legislative assemblies that can represent them. Perhaps the role of political parties and ideologues will wane.

And perhaps Canadian kids will be taught how their system actually works.