Saturday, June 17, 2017

Bill Morneau vs. The Senate: The Chamber of Sober Second Thought



“Should any difference ever arise between both branches, the former could say to the members of the popular branch: 'We as much represent the feelings of the people as you do, and even more so; we are not elected from small localities and for a short period; you as a body were elected at a particular time, when the public mind was running in a particular channel; you were returned to Parliament, not so much representing the general views of the country on general questions, as upon the particular subjects which happened to engage the minds of people when they went to the polls. We have as much right, or a better right, than you to be considered as representing the deliberate will of the people on general questions, and therefore we will not give way! (Hear, hear).” 
Right Honourable Sir John A. Macdonald, Life of the Right Honourable Sir John A. Macdonald Vol II ed. Pennington MacPherson (St. John: Earle Publishing, 1891), 40.
“Finance capital, concentrated in a few hands and exercising a virtual monopoly, exacts enormous and ever-increasing profits from the floating of companies, issue of stock, state loans, etc., strengthens the domination of the financial oligarchy and levies tribute upon the whole of society for the benefit of monopolists.” 
V. I. Lenin, “Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism,” Collected Works XXII tr. M. S. Levin & Joe Fineberg (New York: Progress Publishers, 1964).

There is a conflict brewing in Canadian affairs between the executive and legislative branches of government. The Senate Chamber of parliament considering splitting the provisions related to the foundation of Finance Minister Bill Morneau's proposed 'Canadian Infrastructure Bank;' to separate them from - and separately consider them from - the rest of the government's budget implementation bill. The age old question of Canadian parliamentary democracy rears up yet again: is the Senate a servile rubber-stamp to the executive branch, or a principled chamber of “sober second thought in legislation”? (1) On Thursday, independent Senator Andre Pratte put forward a motion to separate the 'Canadian Infrastructure Bank' from Trudeau and Morneau's budget implementation bill and was ruled out of order by the Speaker of the Senate, George Furey. Furey, however, was then challenged by Senator Diane Griffin and found to be out of order himself by a vote of 38-33. The Trudeau government is intent on ramrodding through the funding and framework for the 'Canadian Investment Bank,' and the Senate is balking at this haste and insistence, and considering whether to be more of an impediment to the Trudeau government than they already have been.

This is unacceptable to Morneau. He wants his bill passed 'intact,' as he says. In other words, he specifically doesn't want the provisions to do with the 'Infrastructure Bank' held up to Senatorial scrutiny and, more importantly, public scrutiny. Morneau, a corporate raider and ex-chair of the reactionary C. D. Howe institute, has been tasked by the Liberal government of Justin Trudeau with facilitating the economic directions of large donors to the Liberal Party of Canada, turning them from the wish-list of the owning class into governmental policy. His rhetoric concerning his proposed budget implementation as a “plan for middle class progress,” is wholly disingenuous and exemplary of the two-faced doublespeak that characterizes contemporary liberal economic programmes. Justin Trudeau, for his part, billowed hot air towards the Senate, emphasizing that the 'independent' role of the Senate is merely to suggest 'recommendations and improvements in many cases,' but that “the House of Commons has authority when it comes to budgetary matters.” (2) Morneau has indicated that the Senate efforts to separate these components from the budget implementation bill, and consider them on their own merits – or lack thereof - are unacceptable to the Trudeau government, and Trudeau claims that the lower house has the final authority. The Canadian Senate, however, not only has the constitutional authority to challenge government decisions and attenuate their excesses, but, moreover, the constitutional obligation to do so. The Canadian Senate, as the 'Chamber of Sober Second Thought,' has a responsibility to perform this function of critical reflection, up to and including impeding the actions of the government of the day, if it is to claim legitimacy as a necessary institution of the Canadian state.

The budget implementation bill, and its component laws - the Canada Infrastructure Bank Act, the Services Fees Act, the Borrowing Authority Act, the Invest in Canada Act – are a corporate cash-grab, a coordinated effort to consign the gears of State political power to the handmaiden and nursemaid of private cartels and monopolists. Liberal Senate leader Joseph Day wrote in his concerns with the budget implementation bill that the proposed changes to Canada's monetary mechanisms and their relation to parliamentary authority “are not minor tweaks to existing legislation, but rather . . . completely replace the existing provisions that created and govern the work of the Parliamentary Budget Officer.” (3) He has, in fact, gone so far as to suggest that the 'Canadian Infrastructure Bank' provisions represent a wholescale abdication of monetary authority and accountability by parliament, and that he was “deeply disappointed to see that, with this budget implementation  bill, the government has apparently abandoned its election promise to end the practice of introducing omnibus bills.” (4) That even Liberal Senators are pushing back against the unilateral economic machinations of the Trudeau government ought to inspire widespread suspicion regarding the contents of their omnibus bill, and the class interests it serves. As The Bullet's Heather Whiteside writes, “the CIB's main ‘innovation’ lies in granting equity ownership rights to private capital through investment vehicles like public-private partnerships (P3s).” (5) What the budget implementation bill sets out to do is to facilitate the transformation of public mechanisms into a private wellsrping. The 'Canadian Infrastructure Bank' is the terms of direct connection between the monetary mechanisms of the Canadian State and large Capital; it is a set of engineered protocols for the State administration of Monopoly, i.e. the technical specification of State-Monopoly administration. It is, in effect, a life-raft from market forces, the specified means of monopoly exemption from market pressures by means of State intervention. The function of the 'Canadian Infrastructure Bank' and other such public-private partnerships is to suspend market forces for selected entities. As Whiteside continues, “the CIB will be a bargain store offering up revenue streams and guaranteed returns, a veritable game show wheel of asset grabs and giveaways. Once established, secondary market equity sales can bring in up to 50 per cent returns on investment for private owners. Canada has already been host to over twenty such equity sales, and nearly half were captured by tax haven-registered investment funds.” (6) Additionally the proposed legislation contains language which would effectively exempt information pertaining to the utilization of public funds from Freedom of Information requests, thus further shielding it from scrutiny.

Trudeau and Morneau's proposal is to, in essence, quietly misappropriate 35 billion dollars in public funds – 15 of which were promised simply as investments in infrastructure – to hand over, carte blanche, to the grubby fingers of whichever Liberal lobbyist can inject a sufficient amount of cash into the Liberal Party of Canada coffers. Thus the Liberal scheme, in effect, turns public assets into private capital, and private capital into 'public assets,' from which the private interests nonetheless expropriate profit. The contemporary Liberal dogma to which Morneau and Trudeau are indebted, and which has inspired this 'Investment Bank,' is that State-mechanisms should be used for, and only for, the permanent subsidization of extant private interests. To create 'public infrastructure,' for which the public is charged, and from which private interests derive profit, and to transform public infrastructure from which private interests do not already profit into 'public infrastructure,' from which they do. Invariably the so-called 'public' infrastructure that results from 'public-private partnerships' is closed, paranoid, militarized and sanitized spaces, intended for use by the well-to-do strata of society and the exclusion of working class and marginalized peoples. The coordination of monetary mechanisms by capital is effected domestically, but with a view to the international demands of joint finance capital. As Felix Guattari writes, “the relationships between states therefore appear to be the expression of the mode of realization of the internationalization of economic life at the stage of state monopoly capitalism.” (7) Those institutions which inhibit the state subsidization of monopoly interests are dissolved, and liberal governments effect a cancerous hypertrophy of institutions which facilitate state subsidization of private interests. Those economists who are most readily promoted to the reigns of monetary policy, today are those who most effectively serve the interests of globally coordinated finance capital within their respective Capital-Nation-States.

“It is characteristic of capitalism in general that the ownership of capital is separated from the application of capital to production, that money capital is separated from industrial or productive capital, and that the rentier who lives entirely on income obtained from money capital, is separated from the entrepreneur and from all who are directly concerned in the management of capital. Imperialism, or the domination of finance capital, is that highest stage of capitalism in which this separation reaches vast proportions. The supremacy of finance capital over all other forms of capital means the predominance of the rentier and of the financial oligarchy; it means that a small number of financially 'powerful' states stand out among all the rest. The extent to which this process is going on may be judged from the statistics on emissions, i.e., the issue of all kinds of securities.” 
V. I. Lenin, “Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism,” Collected Works XXII tr. M. S. Levin & Joe Fineberg (New York: Progress Publishers, 1964).

Monopoly, the culmination of competition into cartels subsidized by their respective states, is a stage in the development of the capitalist modes of production and exchange. As Lenin writes, “monopoly manifests itself in trusts, syndicates, etc., in the omnipotence of the giant banks, in the buying up of raw material sources, etc., in the concentration of banking capital, etc.” (8) It is not a political decision but rather becomes necessary for the maintenance of class rule and the preservation of the rate of profit at levels with which the monopolists are comfortable. The state, in effect, takes upon itself those areas of the economy where the rate of profit is low, allowing the rate of profit for the monopolists to rise. As Guy Debord notes. the function of contemporary technicians of spectacular state-monopoly as that of “anaesthetists” and “resuscitators,” (9) - that is, of the anaesthetization of dissent and resuscitation of class rule. Contemporary Liberal economic programs are a vehicle for the perpetual manual resuscitation of the rate of profit for the owning class, and its corollary is the perpetual anaethetization of the class who are compelled to sell their labouring capacity and their class interests.

It is wholly appropriate that the modern crisis of the Canadian Senate flared up once again in recent years with the image of ex-commentariat and squealing supplicant pig, Mike Duffy, shamelessly grubbing for public funds directly from the executive branch in an effort to merely fulfill the bare minimum conditions of residence in the province for which he was supposedly Senatorial representative. Indeed, the Canadian media are today up in arms that a report on Canadian media that suggests their respective monopolies ought to be sutured onto the back end of public finance is being ignored. The report, commissioned by Melanie Joly's Heritage Department, that the talking heads in the privately owned media are so avid to have accepted as scripture, 'The Shattered Mirror: News, Democracy and Trust in the Digital Age,' notes that “the media, and particularly the civic function of journalism, the coverage of public institutions, public affairs and community” may, in these new times, require “a lifeline.” (10) It goes on, however, to ask how this can be done in such a way as to “not lock in privilege, stifle innovation and weaken democracy itself.” (11) It is doubtful that the talking heads of the large privately owned media are particularly concerned about the latter questions. The report does pay particular attention to the need to rethink what media is, and how to avoid an ossification of extant media biases, but it is being heralded for its advocation of utilizing public funds for private 'journalism,' and not its reasoned critiques of contemporary 'journalism.' 'The market pressures eroding the market share of the large privately owned means of communication are too great!' the commentariat bleats in unison. The Liberal government must intercede for their plight, the 'loyal' sycophant commentariat argue, and either subsidize or otherwise tilt the playing field in the direction of private communications interests. The large and privately owned media in Canada, not to mention it's supposedly 'public' broadcaster, too, have done nothing but cloister themselves away and announce the diktats of class rule from their towers. Now they call for state subsidization to continue to do so. The tacit acknowledgement in their pleas, of course, is that the Canadian media are but one mere monopoly interest groping for access to the firehose of public funds directed at private interests as advocated by contemporary Liberal economic theory. The Canadian media is not a neutral party without interest in the passage of Trudeau and Morneau's budget implementation bill unmolested by Senatorial intervention. They, just as much as any other concentration of capitalist interest, are eager to become the beneficiaries of state subsidization.

While the Supreme Court of Canada itself has indicated that the Senate is a necessary component of the “internal architecture” of the Canadian constitution, the arguments against the Senate can be broadly placed under the rubric of accusations that the Senate, like the House of Lords, is vestigial, arcane, and useless. But would not the ultimate confirmation of this belief be if the Senate allowed itself to be cowed into total inaction when menaced by the threat of its being accused of irrelevance? Were the Senate to simply recede before the government's demands, it would demonstrate that, when it is most important for them not to do so, the Senate kowtows to transient executive authority and abdicates its stated function. In 1990 and 1993, the Mulroney government twice faced Senate opposition to budgetary matters, and while in 1990 Mulroney simply appointed more Conservative Senators to approve his budget bill, in 1993 his budget was defeated in the Senate with the assistance of Conservative Senators. It is not at all out of order or inappropriate for the Senate to challenge the government on ill-thought out and opportunistic monetary chicanery. As Nathan Cullen noted, Justin Trudeau's Senatorial reforms were intended precisely to produce a more independent and critical Senate chamber. It is the height of hypocrisy, then, for him to claim that the Senate is acting in error when such Senate function becomes inconvenient for the government of the day.

The argument that Senators are 'unelected' is spurious insofar as their function is precisely to act as autonomous from transient electoral concerns. This is not necessarily a defense of the Senate, as such, but if Canada is to have a Senate, then they must necessarily perform the function for which it was intended, and not act in the manner of a complaisant and symbolic rubber-stamp to the executive. The parliamentary majority with which the Trudeau government acts, after all, was attained under the false pretenses of abolishing the system by which the majority was attained. It is entirely relevant that Trudeau is appealing to his 'electoral mandate' in advocating for his and Morneau's hardline neoliberal economic dogma while having conspicuously abandoned his campaign promises of instituting a proportional electoral system. Trudeau and Morneau's arguments against the Senate interceding in the budget implementation bill are also fallacious and unfounded insofar as a massive privatization effort was nowhere a part of their campaign platform. Trudeau's Liberals were elected on pledges to invest in public infrastructure, but nowhere did they specify that such 'investment' would flow directly into the hands and pockets of their Liberal donors. It would be one thing if the Senate were opposing and challenging a specific plank of an electoral mandate, but they are not. This insidious bait-and-switch the Liberals are attempting is characteristic of their duplicity and hypocrisy. Had they earnestly articulated the proposed means of so-called 'public investment' during the campaign – not to mention their ambivalence towards electoral reform – there is no guarantee that they would have done as well as they did. Thus, the electoral mandate that Trudeau and Morneau hold does not extend to these late economic hijinks and omnibus bills. As Whiteside writes, “the  CIB will target ‘commercializable’, revenue-generating infrastructure like transit, highways, and bridges promising dedicated user fees to repay private capital. The middle class must decide quickly if a Canadian landscape dotted with tolls and charges matches its needs and wants because the Liberals pledge to increase total infrastructure spending through this innovation, and they plan to reach deep into municipal-provincial jurisdiction to do so.” (12) The efforts to separate provisions pertaining to the foundation of a 'Canadian Infrastructure Bank' from the rest of the budget implementation bill are not simply a procedural hurdle, but an attempt to alert the Canadian public to actions and intents on the part of the Trudeau government that are deeply questionable on economic and moral grounds.

It is not only allowed for and constitutionally correct that the Senate demand that there be an opportunity for an intense scrutiny of the government's budget implementation bill, it is incumbent upon the Senate to do so. Either the Senate lets Trudeau and Morneau dictate to them their station and subservience, and proves the critics of the Senate correct in their charge that it is a meaningless, impotent, anachronistic holdover, or it fights this government and its economic subterfuge and gives such critics pause. Too much commentary on the role of the Senate in Canadian public life treats its function as static and abstract, failing to realize that the Senate can accrue or lose legitimacy based on its practical activity. This is an opportunity for the Senate to demonstrate that it is not so inert and backwards as it has been depicted, that it is indeed the dignified and necessary institution of sober second thought. Should they challenge Morneau, Morneau deserves to lose. The efforts to transform State mechanisms into the private relief mechanisms of private capital are illegitimate expropriations and ought to be checked both here and abroad. The efforts of finance capital to secure a comfortable state-subsidization for their interests, and the activities of their political supplicants, cannot be taken in the abstract and considered in purely domestic terms. The Canadian Senate can, and should, consider how Trudeau and Morneau's proposed 'Canadian Investment Bank' is part and parcel of a global ruling class project to liquidate the substance of the public sphere, in concert with considering global resistance to this class project. Contrary to their rhetoric, the efforts of the Trudeau government are not rooted in a concern for the development and progress of the Canadian middle class, but at the pocket-books of Liberal Party donors and their international equivalents. The Canadian Senate can, and fundamentally should, force an opportunity for public scrutiny of the Liberals' economic agenda upon Justin Trudeau and Bill Morneau, and open up a civic discourse on the relations of government, capital and civil society in our current era.


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(1) Right Honourable Sir John A. Macdonald, Life of the Right Honourable Sir John A. Macdonald Vol II ed. Pennington MacPherson (St. John: Earle Publishing, 1891), 37.

(2) Joan Bryden, “Justin Trudeau says unelected senators have no business rewriting federal budget” The Canadian Press, June 16, 2017.

(3) Senator Joseph Day, “Budget Implementation Bill, 2017, No. 1 – Certain Committees Authorized to Study Subject Matter” Liberal Senate Forum, May 8, 2017.

(4) Ibid.

(5) Heather Whiteside, “The Canadian Infrastructure Bank: Theft by Deception” The Bullet, 1334, Nov 2016.

(6) Ibid.

(7) Felix Guattari, Psychoanalysis and Transversality tr. Ames Hodges (Los Angeles: Semiotext[e], 2015), 138.

(8) V. I. Lenin, “A Caricature of Marxism and Imperialist Economism” Collected Works XXIII tr. M. S. Levin & Joe Fineberg (New York: Progress Publishers, 1964).

(9) Guy Debord, Comments on the Society of the Spectacle tr. Malcolm Imrie (London: Verso, 1990), 30.

(10) “The Shattered Mirror: News, Democracy and Trust in the Digital Age” Public Policy Forum, January, 2017.

(11) Ibid.

(12) Whiteside, “The Canadian Infrastructure Bank: Theft by Deception.”

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