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Report from the Calgary Congress

Mon, October 02, 2006   |   Author: Ron Gray   |   | Share: Gab | Facebook | Twitter   

The Calgary Congress, called at the end of September by the Citizens' Centre for Freedom and Democracy with support from the Manning Centre for Building Democracy and the Calgary Herald, has produced a five-part proposal for renewal of Canada's confederation.

The CHP was pleased to be able to take part in these important deliberations. Several representatives of the Conservative Party of Canada were also in attendance, some of whom actively participated. (Although the Congress was carefully structured to be non-partisan, I didn't see or hear participants from any other federal political parties.)

Congress co-chairs Link Byfield and Danielle Smith identified what they described as "the three Rs of federal reform":

  • Restricting the federal government's spending power;
  • Reforming the Senate; and
  • Restraining the Courts.

Two CHP proposals were offered, and one—the CHP's four-year-old policy to restrain judicial activism by creating a Standing Joint Committee of Parliament on the Judiciary, with power to review court decisions on the sole ground of their constitutionality—was presented to delegates in the final draft. Although that specific proposal was deleted by the delegates (because, as some speakers correctly pointed out, it addressed "how", rather than the more general question of "what" should be done), the Congress' constitutional legal advisor, Burton Kellock, commended the proposal, and commented that it "may be the most important question raised here."

Here's a summary of the final resolutions passed by the Calgary Congress:

  1. Canada needs rebalancing of powers and responsibilities in Confederation, in conformity with our Constitution.
  2. Provinces should be fully responsible for their own internal social and economic futures.
  3. The primary mandate of an elected Senate should be to represent and protect provincial interests, powers and responsibilities.

    (These three resolutions are incorporated in the CHP's plan for Senate reform, which states that provinces should choose their senators, and that senators should be seated by province or region, not by party affiliation.)
  4. Effective counterbalances should be established to prevent the courts from centralizing powers and expanding the meaning of Charter rights.

    (The CHP is the only political party that has to date offered a concrete plan for implementing such a counterbalancing measure: four years ago we proposed the creation by Parliament of a Standing Joint Committee on the Judiciary. To date we've been unable to get major media or other political parties to discuss the plan.)

The Congress authorized the co-chairs to send the fruits of their two-and-a-half days of deliberation to the Prime Minister and the federal government, to all provincial and territorial premiers and their governments, to all major think-tanks, and to all registered federal political parties. It also expressed the hope to spark similar citizens' congresses in other centres across Canada.

The Calgary Congress had about 400 participants, including representatives from BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada.

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