Can the Senate Expel Don Meredith?

House of Commons

The House of Commons in Ottawa.

Don Meredith’s future as a Senator is up for debate. Since he admitted to having a sexual relationship with a teenage girl, many of his Senate colleagues have sought to expel Meredith from office. They reaffirmed this on Tuesday, May 2nd, when a senate committee recommended Senator Don Meredith be expelled from the Upper Chamber.

The report claims expulsion is the only sanction that would, “restore the dignity, reputation, and integrity of the position of senator and the institution of the senate.” It’s clear the Senate wants Don gone. What remains unclear is whether it is even possible for the Senate to expel him in the first place.

The problem lies in the fact that Meredith has not been charged and convicted of a crime. Under normal circumstances, the Senate has narrow grounds on which it can expel one of its own. Serious crimes are one such ground — failure to appear in the Senate for an extended period is another. Sexual impropriety is not, in itself, considered reason enough to ‘fire’ a Senator.

That’s where it gets complicated. And by complicated, we mean constitutional.

Whether the Senate can expel Don Meredith will ultimately come down to our oft-forgotten founding documents. Rarely have news commentators been so eager to delve into constitutional law.

On one hand, Senate law clerk Michel Patrice researched the issue and found the Senate has the same power to discipline its members as British Members of Parliament under s.18 of the British North America. Of course, others disagree. The power to expel an elected MP may not necessarily extend to senators, who are appointed by the federal Canadian government and not chosen by the public.

Legal experts and government officials will to debate the fine constitutional details. Meanwhile, the reputation of the Senate will continue to languish.

Senator Meredith’s indiscretion comes at a time when the Senate already is struggling to rebuild and ‘modernize.’ Between the trial (and acquittal) of Senator Mike Duffy, criminal charges (ultimately dropped) against Senator Patrick Brazeau, and off-colour remarks (without consequence) by Senator Lynn Beyak, the Senate has found itself at an all-time low in the eyes of the Canadian public.

Some call for the Upper Chamber to be reformed. Others wish to elect the Senate as our American neighbours do. There is even a movement to abolish it altogether. Regardless, of the Senate does not find its footing soon, its relevancy could become an election issue.

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What’s In Ontario’s New Anti-Racism Law?

 

The provincial government has introduced the Anti-Racism Act, 2017, which provides for various measures to address systemic racism in Ontario.

In February 2016, the government of Ontario formed an anti-racism directorate. Headed by Minister of Children and Youth Services Michael Coteau, the directorate aims to “address racism in all its forms.” Premier Kathleen Wynne pointed to police carding and the Syrian refugee debate as signs that Ontario needed an office with the anti-racism mandate.

The anti-racism directorate unveiled its first plan, “A Better Way Forward”, on March 7th. The Anti-Racism Act is meant as the first step in carrying out the plan to tackle systemic racism in Ontario, particularly racism against indigenous and Black Canadians.

While the Act does not define systemic racism, its preamble states:

Systemic racism is a persistent reality in Ontario, preventing many from fully participating in society and denying them equal rights, freedoms, respect and dignity.

Systemic racism is often caused by policies, practices and procedures that appear neutral but have the effect of disadvantaging racialized groups. It can be perpetuated by a failure to identify and monitor racial disparities and inequities and to take remedial action.

If the Anti-Racism Act is passed and comes into force, the government of Ontario will be required to do the following things:

  • Maintain an anti-racism strategy that aims to eliminate systemic racism and advance racial equality, including targets and indicators to measure the strategy’s effectiveness;
  • Review the anti-racism strategy at least every five years, consulting with members and representatives of groups most adversely impacted by systemic racism, including indigenous and black communities; and
  • Establish data standards that provide for collection, use, and management of information to identify and monitor systemic racism.

Additionally, the Act allows the Lieutenant Governor to require or authorize public sector organizations to collect personal information for the purpose of eliminating systemic racism and advance racial equality.

In other words, the meat of the Anti-Racism bill is all about data collection. The law does not make major changes to the status quo, nor does it impose obligations on ordinary Ontarians to tackle systemic racism or take measures to advance racial quality in their daily lives. Still, despite the law’s modest ambitions, the fact that it comes on the heels of the furor over the anti-Islamophobia motion may set it up for controversy.

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Ontario to Implement Rent Control and Foreign Buyer Tax

Since March, political debate and discussion in Ontario has been stuck on two points: rent control and the housing market.

Though these are separate issues that involve two different areas of law, they are inextricably linked. Soaring housing prices keep first-time home buyers from entering the market — paradoxically, the high cost of rent drives them to get out and invest in their own home. When both options in an area are unaffordable, people are forced to look elsewhere.

Now, the Ontario Liberals are set to tackle both issues at once. On Thursday, April 20th, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne announced a new housing plan with measures intended to cool the housing market and set limits on how much residential landlords can increase a tenant’s rent.

Foreign Buyers Tax

The biggest change comes with plans to impose a 15% tax on home purchases in the Greater Golden Horseshoe area for buyers who are not citizens, permanent residents, or corporations of Canada.

A rebate would be available to people who later get citizenship or permanent resident status, foreign nationals, and international students.

Rent Control

Concurrently, the province will expand rent control provisions to all private rental units in Ontario. The Residential Tenancies Act currently imposes rent control on units constructed or used as a rental unit before November 1st, 1991. That leaves thousands of units, particularly in Toronto, with no limit on how much a landlord can increase the rent once per her.

Following legislative changes, rent increases in all private rental units will be limited to the annual rent increase guidelines.

 

Other Changes in the Housing Plan

The plan contains 16 measures in total. In addition to rent control and the tax on foreign buyers, the proposed measures are:

  • Updating the Residential Tenancies Act, including a standard lease agreement
  • Developing affordable housing on surplus provincial land assets
  • Allowing municipalities to introduce a vacant homes tax
  • Ensuring property tax for new apartment buildings is in line with rates for similar properties
  • Funding construction of new rental units through a development charge rebate
  • Allowing municipalities to use property tax to encourage development
  • Creating a provincial Housing Supply team that will work with developers and municipalities
  • Undertaking to identify and tackle other factors contributing to tax avoidance and excessive speculation in the housing market
  • Reviewing the rules for real estate agents
  • Launching an advisory group to advise the government on the state of the housing market
  • Educating people on their consumer rights in real estate deals
  • Partnering with the Canada Revenue Agency to ensure people pay the correct federal and provincial taxes on real estate transactions
  • Establishing timelines for elevator repairs in residential buildings in consultation with the Technical Standards & Safety Authority
  • Requiring municipalities to consider factors like household incomes and sizes in approving high density residential buildings
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Changes Coming to Canada’s Impaired Driving Laws

Last week, the Liberal government followed through on its election promise and introduced legislation to legalize marijuana in Canada. The fanfare over the newly-tabled Cannabis Act allowed concurrent changes to impaired driving laws to slip by without much notice in the media.

On Thursday, April 13, Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould introduced major changes to the Criminal Code in respect to impaired driving offences. In its press release, the government wrote that the changes would, “strengthen existing drug-impaired driving laws and create a regime that would be amongst the strongest in the world, particularly where cannabis is legal.”

However, the changes will not only impact marijuana users. The legislation also introduces sweeping changes to the law on drinking and driving, such as:

  • Increasing certain minimum fines and maximum penalties for first-time offenders;
  • Making it a crime to be over the legal limit for blood alcohol within two hours of driving, not just while driving; and
  • Limiting the “intervening drink defence” in which a driver demonstrates they consumed alcohol after driving but before providing a breath sample

But the biggest change, and the one which will face the most scrutiny, is the new authority granted to police officers in roadside traffic stops.

Currently, a police officer may only demand a breathalyzer test if he or she has reasonable suspicion that a person has been drinking and driving. Reasonable suspicion usually means an odour of alcohol on the driver’s breath, liquor bottles or cans in the vehicle, an admission of alcohol consumption, or other signs.

This is due to the protection against unreasonable search found in s.8 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. While a breathalyzer test is less invasive than a blood test or a saliva sample, it still constitutes a search. Currently, the law ensures that police cannot search someone for no reason, or on unreasonable grounds.

However, the new law would empower police to demand a mandatory alcohol screening during any lawful traffic stop, even if there is no reason to believe the driver has been drinking. This is a massive shift from the current law on traffic stops. Essentially, it would grant police the authority to demand breathalyzers from any driver for just about any reason.

This part of the law would likely be challenged in court as a Charter infringement.

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How the Federal Government Makes Laws in Canada

When we’re gabbing about the Canadian government, the lawmaking process comes up a lot. We gossip about the various bills and motions Members of Parliament have their hands in this week. We do a post-game analysis after the House of Commons votes on legislation. Once a bill becomes law, we like to pick apart it and try to get our heads around what it means.

Of course, since we spend so much time discussing these things, we should all know exactly how the Canadian government makes a law.

…Right?

Well, most of us learned it at some point. But you’d be forgiven for forgetting the ins and outs. Lawmaking is complicated business. Even the political junkies and #cdnpoli goons among us probably don’t know all the details off the cuff.

Here’s a quick Lawmaking 101: How the Government Makes Laws in Canada.

Who Makes the Laws?

Laws come from either the House of Commons or the Senate. The House of Commons consists of Members of Parliament that were elected in the federal election, with one for each of Canada’s 338 ridings. Senators are chosen by the Prime Minister.

Laws begin their life as bills, which is a draft of a new law or amendments to an existing one. In the House of Commons, bills may originate from the Department of Justice or from individual Members. A government bill is drafted by the DoJ on the instructions of the party in power, while a private member’s bill is created and introduced by a member alone.

Senators can introduce bills as well. These are known as Senate public bills.

Introducing a Bill and First Reading

Whether the bill comes from the House of Commons or the Senate, it follows a similar path to become law. First, either the bill is introduced to the chamber with notice, printed, and assigned a number. The assigned numbers are based on the chronological order in which the bill was introduced. House of Commons bills begin with a C, while Senate bill start with S. Government bills are numbered from 1 to 200. Private member’s bills and public Senate bills are numbered 201 to 1000.

This stage is called the First Reading of the bill. There is no debate at this point – it is basically a formality.

Second Reading

After the bill is formally introduced and given first reading, members of the chamber debate the bill’s principle. Next, vote on it for the first time. If at least half the members present support the bill, it passes on to the committee stage.

Committee

Members of a committee study the bill and hold hearings to gather information about it. They may ask members and outside experts to answer questions about it. Based on its findings, the committee may propose changes to the bill.

Report Stage

The committee sends the bill back to its chamber of origin. At this point, the entire house debates the bill for a second time. Members can suggest amendments to the bill in the from of a motion.

Third Reading

The chamber debates and votes on the bill a third and final time. Members who voted for the bill the first time around may change their vote at this point, as the final product may not be the same as the bill in second reading.

Other Chamber

If the bill passes third reading, it then goes to the other chamber. Senate bills go to the House of Commons, while House bills go to the Senate. The other house goes through the same stages – first reading, second reading, committee, report, and third reading.

If the other house amends the bill, both chambers must agree on the change before the bill can become law.

Royal Assent

Once both chambers have passed the bill, it goes on to receive Royal Assent. Royal Assent is the formal process of turning a bill into law. The Governor General or one of his or her deputies can give Royal Assent in writing or in a ceremony in the Senate Chamber.

Royal assent turns the bill into an Act of Parliament.

When Does the Law Come into Force?

Acts don’t necessarily become enforceable laws right away. The legislation may specify a future date that it comes into force. The Governor General can also set a date for enforcement.

What Happens if the Bill Fails?

If the House or Senate rejects a bill, it does not become a law. However, a member can reintroduce the it as a new bill with a new number in the next session.

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5 Things Canadians Should Know About the Marijuana Bill

If all goes as planned, marijuana will be legal in Canada by July 1st, 2018.

On Thursday, April 13, the Liberal government introduced legislation that will legalize and regulate the sale of recreational marijuana in Canada. This comes after the government set an ambitious deadline of July 1st, 2018, for legalization.

While many details will have to be determined by the provinces and territories, this legislation sets the stage for marijuana legalization next summer.

Here’s what Canadians should know about the bill.

Marijuana Will Be Legal, But Only in Small Amounts.

Yes, the bill legalizes cannabis possession. However, unlike alcohol or tobacco, Canadians will not be allowed to have as much as they please. The law will allow individuals to:

  • Possess up to 30 grams of marijuana on hand at a time; and
  • Grow four marijuana plants at home.

That’s it. Having more than 30 grams or growing more than four pot plants at one time will still be illegal. Exceeding those amounts comes with penalties, ranging from a ticket at the low end or up to five years imprisonment for possession of large amounts.

Government Will Limit Pot Advertising, Marketing and Branding.

Don’t expect to see billboards or hear radio ads promoting marijuana use. The government plans to implement strict controls over how pot producers and vendors can advertise their product.

It remains to be seen whether this will resemble restrictions on alcohol or tobacco advertising (the former is fairly lax, the latter strictly limited.) Either way, it’s sure to make for a great future episode of Under the Influence.

Giving Pot to Minors Will Be Illegal.

At this point in time, it’s illegal to sell pot to anyone (outside of a regulated transaction involved medicinal marijuana.) Once that restriction is lifted, there will be new criminal penalties for selling or supplying marijuana to minors.

There Will Be New Rules on Impaired Driving.

Driving under the influence of any drug, including pot, is already illegal. However, the new bill will create specific rules for marijuana use.

The law will set limits on the amount of THC a person can have in their bloodstream before getting behind the wheel, with penalties ranging from a $1,000 fine to life imprisonment for breaking the law. The Liberal government has promised to launch a campaign to educate the public on the dangers of driving while high, though the legislation does not provide for this.

Police will test for THC using a roadside saliva test. If they detect THC in the driver’s blood, police can then demand an evaluation by a drug impairment expert or a blood sample.

Provinces Will Decide Where and How Pot is Purchased and Consumed.

Now that the government has said when pot will be legal, the next biggest question on minds of Canadians has been where it will be sold. On this subject, the federal bill is short for answers.

Much of the framework for marijuana legalization will be left to the provincial and territorial governments. It will be between provinces and municipalities to decide where marijuana will be sold and where people can consume it. The federal government will continue to regulate industry standards on things like product safety and quality, but rules for inspection and compliance will also fall at the provincial level.

What this means is that marijuana regulation may well differ from province-to-province, as it does for alcohol. This could create confusion for those interprovincial pot users who plan to use and transport the product in more than one jurisdiction.

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Why Electoral Reform Isn’t Dead Yet

The issue of electoral reform has hounded Canadian politicians for almost a century. Ever since Canada evolved from being a two-party system, some people have questioned the wisdom of retaining our first-past-the-post system.

In all that time, no government took serious steps towards reforming. As cynics would suggest – why change the system that got you elected?

But 2015 brought signs of change. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made bold declarations that 2015 would be the last federal election to use the first-past-the-post system. Other Liberal candidates embraced the issue, and electoral reform became a central piece of the Liberal Party platform during its campaign.

The Liberal Party won an easy majority in what was to be the final first-past-the-post election.

Once elected, the government formed a special committee on electoral reform. The committee studied the issue at length. The government polled Canadians on the type of electoral system they wanted to see. The committee consulted with academics and experts both within and beyond Canada.

To outsiders, it appeared that the issue was moving forward. The committee decided on an alternative system and tabled its report. All this was done in time to implement the promised change before the next federal election.

Then, suddenly, it was over.

Problems with First-Past-the-Post

The crux of the argument against first-past-the-post is that the system was designed with two parties in mind. It awards victories to whichever candidate gets the most votes cast in a riding. When there are only two candidates vying for that seat in the House of Commons, the person with the most votes wins at least 50% of the votes.

However, with more than two major parties running in each riding, the winning candidate often wins his or her seat with less than 50% of the vote. This can result in a government that does not reflect the will of the majority of voters in the riding.

Consider our most recent federal election. In that election, 39.5% of Canadian voters cast ballots for the Liberal Party of Canada. This added up to 6,943,276 votes. The second runners up, the Conservative Party, received 31.9% or 5,613,614 votes. Because of how first-past-the-post works, the Liberals won a majority government with 54% of seats in the House of Commons.

This means 60% of Canadian voters did not vote for the current government.

Not everyone has a problem with this. Supporters argue that the first-past-the-post system helps maintain stability by discouraging minority governments and keeping parties on the fringes of mainstream politics out of government. Given the rise of right-wing extremism in parts of Europe, this is a fair argument.

Why Electoral Reform Isn’t Dead Yet

These setbacks have not deterred electoral reform advocates. Though Justin Trudeau has renounced his support, a Member of Parliament from any party could introduce a bill on the subject. If a majority of members were persuaded to support it, reform could move forward with or without the Prime Minister’s approval.

However, the time for reform is running out.

The government has to act quickly if Canada is to use a system other than first-past-the-post in the next federal election. It would have to draft and pass a bill, then make changes to Elections Canada guidelines in time for the election in 2019.

Nathan Cullen, a member of the special committee, plans to put the committee’s suggestions to the House of Commons in May. It is likely that this will be the last chance to implement reform until after the next election.

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Should the Government Step in On Toronto’s Housing Market?

toronto housing market

The federal government is reluctant to act on the Toronto housing market.

When it comes to the housing market, Ontario is at a turning point.

House prices across the province are still soaring, especially in Toronto and the GTA. Wealthy investors are turning to bidding wars in hopes of cashing in on the market, elbowing out first-time home buyers in the process. And now, two of Canada’s big banks are warn customers of a potential crash.

In response, some are calling for the government to step in and do something to cool the market before the housing bubble bursts. Here is a rundown of the proposed solutions.

House-Flip Tax

Ontario’s Finance Minister, Charles Sousa proposed a 50% increase on capital gains for non-principal residences.

This would apply to buyers who purchase property as an investment (not as their main residence) and later sell it. In other words, it would affect “house flippers” who buy an affordable property and add value in order to sell it at a higher price.

The capital gains tax applies to the profit from the sale, and Sousa has asked federal minister Bill Morneau to increase that tax in order to “reduce the incentive for people to make speculative purchases.”

Jean Francois Perrault, chief economist of Scotia Bank, agrees with Sousa’s suggestion. However, he also recommends giving buyers a break if they hold onto the property for at least a year before selling it.

Real estate broker Frank Leo offers a counterpoint. “When you start taxing and controlling the market…it’s taking money out of the market. And real estate right now is fuelling the economic engine. Do you really want to stop the engine?”

Foreign Buyer Tax

Another prominent suggestion to cool Toronto’s housing market is a tax on non-Canadians home buyers.

Vancouver, itself in the midst of a housing bubble, introduced a 15% foreign buyer tax this year. The measure was aimed at addressing low vacancy rates and high real estate prices in the city.

Before the change, a full 10% of buyers in Vancouver were foreigners. Since the increase, housing prices have gone down.

Finance Minister Charles Sousa says a foreign tax is one of the options on the table in Ontario. However, it is not clear to what extent foreign buyers are driving up prices in the province. Only about 5% of buyers in Toronto are non-Canadians, and Ontario has received a greater share of migrants from other provinces in recent years.

The Ontario Real Estate Association is against the proposal, arguing that the majority of foreign buyers are not investors, but immigrants or permanent residents who actually plan to live in the homes they buy.

“Scapegoating foreigners as the reason for increasing home prices is not based on sound public policy or reliable data,” says CEO Tim Hudak. The former Progressive Conservative leader accuses supporters of engaging in, “the cheap politics of division.”

Impact of the Federal Budget

Many expected that the Liberal budget would address the concerns about Toronto’s housing market. However, the budget offers no changes that would dissuade bidding wars or cool the market.

Why won’t the federal government intervene? Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says it’s because of the “tremendous differences and variances between the housing markets in Vancouver and Toronto and housing markets in other cities.”

This suggests that any potential resolution will have to come from the provincial level.

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