No. 48December 12, 2020

The Work of CPC(M-L) in the Field
of Electoral Reform

32nd Anniversary of Royal Commission on
Electoral Reform and Party Financing

Significance of CPC(M-L)'s Brief to Lortie Commission

30th Anniversary of Citizen's Forum on Canada's Future

Ruling Class Ignores Conclusions of Spicer Commission
at Its Own Peril

What Canadians Told the Spicer Commission

28th Anniversary of Defeat of Consensus Report
on the Constitution in 1992 Referendum

Significance of the Charlottetown Accord and Its Defeat

- Anna Di Carlo -

2006 Federal Accountability Act

Harper Government Fails to Restore Trust in
Undemocratic Institutions

- MLPC Brief -

The Work of CPC(M-L) in the Field
of Electoral Reform

The Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist), registered with Elections Canada under the name Marxist-Leninist Party of Canada (MLPC), carries out extensive work in the field of democratic renewal. It calls for the modernization of the electoral law and electoral process in a manner which empowers the people to become the decision-makers, not the narrow private interests which have control of the state and its institutions at this time.

The MLPC's demands for democratic renewal were first publicly expressed 30 years ago, on September 20, 1990, in a brief delivered by Party leader Hardial Bains to the Royal Commission on Electoral Reform and Party Financing. This was the first time that the Party addressed a Royal Commission. Doing so constituted a change in the Party's policy. By engaging Canadians in work to renew the political process, the Party's aim was to not permit the space for change to be occupied by the ruling class for reactionary purposes. 

The Brief the Party presented to the Royal Commission, known as the Lortie Commission so named after its Chairman, directly confronted the Canadian establishment's positions of privilege in the electoral field which claims elections in Canada are "free and fair." This put the Party and the working class in a position to tackle one of the most crucial questions confronting the society: the issue of democracy and, in particular, the electoral process which affects the entire polity by making sure the people exercise no control over the decisions which affect their lives.

The Party Brief highlighted the following points:

1. The high level of disaffection among the people about the political process;

2. Democracy is a feature of class society with a definite aim and thus the Commission should not avoid discussing the aim of the democracy in Canada;

3. The marginalization of the people from the decision-making process, in particular the working people, and the need to change the situation in which their participation in the process of governing is reduced to one of exercising their right to vote;

4. The inevitable continuation of disillusionment with the decision-making process and lack of confidence in the system of government so long as the people continue to remain on the outside of the decision-making process;

5. The need to establish, at the very least, equality of opportunity for all citizens to elect and to be elected and to spell out the responsibilities of the state to ensure broad participation of the people in the process;

6. The inherent inequality within the system, including the use of public funds to finance some parties and not all, and some more than others;

7. The violation of the principle of equality through the treatment of political parties on the basis of a division between those considered "major" and those considered "minor;"

8. The fact that political parties identify as special interest groups who receive state subsidies but are financed by individuals who have a definite stake in political and economic life;

9. The Party's position that public funds should be used not to finance political parties, but to finance the selection of candidates, the election of candidates and the recall of elected members who do not perform their duty according to their mandate;

10. The gist of the work required for democratic renewal.

CPC(M-L) explained that its concern coincided with that of an ever-increasing number of Canadians, to ensure the broad participation of the people of this country in debating the problems of an economic, and political, military, cultural, social and environmental nature. Most importantly, it is to ensure their participation in the decision-making process. As long as people are represented politically by political parties and members of political parties who, by definition, represent special interests and must do their bidding, and swear allegiance to a fictitious person of state, and as long as their participation in the decision-making process in the country is limited to casting a ballot every four to five years, the people will remain marginalized and dissatisfied. The present system does not afford the people of any way to participate in setting the direction of the economy or policy on any front, in the debate or in decision-making. This makes the system called a representative democracy not in the least representative of the people and what they want.

Stemming from this, the brief submitted by the Party articulated the need for the Electoral Act to actually enable the participation of the people in the electoral process:

"... the main concern of the Electoral Act must be to create the possibilities for the individuals in society to develop their ability and enjoy all the constitutional rights and freedoms. The system of elections must therefore guarantee that restrictions are not imposed by law which hinder the participation of the people in the electoral process."[1]

The Party highlighted the unrepresentative character of the party system, expressed as a violation of the principle of majority rule:

" long as you have political parties (which by definition represent special interests in the economic and political field) presenting themselves in an election and being elected to form the government, you have a system in which the majority must in fact submit to the minority represented by those political parties. This is not acceptable and it is becoming more and more discredited with each passing day."

The program for democratic renewal of the political process put forward by the Party elaborated a key element to ensure that the selection of candidates is carried out by the electors themselves, and that the entire electoral process is financed by the state treasury, with elected Constituency Committees and an elected National Electoral Commission responsible for ensuring that the right to elect and be elected is brought to life and an informed vote guaranteed.

With this, and other related ideological and theoretical work carried out at the time, the Party answered the question: how is it that in the conditions of universal suffrage the working class and vast majority of people are kept out of power? With this work it opened the path to the working class to resolve this problem.

Public Forum out of which decision was taken to launch the Committee to Vote No.

The Party's work of democratic renewal was further developed in the 1992-1993 period with the creation of the first Committee to Vote No to the Charlottetown Accord in September 1992 and the publication of three important books concerning the Charlottetown Accord and its consequences, the concepts of 19th century liberalism vis à vis democratic rights, and presentation of the case for democratic renewal of the political process.[2]

CPC(M-L) spearheaded the creation of the Canadian Renewal Party in late 1992 in order to have in Canada a non-partisan instrument for democratic renewal in the 1993 election. There were also important internal forums and consultative conferences held which centered on the issue of democratic renewal. 

April 24, 1993. Founding convention of the Canadian Renewal Party is held in Toronto.

Meanwhile, in 1992, the Royal Commission's recommendations were reviewed by the Hawkes Committee, a special eight-member panel that produced additional recommendations concerning the Canada Elections Act. Both reports were reviewed by Parliament, with advice and support from the Chief Electoral Officer. One of the outcomes was the passage of Bill C-78 in 1992 and Bill C-114 in 1993 -- which together brought about significant changes in the way electoral law dealt with access to the vote, all of which were challenged by CPC(M-L) as self-serving on the part of the parties with seats in the House of Commons.

The Sixth Congress of the Party was held in 1993, in the midst of the federal election, by which time the Party's approach to the need for democratic renewal was fully elaborated. During this period, the Party did considerable work providing rights with modern definitions consistent with the demands of the times.[3]

Since its Fifth Congress held in 1987, important developments had taken place which served to confirm and highlight the objective need for democratic renewal. The first was the defeat of the establishment in the Charlottetown Referendum in October 1992. The significance of this was captured in the books cited above in terms of the advance in the consciousness of the Canadian people.

The 1993 federal election also resulted in a political disequilibrium from which the ruling circles have yet to recover. The Bloc Québécois, a regional party, formed the Official Opposition; the Conservatives were reduced to two seats and the NDP lost seats to the Reform Party. The election of an opposition party which did not have the capacity to be the "government in waiting," as required by 19th century liberal political theory, ended the equilibrium required by the system of representative democracy which claims that those who are not represented by the governing party are represented by the opposition. Analyzing the results of the 1993 election, Hardial Bains pointed to the political disequilibrium brought about by the election results and said that a new people's opposition was the order of the day.

In January 1995, CPC(M-L) launched a nation-building project based on its program in defence of rights and for democratic renewal. It called this project a Historic Initiative. At the centre of its concerns it put the work to activate the human factor/social consciousness based on the working class organizing itself politically to elaborate its independent politics so as to put initiative in its own hands at a time the ruling class had taken the offensive.

Other initiatives included identifying the work for democratic renewal as the key task of the People's Front/East Indian Defence Committee (PF/EIDC) at its 18th National Convention held in 1995. The Party also called on women to put themselves in the leading ranks of the fight for the rights of all and recognized that the working people and ghettoized national minorities must put themselves in the vanguard of the fight to abolish the notion that rights are abstractions and privileges which can be given and taken away at the whim of self-serving ruling elites.

Since then the work to create the organizational forms to affirm the rights of all has been a constant preoccupation of the Party. In the period leading up to the 1995 Ontario Election, consideration was given to advancing the work of democratic renewal through the creation of the Ontario Renewal Party. Independent candidates were fielded instead and Ontarians were encouraged to become worker politicians and independent candidates themselves.

In 1997, in the course of the Ontario fight-back against the anti-social offensive of the Harris government, the Party adopted its political program Stop Paying the Rich; Increase Funding for Social Programs. It also took the initiative to establish an All-Parties Political Forum to raise the level of political discourse. Definite headway was made in establishing collaboration among small parties.

May 1, 1998. Banner Stop Paying the Rich! Increase Funding for Social Programs! at the St. Catharine's day of action.

The 1997 federal election resulted in the same parliamentary crisis as had existed before. This time the Reform Party formed the Official Opposition, replacing the Bloc Québécois.

On the eve of the 1997 election another amendment was introduced to the Canada Elections Act through Bill C-243. This amendment disqualified parties that received less than two per cent of the national vote, or five per cent of the votes in the ridings in which they fielded candidates, from receiving public funding. This was essentially to deal with the situation that between them the National Party and the Natural Law Party had received some $1.2 million in state subsidies. The changes to the law showed once again how the parties which had seats in the House of Commons amended the electoral law for self-serving reasons. It did nothing to raise the prestige of politics, politicians or the House of Commons.

The Party's work for democratic renewal was further developed through its intervention in the Charter challenge launched by the Communist Party of Canada (CPC) to provisions of the Canada Elections Act after it failed to meet the 50-candidate threshold to maintain its official registration. The CPC sought a court injunction against the application of the newly amended electoral law, which would have meant its deregistration. On deregistration all the assets of a party go to the state. The CPC also argued their right to have their name on the ballot even with fewer than 50 candidates. CPC(M-L)'s factum, delivered as a "friend of the court," supported the case with substantial arguments which highlighted the manner in which various provisions of the Electoral Law violate the rights of the people -- the right to freedom of conscience and to freedom of association, as well as the principle of equality before the law.[4]

On May 10, 1999, Justice Anne Molloy of the Superior Court of Ontario (General Division) rendered her decision in which she upheld the claim of the CPC and found certain subsections of the Canada Elections Act to be in violation of the Charter of Rights and FreedomsJustice Molloy described the case as "the most important Charter challenge to the Canada Elections Act to date." The government appealed Molloy's decision and the Charter challenge made its way to the Supreme Court of Canada, where the majority ruled against the government’s main defence, according to which the 50-candidate threshold served to keep out parties that could not form a government. The Supreme Court did not agree. It found that legislation informed by the aim of giving rise to a particular form of responsible government was "problematic." "Legislation enacted for the express purpose of decreasing the likelihood that a certain class of candidates will be elected is not only discordant with the principles integral to a free and democratic society, but, rather, is the antithesis of those principles," the Supreme Court stated. The Court gave Parliament 12 months to fix the law. 

The ruling of the Supreme Court had far-reaching implications because the entire election law is informed precisely by the aim of giving rise to a party government. There were many calls from various quarters for a full review of the Canada Elections Act in light of the ruling. This has never happened. The 50-candidate threshold was changed to one and the requirement for proof of 100 members was increased to 250. A new definition of political parties with which registered parties must comply was added to the law: an organization "one of whose fundamental purposes is to participate in public affairs by endorsing one or more of its members as candidates and supporting their election."

However, neither the government nor parties with seats in the House of Commons used the ruling to strengthen the democratic process by enshrining the principle of equality. It proceeded to make sure the smaller parties are more marginalized than ever, calling them fringe and irrelevant. Even the state broadcaster no longer sees fit to give them token interviews in prime time during an election or considers them worthy of being heard in any state-organized debates at any level. 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has gone so far as to present this with a justification by declaring small parties extremist and unworthy of any recognition at all. Answering questions on his government’s reversal on electoral reform at a Yellowknife Town Hall on February 10, 2017, Trudeau is quoted in a CBC report: "If we were to make a change or risk a change that would augment individual voices -- that would augment extremist voices and activist voices that don't get to sit within a party that figures out what's best for the whole future of the country, like the three existing parties do -- I think we would be entering a period of instability and uncertainty."

Other court challenges to the Canada Elections Act have had to be dealt with by the federal government. These included the Alberta Court of Appeal ruling on third party financing (Somerville, 1996), and the ruling of the Supreme Court of Canada on the enforced black-out of election advertising and polls (Libman, 1997 and Thomson Newspapers, 1998).

In the aftermath of the June 2, 1997 federal election, the House of Commons initiated another electoral review, this one carried out by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, headed by Peter Adams. It was clearly prompted by the contradictions within the ruling circles on the conduct of that election, particularly on the issues of the publication of opinion polls and third-party spending. It is worth noting that the review took place in a situation in which there was increasing public debate and demands from various quarters for proportional representation, including from the NDP and the Conservatives. With more and more people becoming aware of the small percentage of the popular vote which puts a party into power, and the continued disequilibrium in the House of Commons with no "Official Opposition" which could be said to represent whoever is not represented by the party in power, proportional representation was presented as a mechanism which would allow the popular support for the parties to be more accurately reflected in the allotment of seats in the House of Commons.

A year prior to this, CPC(M-L) had already pointed out in the book A Power to Share, that the key problem with the 1993 Bill C-114 was its failure to deal "with those aspects of the electoral law which are in contempt of both the democratic principle of equality and the vesting of sovereignty in the people. These concern such matters as the privileged position of a political elite." No matter how many court challenges, rounds of "consultation" and "review," the political crisis continued to deepen as did concern amongst the people as they saw such things as Canada's participation in the war of aggression against Yugoslavia and the increasing use of Rule by Decree to push the anti-social offensive. The problems with the political process remained.

Recommendations by the Chief Electoral Officer paved the way for major reforms to electoral finance regulation, most notably through Bill C-24 in 2003, but all of them were only attempts to curb the corruption of the parties with seats in the House of Commons through increased policing, which just increased the tendency to make registered political parties appendages of the state -- a fundamental violation of democratic principle.

The Party's interventions in the Broadcast Allocation meetings demanding equal treatment of all registered parties, as well as its submissions to various commissions, have also shown that CPC(M-L) is a political party which is seriously tackling the problem of democratic renewal by dealing with the issue at hand. CPC(M-L) consistently elaborates the approach which serves the interests of the working class under all conditions and circumstances. It not only puts forward a vision, it puts forward concrete demands which can actually solve this critical problem facing the polity.


1. Presentation of the Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist) to the Royal Commission on Electoral Reform and Party Financing on behalf of Hardial Bains and the Central Committee of CPC(M-L), September 20, 1990. HBRC Archives.

2. During the referendum on the Charlottetown Accord, the Committee to Vote No on October 26 published two books by Hardial Bains dealing with the constitutional problem in Canada, The Essence of the Consensus Report on the Constitution and A Future to Face -- A Non-Partisan Approach to Canada's Post-Referendum Problems. A third book, A Power to Share -- A Modern Definition of the Political Process and a Case for its Democratic Renewal, published in October 1993, focuses on the renewal of the political process and is a further contribution to this work.

3. Hardial Bains delivered a paper at the Seminar on "Theoretical and Political Aspects of the Struggle for Human Rights in India" in May 1992 under the title The State of Human Rights after the Cold War -- A Theoretical and Political Treatment. As National Leader of the Party Hardial Bains also presented a series of briefs to parliamentary committees on social policy, foreign policy, citizenship and immigration, Canadian unity and identity, the future of Quebec and a new direction for the economy, articulating the demand for a binding referendum on the direction of the economy. Throughout 1994 CPC(M-L) published a weekly review called Discussion Weekly as well as Discussion -- Quarterly Review of Contemporary Marxist-Leninist Thought which discussed the need for modern definitions of rights, democracy, political parties, citizenship and society.

4. Factum of the Marxist-Leninist Party of Canada in Figueroa v. The Attorney General of Canada, Ontario Court No. 93-CU-71797, submitted November 30, 1993. HBRC Archives.

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32nd Anniversary of Royal Commission on
Electoral Reform and Party Financing

Significance of CPC(M-L)'s Brief to
Lortie Commission

Following the 1988 federal election and the circumstances surrounding it, the Royal Commission on Electoral Reform and Party Financing (the Lortie Commission) was created on November 15, 1989. The period during which the Lortie Commission carried out its work coincided with that of upheaval in the former Soviet Union and countries in eastern Europe which subsequently led to their collapse.

The introduction to the Lortie Commission's report, titled Reforming Electoral Democracy, pointed to this:

"The people of Canada were not unaffected by these historic developments in freedom and democratic government. Canadians looked with new appreciation on their democratic society and its political and economic rights and its freedoms. But even as they did so, many Canadians made it clear at the Commission's public hearings that in evaluating the processes of our electoral democracy they have found it lacking in several crucial respects. These Canadians are demanding that electoral reform not merely tinker with the electoral law; they are demanding that electoral reform focus on the broader and central purposes of electoral democracy."[1]

The Lortie Commission was also established in response to challenges brought to the electoral law under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The introduction to the Lortie Commission's report explained:

"This new focus on the ethical dimensions of political culture and practice has a particular salience in the Canadian context. The Charter gave rise to new expectations about the legitimate claims of citizens. It also transformed the basic structures of governance. Citizens no longer have to rely on parliamentarians or political parties to have their claims included on the decision-making agenda. Citizens can now pursue their constitutional claims through the courts.

"These changes are not merely hypothetical. On several critical issues related to electoral democracy, Charter challenges have resulted in court decisions that have altered the basic electoral law. Citizens have also used the ethical principles implied by the Charter to evaluate many election-related practices, especially by political parties, and they have found these practices wanting. As these evaluations make clear, practical reforms must proceed from ethical principles; ethics is not merely a concern of democratic theory."[2]

What the Commission did not say is that every electoral law commission and/or other review body that has been created in Canada since elections were first held, has been prompted by one of two things:

1) scandals and improprieties which discredited the electoral process and brought it into disrepute in the eyes of the people, and/or

2) the desperation of the political parties in the House of Commons, in particular the Conservatives, Liberals and NDP, for money. They passed electoral changes using the state treasury and their control of the legislature to extend their positions of power and privilege which, in the end, created the cartel party system of government.

To date, there has been no review which was initiated from the standpoint of bringing the electoral law into conformity with the requirements of modern democracy, taking into account the developments in the polity and its needs and the experience of the people in Canada and internationally. Changes have been self-serving and most of them merely deepen the legitimacy and credibility crisis in which the system of representative democracy and liberal democratic institutions are mired.

The Lortie Commission published an extensive volume of work including its research on the high level of discontent amongst Canadians with the political process. Its findings in this regard were corroborated by what Canadians in their thousands said during the Spicer Commission, formally known as the Citizen's Forum on Canada's Future whose findings were published in its: Report to the People and Government of Canada in June 1991.

The leader of CPC(M-L) Hardial Bains dealt with the Report and Recommendations of the Lortie Commission in the book A Power to Share: A Modern Definition of the Political Process and a Case for its Democratic Renewal. Besides other things, the book elaborated the key principles and concepts upon which the Canada Elections Act is based, such as the notions of "free and fair elections," "equitable treatment," and "political parties as primary political organizations."[3]

The two years which followed the Royal Commission's hearings were marked by dramatic changes, including the defeat of the establishment in the referendum on October 26, 1992 on changes to the Constitution, known as the Charlottetown Accord. Literally hundreds of thousands of people expressed their discontent with the political process and the politicians. Despite this, after the defeat of the Charlottetown Accord, no change was made to government policy on any major question of concern to the electorate. On the contrary, the government declared "business as usual." On the front of electoral reform legislation this meant more self-serving measures to consolidate the regime which keeps the parties with positions of power and privilege ruling through a cartel that keeps the people disempowered.

On November 26, 1992, the Special Parliamentary Committee on Electoral Reform, comprised of PCs, Liberals and New Democrats in the House of Commons, met in camera to discuss a Draft Interim Report on changes to the electoral process. Most significant about this was that, once again, the political parties in the parliament rammed legislation through irrespective of the wishes of the electorate.

The more time passes, the more it is abundantly clear that whatever government is brought to power through elections in which the people exercise no control over any aspect, the more they are not seen to have the consent of the governed and the more the legitimacy crisis in which the liberal democratic institutions are mired deepens. The so-called major parties with seats in the House of Commons will not put themselves at the service of the electorate and bring about the necessary changes which would empower the people. The electorate has no choice but to find a way to ensure that these parties are defeated and members are elected who are part of the striving of the people to empower themselves.

Summing up the experience since September 20, 1990, when Hardial Bains presented the brief of the Marxist-Leninist Party of Canada to the Lortie Commission, our Party has further developed its proposals for democratic renewal of the electoral process so that the people can represent themselves and not hand over the power to speak and act in their name to so-called representatives over whom they exercise no control whatsoever. In fact, once elected, these so-called representatives swear allegiance to a fictitious person of state who is said to represent the nation.

The changes CPC(M-L) proposes are directed towards empowering the electorate at this point in time. They comprise both the theory behind them and what needs to be done immediately, in a practical sense.

CPC(M-L) has been taking a non-partisan approach to the issue of electoral reform, which is a prerequisite to the successful empowerment of the people. CPC(M-L) calls on everyone to take up the program for democratic renewal to make themselves capable of dealing with the period of reckoning which is now upon us. It reveals itself as the imposition of "business as usual" which is  a result of the usurpation of the decision-making power by narrow private interests which tell governments what to do. The role of Black Rock in what is called economic recovery shows clearly how decisions are being made,  by whom and for what. [4] The concentration of power in fewer and fewer narrow private interests increasingly endangers people's lives. Now is the time to keep pushing for changes in practical ways which empower the people by building organized forces with political aims.


1. Reforming Electoral Democracy: Royal Commission on Electoral Reform and Party Financing, Volume 1 (Ottawa: January 1, 1991), p. 1.

2. Ibid, p. 2.

3. Hardial Bains, A Power to Share: A Modern Definition of the Political Process and A Case for its Democratic Renewal, (Canadian Renewal Party: Ottawa, 1993).

4. See "BlackRock -- The Super Cartel" by Peter Ewart and "The Canadian Connection to BlackRock," TML Weekly, June 13, 2020.

(TMLW Archives, Hardial Bains Resource Centre (HBRC) Archives)

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30th Anniversary of Citizen's Forum on Canada's Future

Ruling Class Ignores Conclusions of Spicer Commission at Its Own Peril

Thirty years ago, on November 1, 1990, the Spicer Commission, formally known as the Citizen's Forum on Canada's Future, was constituted by the federal government. In the course of its public hearings, the Spicer Commission heard the views of over 400,000 Canadians, documented in the Report to the People and Government of Canada.

The views expressed by Canadians to the Spicer Commission were very significant as participants were afforded the rare opportunity to speak their minds at a time dissatisfaction with the government, the parliament, political parties, politicians and even unions were at an all-time high. People wanted changes to how things were done and they wanted these changes to favour them, not those in positions of power and privilege. Without being prompted, they addressed the Commission and spoke their minds.

Among other things, Canadians expressed their awareness that there is something lacking in the political process. Writing about the Spicer Commission, the leader of CPC(M-L) Hardial Bains wrote:

"Canadians are demanding those changes which are consistent with the coming of age of a people and a country. They are acutely conscious that some of the most elementary norms of responsibility toward the people are lacking. This ability to abstract absence, to envision what is lacking, and to grasp what must be done in order to fulfil a need, has become the most important sign of Canada's coming of age."

Far from paying attention to what they were told, the ruling circles of Canada did everything possible to sweep this collective consciousness of Canadians under the rug. They embarked on a sweeping nation-wrecking program to destroy all the accomplishments of the society and people. Far from relinquishing their privileged positions, they used these positions to concentrate more and more power in their own hands. This has made the electoral process increasingly anti-democratic to the extent that to speak of its conferring on government the consent of the governed is not seen to make any sense whatsoever.

At the same time, a people do not let go of their collective accomplishments, especially not because corrupt rulers tell them to. They build on them. They learn how to defend what belongs to them by right. They persist in finding a way forward and when they see how to contribute they do so without trepidation.

The views and aspirations of the Canadian people expressed to the Spicer Commission did not lead to reform of the political process in keeping with those aspirations and the requirements of a modern society which recognizes and guarantees the sovereignty of the people. This means that the decision-making power must be in their own hands. Putting it there is what the struggles of the working people from coast to coast to coast remain all about. It is what they are still striving to achieve.

Today, across the country the working people are on the front lines of making sure the COVID-19 pandemic, which the government is using as an opportunity for the rich to become richer, does not adversely affect them. In the course of their opposition to the anti-social offensive, they are increasingly appreciating the need for new arrangements -- for institutions and laws which would guarantee their rights. They are recognizing that the injustices and unfairness and inequalities are not a matter of a few bad apples or bad policies but are inherent in the rule of an elite and in state organization and institutions which divide society between those who are rich and privileged and consider it their destiny to govern and get richer, and those who are ruled over and kept disempowered and at the mercy of the rich.

The anniversary of the Spicer Commission comes at a time when the Trudeau Liberals and all reactionary forces are attempting to split the polity as never before so as to impose their dictate and keep Canadians enslaved to outmoded 19th century arrangements called liberal democracy. The aim of their policy is to make all of society pay tribute to the rich in their quest for obscene wealth. This shows that Canadians need to escalate their work towards affirming their sovereignty and renewing the democratic institutions to make sure the dangers that lie ahead are averted and nation-wrecking is ended.

The ruling class ignores the conclusions reached by the Spicer Commission at its own peril. Their wrecking path shows they are not fit to govern. Canadians are not sitting idly by while the ruling elites have chosen a path which is so damaging to the people and their social and natural environment.

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What Canadians Told the Spicer Commission

Section 9 of the Spicer Commission Report, titled Responsible Leadership and Participatory Democracy, includes the following opinions of the commissioners of the Citizen's Forum on Canada's Future on what some people thought was lacking in the country:

"One of the strongest messages the Forum received from participants was that they have lost their faith in both the political process and their political leaders. They do not feel that their governments, especially at the federal level, reflect the will of the people, and they do not feel that citizens have the means at the moment to correct this. Many of them, especially outside Quebec, are prepared to advocate and to support substantial changes to the political system if these would result in a responsive and responsible political process, and in responsive and responsible political leaders.

"Participants' desire for these changes is related to a loss of faith, on their part, that the existing political system will make decisions which reflect their values and aspirations for the country [our emphasis]. To the extent that reforms can be made which would restore this faith, participants' demand for direct participation in decision-making would be less. In other words, they would like major decisions affecting them to be made in a responsible manner, and in a manner that is responsive to both the expressed views and the general well-being of citizens. (p. 96)."

Some of the responses of the citizens that the Forum published as part of its report follow:

"Honesty and spirit of service to the people -- none of the other issues can be addressed without such a good-will from all parties. At present Parliament is a 'charade' of political gamesmanship." (From a couple in their 70's, in Ontario)

"The group wants our elected officials to get off their collective butts and start 'leading' this country." (From a group in Manitoba)

"We can't be fooled into thinking that all we need is to find the right formula and everything will be fine. Our political leaders are bankrupt, and lack vision or mandate." (From a group in Manitoba)

"There isn't a thing we can do. We vote in a government that says they will make things better or whatever else they say... When have they kept a promise? But it doesn't matter what I think. I am 14; no one listens..." (From a junior high school student in Ontario)

"Just terrible the way they carry on in Parliament like unruly children. Bad tempered brats, no control, quarrelling between parties. Why don't they get together and use their better ideas." (From a group in Ottawa)

"Political priorities are not necessarily national priorities... Grassroots organizations should be consulted to a greater level." (From a group in New Brunswick)

"There is a vacuum of leadership, with no clear vision and purpose, to our national destiny, and graft, corruption and inefficiency prevail, in a burdensome bureaucracy of legality and taxation." (From a letter from Quebec)

The report emphasizes that the theme underlying all the comments heard by the commissioners is the demand for responsive and responsible leadership to deal with a wide-range of problems:

"...on management of the economy, on treatment of Aboriginal peoples, on constitutional change and the place of Quebec in the federation, on bilingualism and multiculturalism. In all these areas, citizens have told us they do not feel governed according to their wishes and their fundamental values. (p. 98)"

On the media:

"...commissioners were often told that the media must take a considerable share of the blame for focusing on our divisions, for not doing enough to convey basic, reliable information, and for failing to show us to ourselves in a constructive manner. A group discussion participant in Islington, Ontario, put it succinctly: Media: a major source of misinformation and confusion.

"In many cases, participants expressed the view that what they saw as the media's emphasis on confrontation and editorializing distorted the presentation of issues and increased the chances that problems would turn into crises: "The media has done as much harm in reporting on such things as Quebec separatist feeling and on Meech Lake. The media has blown things out of proportion and sensationalized," said a group in Manitoba. A participant in Merville, BC said, "[the] media must stop emphasizing our differences and concentrate more on those things which we have in common which unite us."

The Forum commissioners then conclude:

"It is clear to us that Forum participants are charging not just political leaders, but also the media, with a responsibility to adhere to fundamental Canadian values in fulfilling their role in our future."

The Forum commissioners report that most participants believe in the values of "equality, fairness and co-operation" (p. 99) but that they feel the media and those who govern are not upholding these values.

The notion of equality is for individuals, for provinces and regions of Canada. There is, as well, a strong rejection of privilege for any province. The lack of fairness was emphasized by various groups such as Acadians, Aboriginals, anglophones in Quebec, francophones outside Quebec, westerners and easterners.

Others emphasize the need for co-operation if we are to achieve the type of Canada we desire. There is a general feeling that this is an improbable country with a large area and a small population, strung out in a line of cities bordering the U.S. Participants felt that co-operation must be active among Canadians, not passive.

The vast majority participating in the Forum do not agree that government has been operating with their values and aspirations at heart. The commissioners say sadness and disappointment were expressed, but most commonly it was anger at the federal politicians, in particular, that they encountered. They cite the following quotations:

"...lack of vision is the actual reason behind your forum. The Prime Minister, his Cabinet, his Party, indeed all parties and all the legislative assemblies all lack vision. None have been, none are capable of seeing a new future for Canada and when we call for a proposal, they admit to a lack of one."

"...another problem is the Prime Minister's inability to keep in touch with the public. Most people are against Free Trade, GST, cutbacks (just to name a few) but he still rams it down our throats whether we like it or not."

"Our three political leaders are not committed to intellectual integrity."

"The secrecy involved in the Meech Lake process must never happen again. The government alone is responsible for the broad feeling of disunity in Canada. Its handling of issues reflecting Canadian unity is deplorable."

"The people who haven't got the message -- and don't want to hear it -- are the politicians, particularly our Prime Minister. He will do his desperate best to go to the decentralized route even if it means the dismemberment of the country. If he loses Quebec, he loses his power base. The scary part is that many premiers wouldn't mind this more-power-to the provinces scenario at all."

The commissioners note that there is a widespread perception that:

"... the work of parliament has little meaning, since the government controls parliament and other elected representatives have little or no opportunity for significant input. Forum participants have told us that, were they to believe that the government of the day is doing things which they have voted on and approved, this might be tolerable. As it is, the actions of the government, once in power, seem to bear little resemblance to the party platform in an election campaign. [Our emphasis] Major policies are developed and enacted during a mandate which either were never mentioned or received little attention during a campaign. In the words of one participant:

"... people feel there is a lack of significant communication between the general population and the government, that politicians once elected do not act as if accountable to the people."

The Commission had its own ideas which the commissioners said reflected a demand of the people that there be mechanisms which require members of parliament to consult their constituents on major issues, or give the members more freedom to vote according to their constituents' wishes. One Ontario person said:

"The government must be changed. We must have a system whereby our elected representatives truly represent and reflect the wishes of their constituents."

A group in Ontario said:

"The often repeated argument 'I was elected to make decisions and do not need the opinions of constituents' is not acceptable in a modern country with a highly educated population."

Another said:

"The major flaw in our country today is the abuse of democracy so prevalent at both federal and provincial levels. Our politicians are not listening to us, but are driven by party solidarity."

A person from the Yukon said:

"We can speak only twice a decade. Then we must suffer the indignity of being told, 'The people of Canada have elected me therefore...' We have learned to distrust this method. It is not up to politicians to effect a change in the fabric of the country... They must listen to the people rather than a battery of advisors. This cannot be done by polls. Socrates demonstrated that questions predict answers."

A British Columbian said:

"MPs who are elected should answer to their constituents and in the Commons according to the majority consensus of their constituents in matters of national importance."

There were also voiced a number of demands for the right to recall members of parliament.

"The citizens should have the power to recall a member if he fails to act in the interests of the country, and fails to present bills or argue for the rights and betterment of the citizenry and the country."

"The Constitution must be amended to provide a way to impeach politicians who do not carry out the wishes of their constituents. If they are not carrying out their constituents' mandates they must be replaced."

A commonly expressed opinion was crystallized in the following view:

"As for the government itself, recall and direct responsibility to the electorate should be implemented. You do not rule us, you work for us. Stop being so secretive, try honesty and straightforwardness. The people of this country are thirsting for an honest government."

Of the two most popular mechanisms suggested for changes, one was for more use of referenda on major policy issues. The second was the creation of a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution:

"Set up a constituent assembly independent of government, with equitable representation from each province (or region) and territory, and from aboriginal groups."

A writer from Nova Scotia added:

"Put an end to executive federalism."

(For the full report on what Canadians told the Spicer Commission see: A Future to Face: A Non-Partisan Approach to Canada's Post-Referendum Problems, 1992. For the Spicer Commission's Report to the People and Government of Canada click here.)

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28th Anniversary of Defeat of Consensus Report on the
Constitution in 1992 Referendum

Significance of the Charlottetown Accord
and Its Defeat

September 10, 1992. Leader of CPC(M-L) Hardial Bains speaks in Ottawa at a meeting of the Committee to Vote No on October 26.

October 26 marked the 28th anniversary of the Referendum on the Charlottetown Accord and the defeat of the establishment forces that day in 1992 by the Canadian people. The Charlottetown Accord, formally entitled Consensus Report on the Constitution, was a deal to amend the Canadian Constitution struck by then Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, 10 provincial first ministers, two territorial leaders and four Indigenous representatives.[1]

The Charlottetown Accord was the second attempt at constitutional reform by the Conservative government. The first was the Meech Lake Accord of 1987 which failed to receive the required approval of the provincial and territorial legislatures and met its death on June 23, 1990.[2] During this period, the demand for a constituent assembly or constitutional convention elected by universal suffrage emerged as a rejection of elitist control and as the way forward for the peoples of Canada to decide their own foundational law.

While the period leading up to the Charlottetown Accord saw a raft of consultations claiming to seek the input of Canadians in this new attempt, its drafting followed the elitist course of Meech Lake. Once 11 first ministers struck a draft final agreement, they decided to hold two last meetings in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, where they would have a symbolic signing ceremony. This was meant to convey the confidence of the ruling elite in their accomplishment, because it was in Charlottetown, from September 1 to 9, 1864, where the rulers of that era worked out some of the resolutions to implement decisions taken by the Imperialist Parliament in London, England, which subsequently led to the imposition of the British North America Act, 1867.

Most significantly, invoking this gathering of Canada's "founding fathers" clearly conveyed the belief of the first ministers that political norms of the 18th and 19th centuries would be accepted by the Canadian people and that they could forego the modern requirement for a constitutional convention and the participation of the citizenry in drafting their own constitution. Why Charlottetown has been iconized as the place where the Constitution was born is a question in itself, since it was actually the Quebec City Conference in October 1864 that led to the initial 72 Constitutional Resolutions of the "founding fathers," while another 69 Resolutions were added in London, England in December 1866 which, combined, constituted the British North America Act of 1867. It can only be surmised that naming the Accord in honour of Quebec City or London did not suit.

The Charlottetown Accord deal aimed to enshrine the status quo in the Constitution and turn over to Canada's first ministers -- the prime minister and the provincial premiers -- the right to make decisions on behalf of the Canadian people. It would have given them carte blanche to do as they pleased, with the Canadian people dismissed to the margins with the sole role to act as voting cattle every few years.

As is still the case today, at that time a broad discontent with the political process and the politicians prevailed across the country, rooted in the feeling that the people exercise no control over the affairs of the polity. The question of where the sovereignty lies -- with the monarch or the people -- came to the fore. The Charlottetown Accord retained the clause vesting sovereignty in the Queen, with the justification that the monarch is merely titular head of state and that the real power lies in party government elected by the people. This disinformation not only mixes up government and state for purposes of hiding who controls the state but also begs the question of who the democracy and the democratic institutions represent.

In any event, it failed to divert the people from the need to vest sovereignty in the people. Far from being willing to give up their inherent right to participate in taking the decisions which affect their lives and control the decision-making power, the people showed themselves to be deeply concerned about the constitutional affairs of Canada and the need to modernize constitutional arrangements arrived at more than a century ago -- 128 years at that time to be precise. Laying down the fundamental law of the land is a right which belongs to the people who comprise the body politic on the basis of arrangements which favour them, not the British white men of property who signed the constitution in 1867 as an Act of the British Parliament under the auspices of the 4th Earl Carnavron at Highclere Castle in Hampshire, England (of Downton Abbey fame).[3]

The concern of the people over the state of the constitution and political affairs was reflected in the extent to which people participated in the Charlottetown Referendum. Nationally, 73 per cent of eligible voters voted. The 1993 election which reduced the Mulroney Conservatives to two seats in the House of Commons saw a turnout of 69.6 per cent. Since then there has been a steady decline in voting participation with relatively minor fluctuations, ranging from a low of 58.8 per cent in the 2008 election to what is considered a "high" -- estimated 68.1 per cent turnout for the October 2015 election, while the 2019 federal election saw a turnout of only 67 per cent.

The number of people who voted No in the Charlottetown Referendum was 7,550,723 (54.2 per cent) and the number who voted Yes was 6,185,902 (44.8 per cent). Only Newfoundland, New Brunswick and the Northwest Territories, voted Yes. All other provinces and the Yukon voted No. In Ontario there was virtually a tie, with 49.8 per cent voting Yes and 49.6 per cent voting No.

The Cynical and Cruel "Consultations" Leading Up To the Charlottetown Accord

Following the defeat of the Meech Lake Accord, myriad public consultations and special parliamentary committee deliberations were conducted in the name of involving the people in the constitutional process and "preparing the groundwork" for the next constitutional round which resulted in the Charlottetown Accord. On this basis, it was claimed that unlike the Meech Lake Accord, Canadians had been broadly consulted and would undoubtedly agree with it in a referendum.

In December 1990, a Special Joint Committee on the Process for Amending the Constitution of Canada was launched to review the Constitution's amendment formulas and "consult broadly with Canadians on the role of the Canadian public in the process." A distinct aversion to acknowledging the existence of citizens as the relevant entities of the body politic was manifest. In its report, issued in June 1991, the Committee stated that "by far, the most commonly suggested alternative to executive federalism[4] was some form of constituent assembly or constitutional convention."

"Indeed," it said, "our hearings suggested that the idea of a constituent assembly has acquired something of a hold on the Canadian political imagination during the 12 months since the Meech Lake amendments failed to achieve ratification. While constituent assemblies were virtually unmentioned in public discussion as recently as a year ago this forum is now the subject of continuing attention in the media and in our hearings and submissions."

The Committee further concluded that "public dissatisfaction with the first ministerial negotiation methods of developing constitutional amendment proposals is so high that any proposals now brought forward would be in immediate jeopardy, irrespective of their merits, if they were seen by the public as being a product solely of eleven first ministers making deals behind closed doors." It said that public participation was critical to the success of any constitutional reforms.

Still, the Committee rejected the demand of Canadians for a constituent assembly, ridiculing the idea that "public participation could be achieved through the direct election of non-partisan assembly members on the basis of their constitutional views and values." It scoffed at the idea that such a body would better reflect what Canadians want than "politicians elected on general party platforms."

Two other consultative bodies were established during this period. The Spicer Commission, formally known as the Citizens' Forum on Canada's Future, started its work in January 1991. The Commission of twelve "prominent Canadians" was led by the former Commissioner of Official Languages, Keith Spicer. The forum solicited briefs from organizations and held public hearings across the country. About 400,000 people participated. The forum delivered its final report on June 27, 1991. It confirmed not only the broad political discontent, but the keen interest of Canadians to participate in drafting their own constitution. The hundreds of meetings that took place across the country were even described as "virtual constituent assemblies."

Then, a Special Joint Committee on a Renewed Canada was established, comprised of 15 Members of Parliament and 10 Senators, which issued a report in February 1992. It too was said to provide the people with "an opportunity to participate fully in the development of the Government of Canada's plan for a renewed Canada." It received over 3,000 submissions -- a historical record at the time, held 78 public meetings and heard 700 individuals. It televised five national constitutional conferences.

The Important Contribution of CPC(M-L) to the Historic Rejection
of the Charlottetown Accord

In March 1992, in response to the Special Joint Committee on a Renewed Canada, known as the Beaudoin-Dobbie Report, an Enlarged Plenum of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist) issued its views on the requirements of a democratic constitution and called on Canadians to reject the Beaudoin-Dobbie Report. CPC(M-L)'s statement set out the fundamental requirements of constitutional renewal and rejected the duplicitous conceptions of "inclusion" and "rights" contained in the Beaudoin-Dobbie Report.

The Committee recommended "an important new constitutional provision that would permit the federal and provincial governments to delegate legislative powers to each other, under a process that will ensure public debate and transparency." CPC(M-L)'s statement rejected the Joint Committee's proposals for the further entrenchment of executive federalism as the means for amending the constitution.

"This is a dangerous proposal indeed," CPC(M-L) wrote. "The traditional method of depriving the Canadian people of the right to make all fundamental decisions which concern them through direct and and universal suffrage is to be given constitutional protection. We firmly believe that all Canadians must take a resolute and categorical stand in favour of their right to draft their Constitution through direct and universal suffrage. Canadians have rejected any 'process that will ensure public debate and transparency' which deprives them of this fundamental right."

CPC(M-L)'s statement also addressed a most central problem of the relationship between the constitution and the form of government, or nature of the economic and political system it espouses. This was particularly important at that time because of the reactionary direction in which the Canadian economy was being taken. With the Government having initiated the integration of Canada into the North America of the monopolies with the Free Trade Agreement of 1988, the Special Joint Committee on a Renewed Canada showed particular concern for constitutional arrangements to serve this new global order. It spoke of the need for a federalism that was "capable of responding to the global challenges and problems of a shrinking world." It spoke of strengthening the federation so as to use the "capacity it offers to manage our inevitable interdependence for the greater good of all Canadians ..." This greater good was defined as creating not an economy based on serving the all-sided needs of the people, but one which could be "competitive" in the global economy. "We believe that the Constitution should include a declaration committing Canadians and their governments to the important economic goals of our country. A new social contract will be an important element in economic renewal; a competitive economy is an essential condition of social well-being."

CPC(M-L) sharply rejected such notions. It wrote: "These are not questions of basic principle. The basic principle at stake is the right of the people to decide these matters for themselves as they see fit. They are to be determined by the people according to their needs and desires at any particular time in their historical development. This is the right which must be incorporated in the Constitution. It is as clear as clear can be that to enshrine a particular form of government or economic and political system in a constitution is a fundamental violation of freedom of conscience and belief."

CPC(M-L)'s statement noted: "The lack of fundamental rights in the present Canadian Constitution is the root cause of the constitutional crisis. Other problems which the Joint Committee purports to take up, such as the necessity for economic renewal, and how to function in an 'interdependent world,' are matters of government policy on which Canadians should also be consulted whenever it concerns questions of fundamental directions for Canada, but they do not pertain to a country's constitution. So long as these fundamental issues are not addressed by the people of Canada, successive Canadian governments will continue to create havoc for our lives."

In conclusion it declared the following "fundamental tenets of a democratic constitution:"

"1. Equal rights and duties for all Canadians,

"2. The right of the nation of Quebec to self-determination,

"3. Recognition of the hereditary rights of the Native Peoples, and

"4. The right of the Canadian people to draft their own constitution (which will require the election of a Constituent Assembly) and to adopt it through direct and universal suffrage."

The proposals of the Joint Standing Committee on the Future of Canada were instead adopted as the basis for what came to be known as the Charlottetown Accord.

32 Years Later: The Task of Constitutional and
Democratic Renewal Remains the Order of the Day

Following their defeat in the Referendum, the ruling elite declared "business as usual," meaning they would continue ruling through the executive power, including bringing about the changes they wanted without amending the Constitution. Nothing in the arrangements that prevailed at the time impeded them from doing so. And this is in fact still the case today.

To this day, the ruling elite have closed the door to discussion on the Constitution because of their profound fear that the striving of the people for empowerment will be once again unleashed. This was seen in the Liberal's 2015 Election Platform on Senate reform: "We also believe that government should focus its efforts on the priorities of Canadians, not on more rounds of constitutional negotiations."

The profoundly and universally held opposition of the ruling elite to reopening constitutional talks lies in their 1992 Referendum experience. With the Referendum on the Charlottetown Accord, Canadians began to make the link between the Constitution and political rights inherent to citizenship and to their lack of control over decisions in their daily lives.

CPC(M-L) was very active during the Referendum on the Charlottetown Accord. The Committee to Vote No on October 26 was spearheaded by the Party, whose leader Hardial Bains pointed out that in its simplest form, the question became very focused around the issue of whether or not the constitution should guarantee some fundamental rights.

Hardial Bains pointed out that when John A. Macdonald declared that in Canada there are "no rights, only privileges" there was no illusion that the government defended the rights and freedoms of the people. He pointed to the patriation of the Constitution and the inclusion of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982, noting they served to create illusions about the degree to which rights and freedoms are guaranteed. However when push comes to shove, Hardial Bains said, "the Canadian people find the same dictate of no rights, only privileges."[5]

The Canadian people can no longer operate within the existing constitutional set up, Hardial Bains concluded:

"Canadians started to grapple with the fact that the Canadian constitution recognizes neither the citizens that comprise the Canadian polity, nor the rights and duties that belong to them by virtue of being human and by virtue of being members of the polity. One of the other developments that took place in this period was a distinct emergence of Canadians as a people and their broad opposition to the racist concept of 'two founding nations' and their demand for the recognition of the equality of all citizens regardless of their national origin, language spoken, etc."[6]

"The limitations imposed on them by the constitution, by the negation of their sovereignty and their right to determine their own constitution, and by the political and electoral process in which they have no role in actually governing the country are shackling their every move when it comes to dealing with any of the problems they face."[7]

Hardial Bains astutely analyzed that it is "a law of limitations" which denies Canadians "the possibilities to deal with the myriad problems plaguing the society."[8]

Faced with the effort of the Canadian establishment to end the constitutional issue, the members of the Committee to Vote No on October 26 turned their outrage at this situation into a practical program to empower the people so that they can exercise control over their lives.

September 11, 1993. Hardial Bains speaks at Constitutional Conference of the Canadian Renewal Party in Ottawa.

The National Council for Renewal was founded on December 19, 1992 in Toronto. In a signature campaign, 25,000 people across the country endorsed the founding of the Canadian Renewal Party in April 1993 as a non-partisan association to continue the work for the renewal of the political process. A Canada-Wide Campaign for a Modern Constitution and Democratic Renewal was launched in the fall of 1994.

The two diametrically opposed positions that emerged with the Referendum Campaign on the Charlottetown Accord highlight the importance and need for a Canada-Wide Campaign to this very day. One position is that the Constitution Act,1982 has no relevance to the Canadian people; it declares Canadian "democracy as we know it" is just fine if only it is not abused and that the problems facing the Canadian people and society fall into some other sphere, be it economic or cultural or social, or in terms of changing government policy on this or that issue. Today the lack of consent of the people for the government's empowering itself with emergency powers so that it can act without limitations of any kind is reflected in a kind of hysteria to preserve what are called the democratic institutions. Neo-liberal notions of rules-based government, civil society, legitimacy and "Canadian values" are peddled on a continuous basis to justify the rule of the plutocrats.

The other position put forward as concerns the Constitution is at the heart of the program of CPC(M-L)'s modern nation-building project. CPC(M-L) points out that Canadian society has come to a point where its development is being obstructed by its constitutional foundation which is rooted in the colonial, racist and anti-people conceptions of the British North America Act, 1867 (not discarded when the Constitution was so-called patriated in 1982) and the Constitution Act (1982) was adopted with its Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Conceptions of rights are based on "reasonable limits" decided by a hidden power and the political process which continues to be premised on all the notions in vogue during the Cold War period.[9]

The Meech Lake Accord and the Charlottetown Accord both bore the imprint of the neo-liberal anti-social offensive and the narrow private interests favoured by it. They came on the heels of the full-steam ahead integration of Canada into the U.S.-dominated economy and its war machine and had as one of their aims the dismantling of the existing power-sharing arrangements to facilitate the opening up of the country to the most powerful global market forces. This trend has continued to this day, with the Trudeau government's Throne Speech being the most recent example.

Since its defeat on October 26, 1992, the ruling elite have not dared to put the issue of the constitution before the Canadian people. In this light, the demand of Canadians for constitutional and electoral renewal and their striving for empowerment in all its form continues to stand as the greatest obstacle to the retrogressive and dangerous path of ruling elites.

The inability of the ruling circles to resolve the crisis of governance and modernize the political arrangements at the time of the Referendum on the Charlottetown Accord has led to further degeneration in the political, social and economic life of the country due to the direct neo-liberal take-over of the state and its institutions and government by narrow private interests of the oligopolies, their cartels and coalitions. The situation facing Canadians today makes clear the urgent necessity to join in the work for political renewal and a modern constitution to resolve this crisis in the people's interest once and for all.


1. From March to July 1992, negotiations took place between the federal, provincial and territorial governments, minus Quebec, along with the involvement of the Assembly of First Nations, the Native Council of Canada (now the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples), the Inuit Tapirisat of Canada and the Métis National Council. Quebec joined the talks in August, leading to the final accord.

2. See "30th Anniversary of the Defeat of the Meech Lake Accord: Political and Constitutional Renewal Has Never Been More Urgent," by Christine Dandenault, TML Weekly, June 27, 2020. 

3. Henry Herbert, 4th Earl of Carnarvon was appointed Secretary of State for the Colonies in the British Privy Council in 1866. He is recorded in history as the man who "conferred self-government on Canada." He also attempted to impose a system of confederation in Southern Africa. When such a system was rejected by the peoples of the region, Carnarvon unleashed the full force of arms to impose it against the armed resistance of the people. The South African confederation scheme was dropped when he resigned in 1878, but his policies and the resulting local conflicts continued and are said to have led to the Anglo-Boer War and the ongoing divisions in South African society.

4. "Executive federalism" is described as both an "institution" and a "tradition" in Canadian constitutional development. It particularly developed in the period following World War II when the 11 first ministers started to meet regularly. This is contrasted with "legislative power." According to the Special Joint Committee on the Process for Amending the Constitution, "Legislative power was at its height in Canada in 1867. In the twentieth century, executive power has prevailed. Hence the new dynamic within Canadian federalism. Executive negotiation has become the preferred approach for negotiating constitutional amendments."

5. "Themes Emerging Out of The Canada-wide Campaign For a Modern Constitution And Democratic Renewal: Why a Canada-wide Campaign?" TML Daily, October 2, 1994.

6. Ibid.

7. Ibid.

8. Ibid.

9. British North America Act, also called Constitution Act, 1867, the Act of Parliament of the United Kingdom by which in 1867 three British colonies in North America -- Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Canada -- were united as "one Dominion under the name of Canada" and by which provision was made that the other colonies and territories of British North America might be admitted. It also divided the province of Canada into the provinces of Quebec and Ontario and provided them with constitutions. The Act served as Canada's "constitution" until 1982, when it was renamed the Constitution Act, 1867, and became the basis of Canada's Constitution Act, 1982, by which the British Parliament's authority was transferred to the allegedly independent Canadian Parliament all the while maitaining the Royal Prerogative  and Queen of England as head of state. 

The British North America Act conferred on the new dominion a constitution "similar in principle to that of the United Kingdom." The executive government was vested in Queen Victoria and her successors. These two provisions meant that Canada would have parliamentary and cabinet government. The legislature was to consist of a Senate, its members appointed for life from the regions of Canada, and a House of Commons elected from the provinces on the principle of representation by population -- one member of parliament for every so many citizens which was supposed to be more or less equally distributed within electoral boundaries. The Act provided that criminal law should be federal and civil law provincial. The federal government was to appoint all senior judges, the provinces to administer the laws and maintain the courts. The Act also authorized establishment of a Supreme Court of Canada.

The allocation of powers between the federal and provincial governments was done by sections 91 and 92 of the Act. By the former, the federal legislature was given power to legislate for "the peace, order and good government of Canada," and "for greater certainty" 29 subjects of exclusive federal jurisdiction were listed. The Act also gave the federal government the right to disallow any provincial act within two years of its passage. The provinces might levy direct taxation only, whereas the dominion might use any mode of taxation. The Act thus provided for a union in which the federal government had general and overriding powers, while the provinces had particular and restricted ones.

The course of judicial interpretation in the Judicial Committee of the imperial Privy Council nevertheless transformed the character of the federal constitution under the Act by greatly reducing the powers of the federal government and correspondingly increasing those of the provinces. The Act provided no process of amendment. Amendments were made by the imperial Parliament in London at the request of the Parliament of Canada.

("Constitution Act, 1867 -- An Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom," Encyclopaedia Britannica.)

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2006 Federal Accountability Act

Harper Government Fails to Restore Trust in Undemocratic Institutions

Submitted to the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, September 7, 2006.

The Honourable Senator Donald H. Oliver Chairperson Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs

Mr. Chairperson and Members of the Committee,

Bill C-2, the Federal Accountability Act, has been presented with the stated aim of improving "the level of trust that Canadians have in their government and in their elected officials." The public trust, it is said, has been violated by the scandals that culminated in the Gomery Commission, and Bill C-2 is meant to prevent a repeat of such things.

One of the main concerns of the Federal Accountability Act involves changes to the Canada Elections Act. This brief addresses some of these changes and argues why they will not achieve the stated aim of the Act.


The background material published by the Harper government on the Federal Accountability Act cites the reform of the financing of political parties as one of its key elements, providing the following context: "The Canada Elections Act governs campaign donations and the financing of political parties and candidates in Canada. The law ensures transparency and regulates the financial relations and operations of political parties and candidates. However, more needs to be done to rebuild public confidence in the integrity of the democratic process, and to ensure that influence cannot be bought through political donations. Donations from corporations, unions and organizations are of particular concern, since they currently allow for a contribution of funds from unknown original sources."

The background material explains that in regards to political financing, the purpose of the Federal Accountability Act is to "toughen the laws around the financing of political parties and candidates to reduce the opportunity to exert influence through large donations." The Harper government presents the changes to the Canada Elections Act as a means "to increase transparency, reduce opportunities to influence politicians with contributions, and help Canadians feel more confident about the integrity of the democratic process." In addition, it is claimed that the changes "will level the playing field among individual contributors, and encourage political parties to engage the electorate more freely."

Surely then, our duty is to look at the proposed changes and see whether they will achieve the stated aim and from that draw warranted conclusions.

Having studied the proposed changes, it is our opinion that they will not achieve the stated aim. One reason may be that there has been no deliberation on what led to the Sponsorship Scandal in the first place. Establishing that wrongdoing took place and even describing some of it and establishing fault in the cases examined is not sufficient. Blame and responsibility are not one and the same. We have the case of the two American pilots who were found to be at fault and blamed for killing four Canadians soldiers in what is called a friendly fire incident but where did the responsibility lie? Why do we have repeated cases of Canadians killed in "friendly fire" incidents?

In the case of the investigation into the Sponsorship Program, while touching upon how public money made its way into Liberal Party coffers, the problem of why such a situation came into being has not been tackled. There was no examination of the desperate need of certain political parties for money in general and no examination of what it was that drove a long-established political party in Canada to steal funds from the public purse. In other words, there was no examination of the crisis in which the party-dominated system of representative democracy is mired or of the electoral process designed to bring political parties to power, why the people feel disempowered or how they are reduced to the status of voting cattle. Instead, the matter has been consigned to the existence of some unscrupulous individuals in the Liberal Party and in the public service, some flaws in the administrative processes, and a lack of adequate policing.

The practice, norm or code of conduct of Ministerial responsibility which prevailed not so long ago as a mechanism to ensure there was accountability was simply discarded. The implications of this on the polity are not even being considered. Individual Canadians, individual members of political parties, political parties themselves, Members of Parliament, civil servants -- all have been put into an untenable situation of not knowing what to expect. New laws are enacted without deliberation worthy of the name and they are railroaded through to further partisan interests on the basis of sophistic, self-serving argument such as the following example: The aim is accountability, transparency, changing the way government works. These changes will accomplish this aim. The changes are good because the aim is good and Canadians want this aim. So anyone who opposes these changes is opposing what Canadians want.

In our opinion, the measures contained in the Act and the manner it is being dealt with show that the aim is not serious. It merely has propaganda value. Who sets the aim and what the aim may be is not discussed or approved but taken as righteous.

The solution to a serious problem is then presented in the form of increased state regulation of political parties and increased surveillance, policing and prosecution of public office holders and public servants.

The Context

The Gomery Inquiry brought out the fact that the Sponsorship Program was conceived during a retreat of the Liberal Party Cabinet on February 1-2, 1996. At that Cabinet retreat, the principal subject of discussion was a report containing recommendations on national unity that Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs Marcel Massé had been assigned to prepare. Among other things, the Report recommended "a substantial strengthening of the organization of the Liberal Party of Canada in Quebec. This means hiring organizers, finding candidates, identifying ridings that are winnable in the next federal election, and using the most modern political techniques of reaching targeted voters." Other recommendations related to "increasing the federal presence in Quebec," which has come to be known as a euphemism for interference in the political affairs of the people of Quebec, some of it illegal, as was the case during the 1995 referendum "unity rally."

The view of the Liberal Cabinet that getting Liberals elected in Quebec was the solution to Canada's constitutional crisis and the decision to do this at all cost, combined with the refusal of the Government of Canada to recognize the right of the people of Quebec to self-determination, up to and including secession if they so desire, led to what is now known as the Sponsorship Scandal. The ensuing activities involved a kick-back scheme through which funds were channelled into the coffers of the Liberal Party and electoral campaigns that were illegally funded.

To this day, the facts related to this have not been fully investigated and nobody has been held to account for violations of the Canada Elections Act. How can we expect politicians to be held accountable in the future in such a situation is a legitimate question. The Liberal Party was absolved by purging some of its members and paying back to the state treasury the money it received through known government contract kick-backs. The fact that it used public money to pay back the taxpayers, money which was given to it according to votes received through fraudulent election campaigns, was not even considered a matter of concern.

The Notion That the Absence of Law Is the Problem

In terms of political financing, the overall approach contained in the Federal Accountability Act according to which the problem is one of law and order, is to increase the laws and restrictions on contributions and to extend the amount of time under which prosecution can be initiated. The key, according to the Prime Minister, is to "toughen the laws." In terms of the functioning of the civil service, a similar approach is taken.

In the opinion of the Marxist-Leninist Party of Canada (MLPC), the notion that the problem is an absence of law is ridiculous. For example, one of the sections of the explanatory notes to the Federal Accountability Act has a headline reading: "Ban Secret Donations to Political Candidates." By definition a "secret donation" is not known, so the notion that such contributions can be banned is ludicrous to say the least. The activities which led to the Sponsorship Scandal were not committed as a result of the absence of law but involved breaking the law and breaking it with impunity for years on end. The facts show that through the Sponsorship Program, the existing laws were violated by officials of the Liberal Party who attempted to fix the results of several elections and by-elections in Quebec by circumventing the electoral laws.

One of the proposed changes to the Canada Elections Act is that cash contributions over $20 will be illegal and all contributions regardless of the form will have to be receipted at the $20.00 point. The picture that remains in everyone's mind in terms of corruption and the Sponsorship Scandal is the bags of money being handed over in restaurants. Members of Parliament and Senators deliberating on this Act cannot be so blind as to suggest that such a prohibition can prevent money from being illicitly used to influence political affairs in the future. In fact, a one-sided approach is being taken which further discriminates against the involvement of ordinary citizens in building political parties. So long as elections remain primarily all about money, not citizen empowerment to exercise control over their choices and elected representatives and governments, all these changes actually facilitate the increasing concentration of power in fewer hands which is in itself one of the factors that facilitates corruption, patronage and cronyism.

The Effect of Bill C-2 on Political Formations: Violation of
the Right to Freedom of Association

When Bill C-24, An Act to Amend the Canada Elections Act and the Income Tax Act (Political Financing), was introduced by the Liberals, the MLPC argued that limits on contributions to registered political parties constituted a violation of the right to freedom of association. Freedom of association is generally understood to mean that no one can be penalized for forming any association they choose so long as the aims of the association are not to break the law. The reality of Bill C-2 is that one of the elements of freedom of association -- fund-raising to build that association -- has itself become a criminal act. An individual who contributes more than $1,000 to a registered political party will be breaking the law. An individual who makes a $21 cash contribution or accepts a $21 cash contribution will be breaking the law. A monthly political dues system, a tradition in workers' parties, at any level above $83.33 per month will be illegal.

The reform will bar individuals from getting together and raising money amongst themselves for a common political aim on their own terms, if they participate in elections as a registered party. For example, if a political party wants to carry out a special project that requires large sums of money, such as building an educational institute, it could not directly appeal to the people to make large contributions to carry this out. At a time when the role of political parties in Canada is in disrepute and one of the reasons for this is that they are seen as crass election machines, Bill C-2 will further entrench the conception of a political party as an organization that functions only as a machine to solicit and deliver the vote and then be paid for each vote from the federal treasury. The media are currently carrying complaints about the Conservative nomination process where increasing evidence points to problems which emerge when forces that control a party run roughshod over party members and their expectations.

Furthermore, Bill C-2's limits on contributions, like those in Bill C-24, make illegal the very means through which the political parties in the House of Commons established themselves. A new political party would not be able to raise large political contributions such as those that the Conservative (Reform) Party solicited from the oil industry in Alberta, or those that the New Democratic Party solicited from the trade unions. In this regard, it is of interest to note that in the period before the limits on trade union and corporate contributions came into effect, while the Liberals were waxing eloquent about large donations creating at least the perception of undue influence, and about the need for transparency, it accepted a donation of $2,974,341.20 from a numbered corporation. At the same time the New Democratic Party more than doubled the contributions from its top-ten union contributors from the year before. This shows the self-serving character of such electoral reforms which among other things will serve to stifle the formation of political opposition to the established parties in the House of Commons and lead to further fighting within these parties and between these parties. The parties in Parliament have secured for themselves, in the form of dollars for votes, a multi-million dollar source of perpetual state-financing, which in turn is routinely used as collateral for bank loans. And for some strange reason this practice is not considered a corrupt form of corporate funding.

The Difference Between Regulating Elections and
Regulating Political Parties

In the course of the Senate Hearings on Bill C-2, a dispute has emerged about the Conservatives not reporting, as contributions to the party, registration fees to the March 2005 Conservative Party Policy Convention. This incident highlighted a significant political development in Canada, one which is manifest in Bill C-2 and in Bill C-24 before it. As more and more regulations are introduced governing what a registered political party can and cannot do, the distinction between the role of the state in conducting elections and the role of the state in controlling political parties is being obliterated. The former is justifiable, necessary and in need of democratic renewal. The latter is unacceptable, anti-democratic and making a mockery of any conception of political freedom.

It is a dangerous road that is being paved because the development of such broad state power over the internal affairs of political parties constitutes a police-state in the making. The dispute over convention registration fees certainly brought to the fore the extent to which the internal affairs of political parties have been brought under state regulation and how even the most routine political affair can be turned into a suspected, potential or real crime.

Elections are a legitimate target of legislation. The state has the duty and responsibility to guarantee that all citizens, regardless of their economic status, can exercise their right to elect and to be elected. It has the duty to guarantee that elections are conducted in conditions that enable citizens to deliberate on the future of their society, to select and elect candidates from amongst their peers, to set the agenda to be discussed, and consequently elect their government. Such laws should be enacted in Canada and the exclusive domain that political parties have over elections and government should be ended.

The Distinction Between Funding Political Parties and
Candidates and Funding Elections

Just as the distinction between regulating political parties and regulating elections is being obliterated, so too the distinction between funding the electoral process and funding political parties is being obscured.

In Canada, the existing body of law is said to create "free and fair" elections through a regime of election spending limits and more recently political contribution limits. This regime is out of control and anathema to political freedom because (1) election campaigning has no beginning and no end; (2) the amount of money required to compete in an election, even with "spending limits," is out of reach for anybody who is not independently wealthy or connected to the power brokers in one of the political parties of the establishment; (3) the inherent competition drives the parties of the establishment to constantly try to outdo each other especially by finding loop-holes and ways to circumvent the law; and (4) the only way to control the money spent by political parties during elections becomes a battle cry to control the political parties themselves and to control who contributes to them. While failing to provide "an even playing field" as professed, the party-dominated system of representative democracy has created a conundrum which is endangering the very notion of freedom of political association and related political rights and freedoms. This is seen in the restrictions on "third party" spending which effectively discourages organized participation in the elections.

Public Funds Should Be Used to Fund the Selection and
Election of Candidates by the Electors

It is one of the anomalies of the development of Canada's electoral laws that the more the rights of every member of the polity to elect and be elected were said to be recognized, the more the electoral law has strengthened the role of political parties as "primary political organizations" rather than enabling all citizens to exercise political rights. The electoral law has thus become legislation enabling privileged political parties, not all members of the polity, to participate in governance. An extension of the problem is rule by executive decree. Neither the House of Commons nor the Senate can calmly and responsibly deliberate on draft legislation. For their part, MPs have no power to set government agenda and members of parties have less and less power over their own parties.

It is the opinion of the MLPC that the state should finance no one and instead should finance the process of selection of candidates. All those people, whosoever wishes to present himself or herself as a candidate for election, first presents himself or herself for selection and the state must fund the entire process. This means that it would be the responsibility of non-partisan constituency committees, established under the control of an electoral commission, to ensure that the selection process is carried out properly.

These committees would be responsible for making information available about every prospective candidate to everyone in the constituency. A constituency committee would be responsible for organizing debates and meetings in which every candidate for selection is free to participate. Should the workers in a factory or other place of work wish to select someone from their own ranks to represent them in the election, this too must be facilitated. Those who are chosen by their own political parties would also present themselves at this stage in the electoral process for selection. The people in the constituency would then select no more than three people to run as candidates in the election. The members of a political party would be on an equal footing with everyone else who seeks to present himself or herself for election.

The next stage of the election would be held in a similar manner, with public funds being used to provide the electors with all the information required to cast an informed vote. Whether a candidate has money or not, whether he or she agrees or disagrees with the views of a particular political party, the candidate has an equal opportunity to present himself or herself for election. Only if the process of selection is funded through public funds and no public funds are made available to special interest groups, including political parties, can this become a reality.

There would be no need to have legislation that intrudes into the functioning of political parties if public funds were used to fund the election process. For example, one of the justifications given for regulating and controlling the leadership contests of political parties is the fact that the leader of a political party could eventually end up being the prime minister of the country because of the role played by political parties in the system. If citizens were empowered to exercise their right to select, elect and be elected, the government would be formed by members of Parliament who have been entrusted to govern the country according to the will of the majority, with the prime minister and other ministers elected by them from amongst the elected members.


Just over two and a half years ago, the current political financing regime was put into place with per-vote subsidies introduced for the first time along with limits on contributions. The different regime has not improved the perception of Canadians as to the integrity and honesty of the system because it has not changed in any substantive way the relationship between electors and political parties, their role in the polity, and the marginalization of the electors by the system of party government. Is the key found in $4,000, the difference between the limits imposed by the Liberals and the limits now being proposed by the Conservatives? To suggest that changing the contribution limits by $4,000 and eliminating corporate and trade union contributions (when it is already known that the ways to circumvent these prohibitions are many), is to make a mockery of the very concept of reform. Real democratic reform begins with the suggestion of the MLPC for the government to fund the electoral process and not political parties.

As the MLPC pointed out when Bill C-24 was passed, each reform to the Canada Elections Act has merely exacerbated the crisis of the system of party government. This will clearly be the case with the Federal Accountability Act and its changes to the Canada Elections Act. These changes are yet another example of changes which will further the concentration of power in fewer and fewer hands. The outcome will be the opposite of what Canadians want.

In the opinion of the MLPC, the Senators should ensure that the proposed changes in the Act are properly deliberated on by all concerned Canadians for as long as necessary. Unless the aim is discussed and warranted conclusions are drawn about the matter at hand, then how do we measure the changes or whether they achieve the aim? This problem will not go away. It would be better to deal with it now, taking as much time as required, rather than hoping it will go away by acceding to an ill-conceived bill.

(TML Daily, September 8, 2006)

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