A House divided

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Jul 072011
 

When the king of Rome established his Senate 2,700 years ago it was a triple E Senate…Elected, Effective and Equal, the very style of a Senate many would like to see here in Canada.  The first Senators of Rome may have been appointed by King Romulus but subsequent Senators were elected by the tribal Curia,   100 Senators from each of the three founding tribes of Rome so it was equal in makeup based on region, and of course it was to gradually become effective, to such an extent that it elected, as a body, the new King once the previous King died.

Over time the Roman Senate went from a triple E senate to an unelected, unequal, and ineffective institution.  It became a body of appointed nobles, some of whom passed on the membership in the Senate to their offspring, who had little power under the Divine Emperors and no longer were elected by the people based on region.  In many respects Canada’s present day Senate more closely resembles the Senate of Rome just before its fall.  However, we can learn from history and benefit from the mistakes of the Romans.

1) Elected.  Although constitutionally Senators must be appointed by the Prime Minister the Upper Chamber will become more of an elected body as individual provinces like Alberta and Saskatchewan hold elections for their Senators.  A Prime Minister who refuses to appoint based on the provinces list of elected Senators risks unpopularity and accusations of favoritism.

2) Effective. The effectiveness of the Senate is constrained for a number of reasons, constitutionally of course it cannot propose money or appropriation Bills, but more importantly the Senate respects the fact that since the members are not elected they should not overturn any legislation brought to the Chamber from the elected Lower House.  Once elected this impediment to effectiveness will be removed and Senators will have as much electoral authority as members of the House of Commons.

2) Equal.  Currently our 105 Senators are chosen to represent the regions of the country.  The West, Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes each have 24 Senators, Newfoundland and Labrador has 6 and the Territories each have one.  While this is obviously not perfectly equal, it is an attempt to fill the red chamber with a relatively equal number of Senators from the broader regions of the country.  An ideal makeup would obviously be an exact number of Senators representing each province rather than a greater region.  Representation by province would fit with an elected Senate as provinces, not regions, hold elections.  Also, Canada is a confederation of provinces, not regions and as such each province should be equally represented in the Senate exactly as is done in the United States.

Recently there have been calls, usually from the NDP and other socialists, to abolish the Senate.  This is because the House of Commons is a battle ground of competing ideologies.  Just the kind of place socialists could take control of.  Currently the primary incentive to follow party whips is the benefit derived from running in subsequent elections under a party banner with the resources only a party machine can offer.  This loyalty to party is diminished if the opportunity for re-election is removed.  To this end Senators could sit for longer terms, perhaps 10 years, and be restricted to serving only one term.

My colleague Bob Metz has come up with a tongue-in-cheek yet novel suggestion.  Why don’t we reform the Senate and abolish the House of Commons?  I think suggestion has some merit.

Before Confederation, as it is today, each of the Provinces, Colonies and the Dominion of Newfoundland had their own elected Parliaments, most even having an Upper Chamber called a Legislative Council.  In these houses laws are made reflecting most of what is also debated in our House of Commons.  Why should the Federal House of Commons be discussing, education, health care or even energy issues when these matters are constitutionally a provincial jurisdiction?  Why should the federal Lower House be entering into treaties with other nations when such decisions should be made in an Upper House which is more accurately representative of the confederated Colonies, Provinces and the Dominion of Newfoundland?

Most (or it could probably argued all) of the decision making that goes on in the House of Commons could either more appropriately be discussed in the individual Houses of each Province, or in an elected federal Senate.  When involving matters not of a national matter the debate could be decided in each province.  If the matter involves the nation as a whole, then the Senate would be the more appropriate chamber for discussion since the nation is more properly defined as a confederation of 10 provinces rather than a great amorphous mob of 35 million people.

(Originally broadcast on Just Right #207, July 7, 2011.)

Jul 222010
 

Queen's ParkA proper government is one whose sole reason for existence is the protection of man’s individual rights.  The protection of a man’s right to his life, his liberty, his property, and his pursuit of happiness to name a few.

A proper government is one whose goal is to eliminate the initiation of force in society.  It is able to do this if it acts as our agent for our own right to self-defense.  A proper government therefore would be the only institution that holds the exclusive power to use force (as a consequence of our individual right to self-defense).

To quote Ayn Rand — “A government is the means of placing the retaliatory use of physical force under objective control —i.e., under objectively defined laws.”

What would such a government look like today?  To think about what it would look like we might take a look at our own Provincial government and then start peeling away all of the non-essentials, all of the areas our current government  that are not proper functions for the only institution permitted to use force in society.  The same exercise could be performed on the federal government.

Here is a quick list of some of the items in Ontario’s 2010 budget that would not appear if Ontario had a proper government whose only role was the protection of our individual rights:

  • Health care – It wouldn’t be difficult to eliminate this expense considering that health care provision and administration is only a recent misuse of government power.  State control of health care only came about in my life time.  In Ontario it was in 1967.  Cost $44 billion.
  • Education – Education used to be privately provided by employers to their employees and their families.  But around the turn of the twentieth century the government took it over because they saw too many American influences in the curriculum.  Only later on did they deem this service to be a role of government. A proper government would not provide money for the building of schools, the salary of teachers, student loans, or the purchase of text books.  Cost $20 billion.
  • Government involvement in the economy – A proper government would be completely separated from the economy.  No subsidies to individuals, no subsidies to corporations or business, no setting of interest rates via a central bank, no wealth redistribution of any kind.  A proper government would be a referee in the economy, not a player.

To continue the list:

  • Aboriginal Affairs
  • Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs,
  • Community and Social Services
  • Consumer Services,
  • Economic Development and Trade,
  • Energy,
  • Environment,
  • Office of Francophone Affairs,
  • Health and Long Term Care,
  • Health Promotion
  • Labour
  • Housing
  • Natural Resources
  • Northern Development, Mines and Forestry,
  • Research and Innovation
  • Tourism and Culture,
  • Training, Colleges and Universities
  • Transportation
  • Liquor Control Board of Ontario
  • Human Rights Commission

Here are some of the items which would remain in the budget

  • Community Safety and Correctional Services – Cost $2.3 billion
  • Office of the Lieutenant Governor – Cost $1.3 million
  • Ministry of the Attorney General – Cost $1.5 billion
  • Citizenship and Immigration – Cost $112 million
  • Office of the Premier – Cost $2.8 million

As well as a few other items such as a much scaled back Ministry of Revenue, a smaller Ministry of infrastructure etc.

Total cost of a proper Ontario government would probably not exceed $5 Billion.

The 2010 operating expense of the Ontario government is over $105 Billion, or 21 times the expense of a proper government.

Currently the government gets its revenue in the following way:

Revenue ($ billions)
2010–11
Taxation Revenue 71.6
Personal Income Tax 25.9
Sales Tax 19.1
Corporations Tax 7.4
Education Property Tax 5.3
Ontario Health Premium 2.9
All Other Taxes 10.9
Government of Canada 23.7
Income from Government Business Enterprises 4.2
Other Non-Tax Revenue 7.4
Total Revenue 106.9

While all taxation, by definition, requires the initiation of force and is therefore immoral, of all of these forms of taxation the only one with any legitimacy as a means to fund a proper government would be sales tax.  In a free society there is only one thing that we owe each other and that is JUSTICE.  That being so if everyone were to pay for the service they uniformly receive from the government in order to see that everyone benefits from a just government without discrimination or favoritism a sales tax would fit that bill.

A sales tax is also appropriate because it is directly tied to the social activity of trade, of entering into contracts with each other with the government acting as referee and not a participant.  The purpose of government is to ensure an environment where individuals can trade with each other with a degree of trust and with the knowledge that such trade is protected by law, where one party in a dispute can go to the government for redress because he has paid for that service via his sales tax during the transaction.

The Provincial portion of the HST (8%) is estimated to take in $19.1 billion in 2010.  Four times what a proper government would require from this single tax alone.  If we cut the Provincial portion of the HST from 8% to 2% we could fund all the needs of a proper government and would then, as individuals, have $100 Billion dollars to spend between us each year on many of those things the government provided at hyper-inflated prices.

Except for direct fees for discretionary services or voluntary contributions to government a sales tax would be the only moral way to fund it. The most immoral way is income tax which, through its progressive nature, penalizes people for participating in society and being productive.  An income tax is even more intrusive into our lives than the long-form census.  Consider all of the receipts for personal claimable expenses we submit which the government records and then keeps on file.  Don’t forget to submit your birth control pill receipts under medical expenses, and that anti-itch powder your doctor prescribed, or the soccer school fees for your kids.

The list of personal activities the government is privy to due to income tax is extremely invasive.  Besides that, the government knows where you work, what you make, what you spend your money on, your personal medical history, your education history, and what you spent to renovate your home last year.  All of this information is in the hands of the government.  None of this information should be in the hands of a proper government.

(Originally aired on Just Right show #161 July 22nd, 2010. To download the show visit http://www.justrightmedia.org)