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PenlessEJ

October 2017

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A recent debate has broken out in the United States concerning black NFL players kneeling during the American national anthem which has been fuelled through comments by President Donald Trump calling for any player who disrespects the flag in such a manner to be fired by the owner of the team. This debate has several foundations namely black civil rights in the United States and, just as importantly, the sacredness of our national identity symbols. These foundations are covered very well by Lebron James and Donald Trump respectively. It raises questions concerning the nature of our national symbols and whether or not they are indeed a no-go place when it comes to the rituals and actions that are expected to surround them (removing one's hat, standing, etc). On the civil rights side of the debate, it raises questions concerning civil disobedience and political dissent in general. Stripped of all of the rhetoric, and all of the emotion what we have at the core of the debate concerning the kneeling NFL players is a debate that concerns political legitimacy and dissent. In this post I will argue that a society with a monarch, such as one's specifically with a parliamentary system, have institutionalized dissent in such a manner that it permits those societies to avoid the existential question that the US faces in the light of real political dissent.

George Orwell once remarked that what made British society unique and better than a totalitarian society was the fact that the British had a civil society. He observed during his time in the Citizen's Army that regardless of the fact that many ordinary British took issue with the fact the government had not taken effective action to protect London, they were not willing to take up arms against said government. He tied this to civil action in all forms across the country and realized that citizens had an outlet to achieve their goals, even doing it against how the government and ruling class might progress themselves, but never seeking to overthrow or undermine the state. Orwell fans like famous actor Stephen Fry take it a step further and point out that of the top ten countries consistently ranked as the best places to live have a monarchy. Fry would go on to link the civil society to the Crown which jumps the partisan government of the day. You can dissent, in a society with a monarchy, against the government of the day with all of your might and yet still be loyal to the state (or nation) through the monarch in person. You can inflict damage on the government, even overthrow it physically and yet do no harm to the physical body of the state in the monarch. You can undermine the government and the ruling class without undermining the state as a whole. That is what separates these political societies from that of the United States.

In the United States the state is vested in the Office of the President. The person of said office changing at frequencies no greater than eight years (in four year terms). The people elect this executive office separately (however not directly) from their legislative assemblies and other elected offices. The state is the President; military officer swear alliance to them, oaths of allegiance are directed at them and they are charged in the most hyper-nationalist circles as being the defender of freedom, liberty and the flag. Understanding this it makes more sense perhaps why President Trump is being so direct and aggressive when it comes to this issue. When you focus the lens on the fact that Americans are not participating in the expected ritual surrounding the national anthem and the presence of the flag (as Trump and his ilk do), you can understand how the leader of the free world is bound to find this abhorrent and why his followers would expect it from that office. I am not arguing that Trump is correct, I am merely pointing out that one is able to put themselves in his shoes and understand the position he is taking-- it is all pretty plain. The focus however can be (and should be) shifted to the dissent of black Americans in the name of civil rights and equality.

Lebron James was very clear during his press conference that for all of the players (including now the ones in the NBA) this issue is not about the flag or the national anthem. They are seriously not concerned with the ritual that is supposed to happen around the national anthem, they care about having a stage and a means to stand up for something that each and every one of them believes in. They are exercising a form of public political dissent and they are using their positions on a national stage to make their statement loud and clear. The problem is that in the United States there is no real outlet for dissent. When you fall out of line with the President of the day you are literally out of line with the state-- and all of the wrath that comes along with that more terrible of sins. In the United States they have not institutionalized dissent, in fact they view dissent as one of the most disgraceful acts that a citizen could commit. I would submit that it is perhaps a holdover from the patriotic vigor that followed the success of the north over the south during the US civil war-- however that is a topic for a whole other post.

If the United States had a monarchy, or a person in the state beyond an elected (and therefore partisan) office of the President, the dissent of black NFL players could certainly exist and yet each and every one of them could still be loyal to the state as a whole. Furthermore, static national symbols such as flags and songs would begin to have less meaning. Nothing compares to the beauty and graciousness of the personified state. Everything beyond that becomes trivial at its core because we can express the power and might of our state by adjourning a human being who is dedicated to embody the state. So there would be no need for a hot winded response from the Office of the President because the flag and the national anthem would not be held in such esteem-- and certainly would not be used for partisan gain. And kneeling during the national anthem would probably not be as effective, because it would no long be as provocative, of a statement of political dissent.

Parliamentary democracies go a step further in institutionalizing dissent and the House of Commons specifically provides a physical example of how dissent works in a society with a monarchy. Within the House of Commons there is there government which is made up of members who hold the general confidence of the House as a whole. However, among the House is also a group of people who are charged as being the Loyal Opposition. An American could wonder how such a bloody thing could exist! A bloc of elected members who are institutionalized to oppose the government and yet remain loyal to something; the state. However the formation of the House of Commons in this fashion did not come about randomly, it was the process of a long struggle that involved many terrible acts by all sorts of humans-- not unlike any sort of human development. And it certainly remains an evolution. But the history of these developments present a moral that we have these institutions and specific some that are outlets for dissent, because we have learned from tremendous events of the past.

At its core the debate in the US concerns expected norms around national symbols and because the United States does not posses any form of institutionalized dissent. And the fact that the state is invested in the office of the President and not beyond the partisan realm of politics there is no solution evident. Societies that have monarchies and have personified the state in a body beyond the partisan world allow an avenue of dissent where a person can, with all of their being, oppose the government of the day without undermining the state or nation as a whole. The US lacks this avenue, it lacks the civil society that was strongly present in the English world throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. With an avenue for legitimized dissent which is on equal footing to the institutionalized holders of power, the US would not continue to face these extreme existential questions that threaten the state and nation as a whole.
 

I came home from work today with an Amazon delivery at my door. There were two items actually, one is a birthday present for Meganne (which immediately triggered the "oh my gawd, what I am going to do about her birthday in two days" fear, more on that later) and the second was a book that I totally forgot that I had ordered. The Constitution in a Hall of Mirrors: Canada At 150 by David E. Smith. This will be the third book of Smith's that I own, each one (and I am sure that this one will be no exception) has earned a special place on my bookshelf; no one writes about the Canadian parliament like Professor Smith!

I just finished the forward and had to share the last paragraphs in it because I think it is a beautiful way to open a book on the Canadian constitution:

In April 1660, as he was about to depart France, where for nearly a decade he had sought refuge during the Interregnum, Charles II proclaimed his faith in parliamentary government. A wise commitment in light of past events, the king's pronouncement signalled more than self-interest, for it acknowledged the central importance of the Crown and Parliament-- even more, the Crown-in-Parliament-- to the future governing of the United Kingdom and, as was to transpire, the settler colonies, including Canada. "We do assure you ... that none of our predecessors have had a greater esteem of parliaments than we have ... we do believe them to be so vital a part of the constitution of the kingdom and so necessary for the government of it that we ever know neither prince nor people can be in any tolerable degree happy without them."

Echoing that royal testament, I have dedicated this book to senators and members of Parliament, upon whose support and service the people of Canada depend in the era of politics now unfolding.

British Parliament

Thursday, 17 August 2017 04:21 pm
penlessej: (Default)
This clip from a session of the House of Commons back in 2013 in which Rory Stewart and Jacob Rees-Mogg debate human rights makes me super jealous of the Mother Parliament. Canadian parliament cannot hold a candle to this level of debate and civility. It is an awesome debate as well, certainly worth a watch.

Status of Legislation I

Saturday, 13 May 2017 11:57 pm
penlessej: (Default)
42nd Parliament, 1st Session
29th Canadian Ministry | 3 December 2015 - Present

Click the links for LEGISinfo page for each piece of proposed legislation. 
Information is current as of 14 May 2017.

Senate
StageGovernment BillsOther Bills
Senate Pre-study
 
At Second Reading
Consideration in Committee
Consideration of Committee Report  
At Third Reading

House of Commons
StageGovernment BillsOther Bills
Senate Bills Awaiting First Reading 
At Second Reading
Consideration in Committee
At Report Stage
At Third Reading 
Consideration of Amendments made by the Senate
 

Awaiting Royal Assent
Author's note: this is a copy of a letter that was sent to the Kellie Leitch campaign after I received a package in the mail from them with a colourful (and smelly) brochure covered in Leitch's terrible positions on made-up issues. Enjoy.

Dear Dr. Kellie Leitch:

I would first like to thank you for sending me your recent mail-out. How you received my address is actually a mystery to me because I joined the Conservative party through a completely different candidate than yourself. At any rate, I am actually grateful because your package included this pre-paid postage envelop which allowed me to send this letter to you with no cost to myself.

I find everything about your leadership campaign to be troubling. Not just for the Conservative party but for Canada as a whole. Your attempt to stir up discontent aimed directly at our immigration and refugees system is entirely off of the mark of what Canadians are expecting from a party seeking to be in government within the next three years. Additionally, your messaging (while being generous, may be coming from a good place) is actually a dog whistle for dangerous people who believe in extremely racist and bigoted ideas and are always on the lookout for someone in a suit to justify their terrible schemes.

As you have mentioned time and time again during the campaign, you are an educated individual and you clearly must have a reasonable head on your shoulders. However, this is not evident in the content of your campaign. It is troubling to me personally that an educated person such as yourself could even think of expressing the hateful and misinformed messages that you have done during the course of this leadership campaign. It leads me to think that either you are careerist politician who saw a window of support in tapping into these dangerous notions or you actually believe the things you say, in which case you are a terrible person.

I do not want to think that you are a terrible person-- I certainly did not believe that when you were a minister in the Harper government. I am inclined to lean toward you being a careerist politician who will do anything to gain a little support over their rivals. Even if it means tapping into violence and hate. That is a problem and for that reason I will not be supporting you in this leadership race. You are, in all honesty, fighting for the last ranking on my ballot with Brad Trost. For that, you should feel bad. A medical doctor and an effective cabinet minister going head-to-head with a soc-con loser like Trost; you did this to yourself.

Yours in conservatism,
PenlessEJ (obviously I signed with my real name)
Dear Justin Trudeau:

I get it, governing is tough. It is hard to set national priorities and to follow through to make sure that they get actioned while ensuring that Canadians feel satisfied in the government working for them. This is not new information however, you might recall that a former member of your cabinet (also a former leader of the party which you now lead) was criticised for making this observation plain during a leadership race by the then Conservative government. It might not be on point to come out and admit that your job is hard (something, something leadership) but the fact is that we all understand, it is certainly not an easy job.

Which is why we could understand why your government would not be able to advance electoral reform before the next election, we get that governing and setting priorities is tough. Look, we have a crisis developing at the national level, and the election of Donald Trump to the south of us as President of the United States should be taken as a sign that we need to take the pains of the middle class more seriously in Canada. Certainly no one would slight you for putting economic prosperity, job security and national unity above electoral reform.

But here is the rub. Rather than stand up in the House of Commons as a leader among your own peers and admit that a promise is consciously being broken you chose to blame Canadians for your own shortcomings. You chose to ignore the very poignant and informative report from a committee that you struck personally to review the issue at hand. You chose to throw not one but two junior female cabinet ministers under the bus. I personally cannot be mad at you for breaking a promise that frankly I never supported in the first place, but I can and am mad at you for continuing your path of lying and blatant disregard for the facts at hand.

The fact is, Prime Minister, that it is clear to everyone (save perhaps for those elected under your banner) that you never really wanted a consensus on electoral reform. Worse off, you never really had a plan. Leadership demands a vision, and you Sir, did not have any sort of vision for electoral reform aside from locking in an election victory under first past the post. And, to add insult to injury, you chose to put two junior female ministers in charge of a file that you never had any intention of completing, all of the while claiming to be a feminist and parading your gender balanced cabinet for all of Canada and indeed the world to see. This is low ball politics and straight up, Canadians demanded and thought that they were getting more from you.

Governments break promises. It is as sure as the sun rising and setting each day. It is hard to set national priorities and the realities of Monday are certainly not the same as Tuesday, which is why we have leadership at the federal level and have top office holders who are charged with making these tough decisions regarding the prioritization of national projects. However, governments do not have to lie. Governments do not have to create grand facades of progressiveness only to tear them down when the rubber hits the road. Your government has consistently failed to meet any sort of expectations that you yourself established during your run for leader of the Liberal Party, your election against Stephen Harper and your Throne Speech that entrenched sunny ways into the new approach. For that I and many Canadians are not just angry but disappointed, let down and disillusioned.

God save the Queen,
PenlessEJ