On the Editorial page of the National Post (“Careless Rhetoric…” Nov. 7), Liberal leadership candidate Bob Rae – formerly of the NDP, and once the Premier of Ontario for a mercifully brief period – warns us to “reject those who suggest there is a fatal flaw in the Canadian idea.”
Perhaps this warning is a little self-serving, rolling as it did along with a lot of other misleadingly glib observations off Bob’s own lips. For the problem is, the “fatal flaw” is Bob himself – along with all those other pretentious political puffballs with which so many political parties seem infested, who wake up every day with their strangely “Canadian idea” of “leadership” – a word they all fancy applies to their chosen role in Canadian life. But it merits a little scrutiny.
Bob’s editorial feels good. And most of it deals, rather sensibly, with how he believes we ought to handle Quebec. But like so many other politicians he has mastered the art, either of saying nothing at all in carefully selected phrases of non-commitment to anything except the nearest rhetorical escape route if questioned too closely, or of saying what is not in fact true, but presenting it as fact and history.
We are told that “Canada’s Constitution was, in 1867, an act of the British Parliament,” and, he laments, “it took over a hundred years before it became truly ours [in 1982], with an entrenched Charter of Rights and its own amending formula.”
But this was precisely the point at which, for many Canadians, the Constitution became untruly ours. For in effect, on that date it left the hands of the Canadian people, and became Trudeau’s, and Bob’s (and all that benighted leftist ilk). Indeed, with these remarks, sly Bob fingered the real cleavages in this country.
First, we have a population cleavage, because millions of us old enough to remember can honestly say we grew up in a different place prior to 1982. From 1867 until then our legal and political system rested primarily on a venerable common-law tradition centuries old, the provinces more or less exercised their own precisely enumerated provincial powers (which have always been distinct from the federal powers), and we had a representative democratic parliament via which our will – captured in the laws we thought it wise to promulgate – was expressed by our representatives in the House of Commons. Once ratified, those laws became the highest law in the land.
But Trudeau’s (and Rae’s) beloved Charter changed all that. No Canadian since 1982 can now truly say the laws of the land express his or her will, or even the will of the Canadian people, simply because the Charter is now the Supreme law of Canada, and only unelected judges may decide what the words of the Charter mean. So the true and fundamental meaning of that change was and is – to hell with the will of the people. There are two practical reasons why this is true. First, because our elected representatives simply will no longer bother to propose a new law (no matter how good they, or we, think it would be for the people) which they know an ideological court will shoot down as soon as look at it. And secondly, all existing laws dragged before such courts now have their previously established meanings re-constituted, not according to what the judges honestly believe the people intended when they made those laws, or according to the force of case-law over the centuries, but according to what the judges personally believe the law ought to be. In other words, since 1982, at almost every turn, the opinion of judges is being substituted for the voice of the people.
Now I think it bizarre that prior to 1867 voices were raised in tumult and even many lives were lost in the clamour for “responsible government.” Canada’s settlers insisted on the right to make their own laws through their elected representatives, rather than have them handed down by the British parliament and courts. We finally got responsible government in 1867. But there is a good case that we surrendered it again in 1982, for at a single stroke of Trudeau’s pen we removed the right of the people to make the supreme law of the land and handed that right over to our own courts. I suppose that is better than handing it over to the British courts once again. But not much. Point being, we no longer have responsible government in the sense of having the right to express our will through unfettered representatives. Say what you may, they are fettered anew. And I would say this whether the courts were leftist or rightist, because the principle is dead wrong in itself, by itself, because it surrenders us to judicial oligarchy, by whatever stripe.
I write of these things only to say that like so many others who gleefully re-arranged Canada on that day in 1982, Bob is out there once again promoting himself and his leftist views. Note how he closes: “Leadership is about building confidence through success in addressing the practical needs of Canadians. Above all, we need to address the real imperatives of our era. These include acting on climate change, building a prosperous economy, providing jobs for Canadians, maintaining an independent and thoughtful foreign policy, ensuring a competitive tax regime, reducing child poverty, supporting learning.”
Please forgive my cynicism. But it is surely outdone by Bob’s own. So allow me to recast his remarks by way of offering an alternative vision. “Leadership” is about stopping the growth of meddlesome, over-regulating government at all three levels, so that the people regain the confidence that comes from running their own lives, families, and livelihoods responsibly. It is about recognizing that no one really knows anything about the reasons for climate change. We don’t even have the slightest idea whether or not it is actually changing, and if so, why? So we should keep the planet as clean as we can personally, locally, and nationally, without using supposed climate change as a cover for more taxation, more socialism and more regulation. As for “building an economy”? Aside from the prevention of force and fraud and the enforcement of contracts and the law, we should get out of the way of the people when it comes to commercial affairs and entrepreneurship. And we should also stop giving businesses money that is taken from the hands of so many ordinary citizens who can ill afford to part with it. Governments cannot “build” economies. They can only create an appropriate framework for them. As for creating jobs? We know only too well that every job government “creates” to make itself look good costs more to other taxpayers than the job itself ever pays back to the country. In this sense, so-called “job creation” is just another form of vote-buying welfare. Most of all, we should burn as much government red tape as possible so that vital and imaginative young Canadians will think about staying in Canada to work, invent, and invest, instead of heading south after we spend $100,000 educating them. And so-called “foreign policy”? Canada is a very small country with what is perhaps a disproportionate political clout because it is perceived by others as decent. But we need to stop congratulating ourselves with our pretended moral superiority and also stop spending untold millions on useless, mostly leftist foreign causes, because we cannot afford it, and anyway, in the long run, the countries we assist simply have to learn to fend for themselves instead of waiting for handouts. To a great extent, international “aid” is a crutch to national development. When it comes to our “tax regime,” child poverty, and learning? We should take the position that the least tax is the best tax, and leave as much of the people’s income in their own hands as possible so they can steer their own lives. Also, it is a myth that corporations pay taxes. They do, of course. But all corporate taxes are just passed on to consumers in the price of products. So in that sense, only consumers pay taxes. True child poverty is very rare, because most parents would die before letting their children starve or live in want. So the first and best way to deal with poverty of any kind is to strengthen the roots of the traditional family by encouraging marriage over common-law, by chasing down dead-beat dads who don’t support their own wives and kids, and by tax cuts and incentives to families to look after their own elderly parents. Finally, there is learning. Our universities are still good, and some of their departments even great. But modern campuses have too few serious students, and too many who are there mostly for a tax-funded holiday from reality, and partying (see the Post: “Business Students: Debauchery Lesson” page A3). Everyone loves a good party. But funding education for rich kids, or for the growing youth drug and party crowd, or as a means of vote-buying or cozying to corporate research at the taxpayers expense, or tolerating the Gentleman’s B grading system and handing out B.A. degrees to all comers regardless of genuine performance, or giving deadbeat professors tenure? Well, we can “support learning” by taking a clean broom to the whole business.
Enough for today.