Friday, May 1, 2009

Nevertheless, Notwithstanding

The other day, self-noted Canadaphile and fellow For All Nails alumnus Noel Maurer made a post about the apparent sensitivity of Canadians from the perspective of the United States. It's an interesting post and you should read it. What really piqued my interest, though, was Noel's comment thus:

"The Canadian constitution is rather better designed than the American one, other than not having a popularly-elected governor-general."

As a Canadian who has a thirteen-star United States flag hanging on his wall - I like the ideals of independence it suggests - it seems to me that this is the sort of thing that comes from being on the outside looking in. Canadian government may look good from a distance, but when you get right up close to it and examine the more noxious parts like, say, party discipline, it tends to lose a lot of its lustre - at least for me.

The "notwithstanding clause" is one of those noxious bits, and was only inserted into the 1982 Constitution as a sop to the provinces, who obviously need more power considering they exist in one of the most decentralized federations in existence, and it's nefarious in its simplicity. All it does is give a government, be it federal or provincial, the ability to override parts of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Had September 11, 2001 seen terrorists fly jetliners into Scotia Plaza and First Canadian Place instead of the Twin Towers, it's a fair bet that September 12 would have seen the government override Canadians' freedoms of expression, association, freedoms from search and seizure and cruel and unusual punishment, and so on and so forth.

This is too much power for a government to have. What's worse is that the majority of Canadians are, most likely, entirely ignorant of it. Americans like Mr. Maurer probably know more about Canada's government than some people in Canada's government. So, in respect, I'm going to have to disagree with him there. The United States has definitely got Canada beat on the "not building trap doors into your Constitution to render basic freedoms meaningless" score.

I have to say I do like the idea of an elected Governor General, almost as much as that of an elected Senate. Hmm... maybe a cyberdemocratic Senate.

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