Tag Archives: House of Commons

Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s Speech in Support of the Abolition of Capital Punishment (House of Commons, June 15th, 1976.)

“I am sure that very few of us consciously contemplated, when we decided to run for public office, that we would find ourselves playing a decisive role in the resolution of a question as awesome as that of life and death. Yet, here we are, with all our individual limitations, required by the office we hold to make a decision on as profoundly important an issue as has ever divided Canadians.

It is not open to anyone among us to take refuge, in the comforting illusion that we are debating nothing more than an abstract theory of criminal justice, and that it will be the Cabinet’s sole responsibility to decide the actual fate of individual murderers, if this bill is defeated.

I want to make it very clear that, if a majority of honourable members vote against abolition, some people are going to be hanged. Their death would be a direct consequence of the negative decision made by this House on this bill.

I say that, Mister Speaker, not from any desire to be morbid or melodramatic, nor from any desire to try to absolve the Cabinet, in advance, of its share of responsibility for the taking of human life in the future, if this bill is defeated. I say it in order to impress upon the House as strongly as I can that what we will actually be deciding, when we vote on this bill, is not merely how the law of the land will be written, but also whether some human beings will live or die.

At this moment, eleven men are being held in Canadian prisons under sentence of death for the murder of policemen or prison officials. Some have exhausted their rights appeal – others have not. Therefore, while it is impossible to pre-judge how Cabinet will treat any individual case when the time comes to decide whether to invoke the royal prerogative of mercy and commute a death sentence to life imprisonment, it is inevitable that the defeat of this bill would eventually place the hangman’s noose around some person’s neck.

To make that quite clear: if this bill is defeated, some people will certainly hang.

While members are free to vote as they wish, those who vote against the bill, for whatever reason, cannot escape their personal share of responsibility for the hangings which will take place if the bill is defeated.

It is in that contest, Mister Speaker, that I wish to place my remarks on the issue before us.

Any discussion of capital punishment must begin with the identification of its intended purpose, which is clearly the security of society, the protection of innocent people against the ultimate criminal violence. It is not that goal which divides us. It is the goal we all share. What divides us is the question of appropriateness of state execution of murderers as a means of achieving that goal.

It is clear that the protection of innocent people against assaults on their lives and liberty is one of the highest duties of the state. It is equally clear that this duty requires aggressive and effective prevention, prosecution and punishment of criminal violence.

It is essential that people have confidence in the law, essential that they have confidence in the ability of the legal process to protect them against the lawless. Reinforcing that vital sense of confidence and security is the primary aim of Bill C-83, the companion piece to the bill we are now debating.

Longer mandatory sentences, and tightening of parole regulations in relation to convicted murderers will give society the assurance it needs that those who have unlawfully taken the life of another will be removed from our midst for a very long time.Other provisions are designed to restrict the availability of guns, the most common murder weapons, and to strengthen the ability of our police forces to prevent and solve crimes. There is every reason to believe that such measures will effectively inhibit criminal activity whereas capital punishment offers no such assurance. That is why the time has come for Parliament to decide whether we should remove capital punishment from the Criminal Code.

The crux of the question before us is whether execution is an effective and therefore justifiable weapon for the state to use in order to deter potential murderers.

There are those who sincerely believe that no man or group of men ever have the right to end a human life. They believe that life is a divine gift which only God has the right to take away. I am not one of those who share that belief.

Our law, from its earliest beginnings, has always recognized the right of an individual to kill another when there exists reasonable grounds for believing that killing an aggressor is necessary to the protection of one’s own life or that of another.

Moral philosophers and theologians have recognized for many centuries the right of a country to defend itself in a just war, even when defence involves the killing of enemies.

So the question before us is not whether execution by the state is justified per se. The question is whether state execution is an effective deterrent to murder, and therefore a justifiable act of collective self-defence.

The deterrent effect of capital punishment is at the very core of the issue, and since one’s moral view of the justification of capital punishment is entirely determined by one’s judgment of its deterrent effect, the proper focus of this debate is factual data and logical induction, not moral philosophy. In that sense, the issue before us must be resolved – by a practical rather than a moral judgement.

I know there are those who say that execution is justified because it prevents a murderer from ever again committing the same crime. It certainly does. But if you rely on that reasoning, you are killing a man not because his death may deter others from following in his footsteps, but because of what he might possibly do at some time. To justify such preventive execution, there would have to be some reasonable grounds for believing that a convicted murderer, if released into society, would murder again. In fact, the probability lies strongly in the other direction.

We know of only four people who have been found guilty of murder by a Canadian court, and convicted of murder a second time. In order to be absolutely sure than no murderer would murder again, we would have to take the lives of all persons convicted of either first- or second-degree murder, even though the probability is that an infinitesimal percentage of them would ever murder again if allowed to live. That’s an unacceptably high price to pay in human lives for a sense of security insignificantly greater than we have now.

I might ask those who would execute a person to prevent a future murder how they could logically avoid advocating the execution of mentally ill people who are found to have homicidal tendencies?

Well, you may say, let’s execute the murderer for the crime he has committed. Let’s take a life for a life. Let’s remove a savage animal from the human race.

I do not deny that society has the right to punish a criminal, and the right to make the punishment fit the crime, but to kill a man for punishment alone is an act of revenge. Nothing else. Some would prefer to call it retribution, because that word has a nicer sound. But the meaning is the same.

Are we, as a society, so lacking in respect for ourselves, so lacking in hope for human betterment, so socially bankrupt that we are ready to accept state vengeance as our penal philosophy?

Individuals who strike back at the murderer of a loved one and kill him in a frenzy of passionate grief have sometimes been excused by the courts because they were thought to have temporarily lost control of their reason. I have received letters from the parents of relatives of victims demanding the death penalty for the murderer, and have been deeply sympathetic to the suffering of those who have suffered such a tragic and cruel loss of a loved one. But the state cannot claim the excuse of blind grief or unreasoning passion when long after the provocative act, and after calm and deliberate consideration, it kills a man.

My primary concern here is not compassion for the murderer. My concern is for the society which adopts vengeance as an acceptable motive for its collective behaviour. If we make that choice, we will snuff out some of that boundless hope and confidence in ourselves and other people, which has marked our maturing as a free people. We will have chosen violence as a weapon against the violence we profess to abhor. Who is so confident that he knows for sure that such an official endorsement of violence will not harden the society we were elected to improve, will not pervade gradually many different relationships in our society? Who is so confident that he knows for sure that acceptance of state violence will not lead to the greater social acceptance of lesser forms of violence among our people?

Vengeance and violence damage and destroy those who adopt them, and lessen respect for the dignity and rights of others among those who condone them.

There is only one other possibly justification for capital punishment – the one we started with – the belief that execution of murderers will protect society by acting as a deterrent to the commission of murder by other people.

There are some who adopt an experimental approach to the question of deterrence, like a scientist experimenting with different combinations of chemicals in the search for a new healing drug.

Let’s try it, they say, and see if it works. If it does, we’ll keep it. If it doesn’t, we can always stop using it. Let’s not slam the door, they say, on a possibly effective weapon against murder, on some specious philosophical grounds. There are innocent lives at stake. If capital punishment prevents just one murder, they say, it will be adequately justified.

That’s compelling rhetoric, but it contains a fatal flaw, namely that we would be experimenting with human lives. Respect for human life is absolutely vital for the rights and freedom we all enjoy. Even the life of the most hardened criminal must be accorded some degree of respect in a free society. If we take that life without proven purpose, without proven necessity, then we weaken dangerously one of the fundamental principles which allow us to live together in peace, harmony and mutual respect. That is why free peoples have always insisted that the onus is on the person who would interfere with another’s life or liberty to prove that such interference is necessary for the common good.

Strictly speaking, therefore, it is not up to me, as an abolitionist, to prove that the execution of murderers will not prevent other murders. It is up to the advocates of capital punishment to prove that it will. If they cannot, their case must fail. Otherwise, this debate turns into a guessing game, and the lives of human beings become so many chips on of the poker table. That’s not good enough. I don’t want to hear your guesses about the deterrent value of capital punishment. I don’t want to hear about gut feelings. I want proof. Not absolute proof. Not even proof beyond a reasonable doubt. A preponderance of evidence will do. A preponderance of available evidence showing that executions are likely to deter other murderers would serve as an adequate justification for the act, an adequate guarantee that a human life was not being taken capriciously.

Show me the evidence that capital punishment anywhere, at any time, has deterred other people from committing murder. My own reading of the speeches made here on this issue since the first week of May, together with the Solicitor-General’s daily monitoring of the debate, have indicated that no such evidence has been placed before the House.

The evidence does not exist, neither in the Canadian experience nor in the experience of any other jurisdiction. At best, the statistics are inconclusive. They prove nothing. There is no evidence proving that the use or non-use of capital punishment has had any effect whatsoever on murder rates anywhere in the world.

I must confess I cannot understand why anyone would agree to kill a man without the least shred of assurance that his death would accomplish any worthwhile social purpose. If penalties applied by the state against law-breakers cannot be justified for their rehabilitative, punitive or deterrent value, they cannot be justified at all – not in a civilized society. Capital punishment fails on all three accounts. To retain it in the Criminal Code of Canada would be to abandon reason in favour of vengeance – to abandon hope and confidence in favour of despairing acceptance of our inability to cope with violence crime except with violence.

It is because I have an enduring confidence in mankind, and confidence in society’s ability to protect itself without taking human life, that I am eager to support this bill and vote for the abolition of capital punishment.”

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Note: I have a hard copy of this speech and could not find it online. If there are any mistakes they are due to my typing incorrectly and shall be fixed post-haste. The parts that have been highlighted were done by me.

Blessed Are Those Who Hunger and Thirst For Righteousness

“I have news for this government. There will be lots of amendments to the legislation that they have proposed. There will be lots of discussions and there may from time to time be defeats if they persist in this approach of saying, ‘it’s my way or the highway.’ It is not the way to conduct the public affairs of a country…and it is not the way to conduct the public business of Canada.” – Bob Rae.

H/T Aaron Wherry.

More MPs in Parliament is a Good Start

The Harper Government is planning on fixing some of the democratic deficit in Canada (No, he isn’t dissolving his government and leaving office though that would be a big shot-in-the-arm to the Canadian polity) by adding more seats of the House of Commons. Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta — the three provinces currently underrepresented in Ottawa — will get 18, seven and five more seats respectively. It’s somewhat bizarre, though, that B.C., Alberta and Ontario will still have a larger share of the population than they do seats under the new formula. All of this will come into effect in 2012.

The Sun recalls how Prime Minister Harper was initially against giving more seats to Ontario, just like he was against Senate Appointments and Deficits. The Prime Minister’s decision to go forward with the expansion of parliament in spite of opposition/whining from the Bloc Québécois reveals how the CPC has decided to plow on past Quebec to a majority (or at least attempt to do that.)

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Some articles on the additional Members of Parliament :

Andrew Potter: In Praise of (Lots) More MPs

  • Representation by population is a good enough reason itself to add more seats but there are additional benefits.
  • One problem with the House of Commons is that there is a processional executive that comprises a narrow centre while the rest of the commons is filled by amateurs.
  • Adding a more seats (a lot more) would ensure that there would be more safe seats for all of the parties in the HOC and many MPs from the gov’t side of the house would realize that they will never make it into cabinet. This would encourage independent actions and lesson the party discipline that has made parliament so rigid.

Allison Loat: Sizing Up the House of Commons

  • She cites Jean Chretien’s 177 MP caucus to counter the argument that more MPs lead to larger caucuses while lesson control of the PM (Harper has a 145 MPs.)
  • Reducing “turnover” and creating a better “professional class” does how downsides. One mentioned is increase caucus size means tougher competition for cabinet positions.
  • Turnover rates: An average of 35% of parliament per election (2008 was a low year of 22%.) 1/3 of the seats that experience turnover do so because of retirements. Geography is one major reason that MPs quit.
  • The solution proposed in this article is: Empowering individual MPs to act/work for their constituencies.

Alan Broadbent: Putting the House in Order

  • Catalogue of the problems in the House of Commons: ‘Prorogation, absence, obfuscation, and nastiness seem to be its truck and trade today. If one merely went by accounts in the media, it seems dominated by opposition games of “gotcha” and government games of “keep away.” ‘
  • Many Canadians were fine with parliament not being in session during prorogation.
  • Instead of debate we get question period.
  • Politics > Policy.
  • The 308 members of parliament have ceded their power to less than 20 MPs.
  • MPs have short careers (5 years on average.)
  • Longevity is good. Experience in parliament lets MPs become experts on certain issues and helps them do the actual governing.
  • “One U.K. MP I knew was an expert in rail transport and played a strong role in the creation of transportation policy whether his party was in power or not. He was in parliament for three decades.”
  • Solutions: fewer whipped votes, stronger censure power for the Speaker, minim amount of sitting days.

Canadians See No Benefits In Adding Seats To The House of Commons.

  • Angus Reid Poll;
  • 1006 Canadians polled: 37% support adding seats, 45% oppose.
  • Alberta 58% support.
  • Ontario and British Columbia: 49%.
  • 39% Nationally think the Conservative Party/Stephen Harper will benefit from the new seats.
  • 17% Nationally think more members of parliament will be good for Canada.
  • 31% Nationally think more MPs will be bad.

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The Equivocator’s Take:

Wyoming’s population is 544,270. California’s population is 36,961,664. Both states have 2 Senators. This is what needs to be avoided in Canada’s parliament.

The House of Commons currently has 308 seats and the problems that have been raised by almost ever article on Prime Minister Harper’s proposal are pretty much the only Parliament-related consensus in Canada.

My solutions are: Look to Britain, longevity yes but job security not-so-much and more seats should open a window not close the door.

Look to Britain: The British House of Commons has 646 members. At the time of dissolution (the U.K. is having an election right now) the composition of their HOC was: Labour 349, Conservative 210, Liberal-Democrats 62, and Other 29. The British are behind Canada in only one thing, this election will be the first time the party leaders engage in a televised debate in Britain (having watched the debates in Canada’s federal elections I don’t believe Canada has much to brag about in this department.)

British Politics is interesting and effective and could be the model for any reform here in Canada:

  • Instead of “Question Period” the U.K. has “Question time.” This is held once a week and the leaders are force to stand there and take every question. This has forged politicians who are better at communicating and makes Stephen Harper’s hatred of the media/the potemkinism of the Conservative Party of Canada look like an even bigger joke than it already is.
  • The large size of the U.K. parliaments has institutionalized dynamism. Potential “Backbencher revolts” and “VONC’s make leaders afraid of their party (which is the complete opposite of Canada’s government.)
  • The U.K’s HOC has lots of free-votes (which Stephen Harper advocated when he was a Reformer.)
  • Individual British MPs feel comfortable going on any of the plethora of British News Shows and can stand up to rigorous questioning. The polity in Britain is strong because democracy goes way before the HOC. Can you picture Pierre Poilievre talking without the politburo CPC talking points in his hand?
  • The Committee system in Britain is vastly more effective than the Canadian parliament’s.

Longevity yes but job security not-so-much:

  • Like the Senate, experience in government is valuable. There is a difference between a statesmen (statesperson?), career politician and experienced politician. Adding more seats to parliament would revive the committee system which would give Members of Parliament something to stay and work on.
  • Stephen Harper’s anti-democratic handling of the challenge to Canada’s Worst MP Rob Anders provides the best example of the opposite of what should be done. Here Canada should (partially) look to the United States and adopt a system of Primaries to select candidates in each riding. This would benefit every party as Primary elections help raise money, generate interest, raise the level of debate and ensure that candidates have to work for their spot in parliament. Primaries would be a great way to empower individual members of parliament and would ensure that the Rob Anders are help accountable.

More seats should open a window not close the door:

  • After the bill passes creating more ridings it will be tempting for everyone to dust of their hands and forget the massive democratic deficit our country faces because someone (very) little was accomplished. Stephen Harper has been the worst Prime Minister Canada has ever seen as he has stifled every important national debate with his angry, hyper-partisan and brinkmanship based style of politics. Thankfully, this attempt to raise the level of representation by population has the potential to actually start a national debate on democracy.
  • The number of Canadians who support adding more ridings is so low because the Prime Minister has been the most ignorant Canadian on the subject of civics. During the first prorogation crisis PM Harper told Canadians they directly elect the Prime Minister (this was as stupid as it was incorrect.) Though Stephen Harper is probably the worst person to engage Canada in a national debate the need for debate is so desperate that he will have to do.
  • Some topics to debate:
  • Senate reform: An appointed Senate can be made workable if a non-partisan group selects the Senators and the Senate reflects the make up of parliament.
  • Better Ballots: So-called “proportional representation” is silly and has been rejected multiple times but Canada’s biggest provinces but a system where voters rank candidates and ever MP is elected with 50%+ of the vote is a pragmatic and easy-to-explain solution.
  • The Governor General: It is advantageous to have a head of state who can take care of the symbolic needs of a government but the atrophy-stricken limbo that the current Governor General exists in needs to be changed.

Conclusions:

Canada’s parliament needs more MPs but also better MPs. This can be achieved by structural changes here inspired but what has worked (while learning from what has not) in other democracies.


Michael Ignatieff Rocks the House (of Commons)

You can find the text of the speech: here.

Some Thoughts on Michael Ignatieff’s speech:

- The Conservative party has normalized failure and hypocrisy. Michael Ignatieff is 100% correct when he shines light on the Conservative Party’s “Starve the Beast” strategy.

-”This is a serious step and we owe an explanation both to this House and to the Canadian people of our grounds for doing so.” It was surprising to me that Mr. Ignatieff was able to list the majority of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s failures in a mere 15 minutes. This speech was very important as the Conservative Government has failed on so many fronts and is not governing Canada properly.

A Partial List of Stephen Harper’s Government’s Failures:
- The Deficit (denial of, their incompetent job handling and inability to transparently account for.)
- The Government has claimed that 90% of the stimulus money is out the door when in reality barely any projects have been started.
- The money that is being spent on stimulus overwhelmingly famous Conservative ridings.
- The government has spent more on pro-government ads than educating Canadians about the H1N1 Virus.
- The Conservative Government has no plan to combat the H1N1 virus.
- The Conservatives fired the Nuclear watchdog and we now have a Nuclear Isotope shortage.
- Stephen Harper has not defended Canada’s excellent health-care system in the United States where it is under attack.
- “The government has been in office for nearly four years and the litany of great Canadian companies that have gone under, been bought and traded away is getting longer and longer: Nortel, Inco, Falconbridge, Stelco, Alcan. There has been no attempt to defend Canadian jobs and Canadian technologies.”
- Canada is falling behind in investing in innovation as our Government has done nothing for four years.
- There is a long list of Canadians abandoned abroad (with Mark Emery recently added to this list.)
- The Prime Minister didn’t go to the Beijing Olympics, or the UN General Assembly, or to India…
- 4 Years of absence from the Conservative Government on Climate Change.

- “A Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian!” When Mr. Ignatieff said this I could hear the empathy in his voice. The Liberal Leader has experience the ignorant scorn the Conservative Party of Canada has for Canadian who have lived outside of Canada.

- Sunday September 27th’s Gospel Reading:

Mk 9:38-43, 45, 47-48

At that time, John said to Jesus,
“Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name,
and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us.”
Jesus replied, “Do not prevent him.
There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name
who can at the same time speak ill of me.
For whoever is not against us is for us.
Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink
because you belong to Christ,
amen, I say to you, will surely not lose his reward.

“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin,
it would be better for him if a great millstone
were put around his neck
and he were thrown into the sea.
If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.
It is better for you to enter into life maimed
than with two hands to go into Gehenna,
into the unquenchable fire.
And if your foot causes you to sin, cut if off.
It is better for you to enter into life crippled
than with two feet to be thrown into Gehenna.
And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.
Better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye
than with two eyes to be thrown into Gehenna,
where ‘their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.’ “

- The Canadian Media spent the summer ignoring Michael Ignatieff and the Liberal Party. If they were paying attention they would have seen that Mr. Ignatieff traveled the country listening to Canadians, giving speeches while the Prime Minister spent the summer in a sound-chamber becoming more partisan, snarling and ignorant. Michael Igantieff has given an economic speech and now this great speech critiquing the government. This is 100000 times more policy that Stephen Harper put forward when he was leading the Conservatives in the 2006 election.

- “The Prime Minister of Canada lives in an eternal present when he cannot remember what he promised to Canadians the day before and cannot remember what he will promise the day after. Income trusts, “I can’t remember I ever made that promise”. Appointment of senators, “I can’t remember I ever promised to reform the institution”, and no tax increases.” Michael Ignatieff is even more handsome when he is angry. There is a lot to be angry about and it is refreshing to see the Opposition Leader logically and righteously critique a Government that has been a complete failure for four years straight.

- We live in an extremely fast-paced and impatient country/world. The reason Mr. Harper’s government is so incompetent is that they govern for day to day bereft of any real vision.* The media has bought 100% of what Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party of Canada has been selling. This has made every Canadian just as impatient and visionless. The Liberal Party needs to put in the work day after day. We cannot expect Canadians to wake up and realize the Government is terrible suddenly one day just as we cannot expect the polls to change rapidly. If you follow how badly the Conservative Party of Canada is failing as a government it is completely natural/sane to demand an election right now. Prime Minister Harper’s only success was forcing so many elections that an illusion has been created that it is better to keep him in office then go to the polls. This speech is a great start. The media isn’t challenging Stephen Harper’s narrative, they are defending it. Therefore it is every Liberal’s job to break the taboo that says “The Government is doing fine” or “Don’t say anything bad about the government during a crisis.” Politics effects all Canadians yet we don’t talk about what is going on with our government on a daily basis (unless you’re a blogger.)

Stephen Harper’s Government has a long list of failures. Mr. Ignatieff has done a great job shining light on this.

* Also the Prime Minister is a petulant child, his cabinet is full of loud/angry people, they have no policies, they hate 70% of Canadians, and the PM never left Canada before becoming PM.