Our constitution is in dire need of fixing

Posted on February 15, 2016 in Governance Debates

NationalPost.com – Full Comment
February 15, 2016.    John Robson

Is Canada drifting toward disaster? Heck no, you may say, we’re rushing toward it. Either way, it’s time to clean up the governmental mess before it becomes overwhelming.

There’s trouble everywhere, from public debt to dilapidated national security to the crumbling rule of law, where we know frank speech on many subjects is forbidden, and pipelines might be, but we aren’t sure whether marijuana is still illegal or how to legalize it if it is. Imagine a state that can’t figure out how not to ban something. This is not limited government in any sense.

Government in Canada isn’t just big and inept. It’s inept because it’s too big, in ways our traditional constitution was designed to prevent.
Everywhere you turn there is raging public incompetence at unbearable cost. The politicians’ promises just keep getting more grandiose, but from energy policy to infrastructure, refugees, and justice they run in a tiresome circle where only the bills mount. And when we try to deal with anything fundamental, like the Senate or aboriginal issues, we’re stalemated.

The deepest problem is alienation of citizens from their governments. It’s habitually treated as an odd phenomenon unrelated to the state’s increasingly feeble, unaffordable and arrogant performance. But government in Canada isn’t just big and inept. It’s inept because it’s too big, in ways our traditional constitution was designed to prevent.

Yes, constitution. When problems are this fundamental, so are causes. And right now the relationship between citizens and government in Canada is upside down. We don’t control them, they control us. They have torn loose from their moorings, and we need to strap them down again.

To try to deal with these problems piecemeal is to play whack-a-mole, as Ezra Levant just said about Toronto’s selective ban on Christian advocacy in a public square. It’s good that a Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF) legal challenge forced the city to back down … this time. But they’ll be back, along with a horde of academics, politicians, judges and activists delighted to limit our rights in ways they majestically consider justified in a free and democratic society.

That’s backwards. In a free and democratic society, rights cannot be infringed by the high and mighty. That’s why our Charter of Rights, like much else in our modern Constitution, is a big mess deserving a big fix.

We can’t clean it up one sensible piece at a time because the amending formula excludes the people. So let’s stop playing whack-a-mole with government arrogance and incompetence and address those famous “root causes.” Let’s put our Constitution back on its limited-government foundations.

The great legal commentator William Blackstone boasted, in 18th-century Britain, that “political or civil liberty is the very end and scope of the constitution.” We inherited that system. So as author and English MEP Daniel Hannan said in the Magna Carta documentary I produced, “We just need to remember who we are. Our institutions made us the freest, most prosperous, happiest and most democratic place on Earth.”

We really turned our back on that legacy in the 1960s, especially at the elite level, for complex reasons, some intellectual and some institutional, some recent and some historical, some plausible and some absurd. But we’ve seen enough of the result by now to know it was a grave mistake.

Our 1982 Unidentified Constitutional Object granted rights with one hand and took them back with the other, entrenched weird collective privileges, ignored or worsened problems developing in our traditional system, including the growing irrelevance of parliament, and shoved the people aside. And a new generation of sorcerers’ apprentices is getting busy as I type.

But as Adam Smith said, there is a lot of ruin in a nation. Canada is still fundamentally sound.

I reject the apparent conviction in some circles that our national slogan is “Yes we can’t.” Or that we are, and always have been, helpless if charming waifs, needing and welcoming state guidance, subsidy and restraint to save for retirement, run a business, raise our kids, raise a glass, ponder political arguments, paddle a canoe or do anything grown-up at all.

We need a new Constitution, re-establishing constitutional parliamentary monarchy on its Magna Carta foundation of liberty under law and popular consent. And I’m prepared to put my money where my mouth is. Well, mine and yours.

I’m drafting such a Constitution as part of a documentary explaining what was right in our old system, what was already going wrong by 1982, what went a lot worse in that year, and how to put it right. And the JCCF is assisting in raising the money. So please visit Fixtheconstitution.ca and help us out.

Of course it’s “unrealistic” in one sense. But if we’re not meant to tilt at windmills, why do we have lances? Besides, what could be more unrealistic than to drift into disaster, or plunge into it?

Canada deserves better. Much better. Let’s fix this mess now.

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