Saturday, January 29, 2011

Trying to reconcile Parliamentary Oath with Bloc Quebecois

The Canadian Press, in Toronto Star, January 26, 2011
The Bloc Quebecois is putting up a big price tag — $5 billion — as the cost of its support for the upcoming federal budget.

It says Quebec has gotten a raw deal compared to other provinces in a multitude of areas, from regional development to tax harmonization.
Now it wants some of that addressed in the upcoming budget.
The prevailing wisdom these days in Ottawa is that, if an imminent election is to be avoided, it will depend on the NDP supporting the Tories’ budget.
That’s because the Liberals have already dismissed major elements of the government’s spending and fiscal platforms — and the odds appear slim of the Bloc’s demands being met.
The Bloc lists a variety of areas where other provinces have received breaks not offered to Quebec: a multibillion-dollar sales tax harmonization deal with Ontario and B.C., disaster relief funding for Manitoba’s Red River flood in 1997 but none for Quebec’s ice storm a year later; huge tax breaks for Alberta’s oil sector and billions for Ontario’s struggling auto industry but little for the forestry industry.
The party also includes, on its list of gripes, provincial transfers than are proportionally lower than they were in 1994.
When a political party, in a federal government, is exclusively advocating for a single province in that federation, and when that party holds by far the largest percentage of the seats from that single province, there is not only a perception but also a reality that that single province is unduly represented, unfairly weighted in the national equation...and there are many such equations. Holding the federal government to the provision of a $5billion compensation, for past grievances, makes a mockery of the notion that this is a healthy nation, from a governance perspective.
All the members of parliament, from the other politial parties, although seeking election locally, in their ridings and in their provinces, nevertheless, are obliged to focus on the needs of the whole country. Their perspective is "salted" with the multiple regions, and ethnicities and multiple industries and multiple ideological perspectives. Only the members from Quebec, specifically from the Bloc Quebecois, are both able and permitted to take and express a narrow, selfish, provincial, and ultimately and inevitably a parochial point of view. And that sways the balance in their favour, even if the federal govenment does not bow to this specific form of threat.
It is time for the people of Quebec to get off their selfish high-horse, and seek elected representatives from the national political parties, or to generate their own form of national political party, that speaks for the whole country, and that enters candidates in all provinces, and in all ridings across the country. There are three national political parties currently seeking the votes of the people of Quebec:
the Liberals, the NDP and the Conservatives.
If that menu does not meet the needs of their political palate, then, at least in the federal arena, they ought not to have the choice of voting against the interests of the country the rest of us know as Canada.
While my Canada includes Quebec, it seems that the Bloc's Quebec does not include Canada, the other nine provinces and the territories. Such a position makes it questionable as to how the members of the Bloc who have been elected to the Canadian Parliament are able to, in all conscience, take the oath of office, to sit as a member of the House of Commons.
From the House of Commons Practices and Procedures website
Before a duly elected Member may take his or her seat and vote in the House of Commons, the Member must take an oath or make a solemn affirmation of allegiance or loyalty to the Sovereign and sign the Test Roll (a book whose pages are headed by the text of the oath). When a Member swears or solemnly affirms allegiance to the Queen as Sovereign of Canada, he or she is also swearing or solemnly affirming allegiance to the institutions the Queen represents, including the concept of democracy. Thus, a Member is making a pledge to conduct him-or herself in the best interests of the country. The oath or solemn affirmation reminds a Member of the serious obligations and responsibilities he or she is assuming.

The obligation requiring all Members of Parliament to take the oath is found in the Constitution Act, 1867, with the text of the oath itself outlined in the Fifth Schedule.  The Act states: “Every Member of the … House of Commons of Canada shall before taking his Seat therein take and subscribe before the Governor General or some Person authorized by him … the Oath of Allegiance contained in the Fifth Schedule to this Act …” The wording of the oath is as follows: “I, (Member’s name), do swear, that I will be faithful and bear true Allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second.” As an alternative to swearing the oath, Members may make a solemn affirmation, by simply stating:  “I, (Member’s name), do solemnly, sincerely, and truly declare and affirm that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second.”
While I am not a lawyer, nor do I pretend to know the law, it is not hard to grasp both the incongruity and the incompatibility of the oath with the publicly avowed position of the Bloc Members. True allegiance to the crown, and to the institutions of the country as represented by the Queen seems completely contrary to the purpose and the intentions of the members of the Bloc Quebecois, as it would to any person or group seeking the break-up of the country, and representing exclusively, the interests of a single province.
How have the 'constitutional experts' framed any opinion that permits the entry into the House of Commons of albeit duly elected representatives from a single province whose sole purpose and motive is to dismember the country? Is the criterion simply that they do not bring weapons or conduct their business in an illegal way, the minimal requirement of their legitimately taking their oath of a Member of Parliament?
For some, this will seem like an attempt to litigate an issue that has already been settled.
However, the issue of the purpose and intent of a person or a group of persons seeking entry into the House of Commons of Canada, it seems, might exclude those whose purpose and intent is NOT to serve the best interests of the whole country...or am I being too simplistic?
Once again from the House of Commons Practice and Procedures website:
Breaking the oath of allegiance is a serious offence and any Member whose conduct has been determined by the House to have violated the oath could be liable to punishment by the House.  Although there have been no cases of a Member having been found guilty of breaching the oath of allegiance, the Speaker was asked in 1990 to rule on the sincerity of a Member’s solemn affirmation.  Speaker Fraser ruled that the Chair was “not empowered to make a judgement on the circumstances or the sincerity with which a duly elected Member takes the oath of allegiance. The significance of the oath to each Member is a matter of conscience and so it must remain.” Since the Member stated very clearly in the House that he had “never mocked the Canadian Parliament nor the Queen”, the Speaker concluded that, in keeping with convention that the House accepts as true the word of the Member, there was no breach of privilege. He did note, however, that “only the House can examine the conduct of its Members and only the House can take action if it decides action is required”. 
Does the House of Commons simply not wish to enter into the issue of whether the Bloc has ever "mocked the Canadian Parliament or the Queen" and open the question to the light of both day and the night that might ensue? In terms of their adherence to the code of personal conduct, including such matters as how to address a member opposite, how to ask a question, how to research an issue, how to use the members offices...all of the housekeeping and protocol issues, there is unlikely to be a single discordant note in the record of the Bloc members themselves. It is the position of the aggregate that is being questioned here.
Mr. Harper is interested in removing the federal subsidy that flows to all political parties, in the form of $2 for every vote garnered in the previous election, as his way of cutting off the funding from the Bloc, and appeasing his western right flank.
This move would also play into his own party's hand, since, as the ruling party, it is poised to generate more contributions than any other party.
We strongly disagree with the Prime Minister's proposed move, both because it leaves public funding out of elections, thereby raising the spectre of the rich having an inside track on even submitting their names as candidates, and secondly, this is a far too devious a way to deal with the Bloc, merely by removing federal funding.
There is a substantial body of public opinion in Canada that believes that having the Bloc "inside" the political tent is far less dangerous that leaving them outside the political tent, of the country, given the apparent option of guns and bombs that presented itself in the early 1970's.
We do not believe that there are only the two options: inside as elected Members of the House of Commons, or bombs and guns. There are many other positions, such as proposing and executing a constitutional challenge to the Bloc, to the Supreme Court, given the requirements of the Constitution for M.P's to take the Oath, and having the court rule. Another would be to have an all party agreement that the country is not going to permit anyone, or any group to run and win a federal seat anywhere, if the political purpose of that person/group is to dismember the country. That is not a racist move; it is not unconstitutional; it is not Anti-Quebec, nor anti-Northern Ontario, or anti-Alberta where a separatist movement has been rumoured for decades.

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