There was plenty of chatter about the ancient rights of Parliament this week as Commons Speaker Peter Milliken ruled that MPs had the ability to demand the Afghan detainee documents and that the government was obliged to supply them. It was, said one colleague, like the Roundheads of old England, another compared it to the Glorious Revolution which gave way to the English Bill of Rights of 1689.
That dusty old document, which I have never heard referenced before in these hallowed halls of Parliament is actually a cornerstone of our system of government, its passage marked the beginning of what we now view as the British form of constitutional monarchy. The bill sets limits on what the monarch, or in the Canadian context the prime minister and his cabinet, can do. Yet it also sets out rights for the people, including our ancient right to bear arms.
Canadians like to think that owning guns is a purely American thing, that it has never really been the Canadian way, not so. Beyond the fact that Canada was once a vast frontier land where people were regularly armed, one of our constitutional documents, which is how courts view the English Bill of Rights, clearly says the people, or at least certain people, may arm themselves for self-defence.
"That the subjects which are Protestants may have arms for their defence suitable to their conditions and as allowed by law."
Now in true British fashion it does have the caveat not found in the later American Bill of Rights. Clearly no one will overturn the gun registry or restrictions on certain weapons with an appeal to the old bill, but it is a an interesting historical reference.
Another section of the English Bill of Rights that we sadly need reminding of in this day in age is the ancient idea of no taxation without representation.
"That levying money for or to the use of the Crown by pretence of prerogative, without grant of Parliament, for longer time, or in other manner than the same is or shall be granted, is illegal."
Plainly put, for the crown, or in common Canadian parlance the government, to raise money Parliament must approve it. Right now I believe there are two funds at minimum that Canadians are paying into that violate this principle at the federal level and one at the provincial level.
On April 1 2010 the Canadian Media Fund was established, replacing both the Canadian Television Fund and the Canadian New Media Fund. It is expected that $350 million will be doled out over the next year to producers of Canadian television, video and online content. Doesn’t seem too radical, except, here is the question, where does the fund get its money?
Some of the funds come from government, along with much of the policy which is focused on regional and linguistic balance. Most of the money though comes from the cable and satellite companies that provide TV services to Canadians. Under the old programs they were required to hand over 5% of their revenue, not their profits but their revenues, to this fund mandated by the government. They could refuse to pay but to try that route would end in sanctions imposed by the government, so this is clearly a tax.
Last fall, with concern growing about the future of local television the CRTC imposed the Local Programming Improvement Fund, a charge that requires cable and satellite companies to pay a further 1.5% of their revenues into a fund that aims to shore up local programs in cities of less than 1 million people. This year the LPIF could raise $100 million. Like the Canadian Media Fund, the LPIF is a requirement imposed upon the cable and satellite companies by a government agency, neither was passed by Parliament.
At Queen’s Park the Ontario government is being criticized for a new green energy fee that it requires the Independent Electricity System Operator and local distributors to collect this new fee to pay for renewable energy programs. More than $53 million is expected to be raised each year. Like the two federal funds, the provincial government is using regulation to pass a fee that pays for government priorities. Like the two federal funds this one has not been voted on by the legislature.
In this week when Parliamentarians celebrated the ruling that upheld their ancient rights, perhaps they could give a thought or two over to our ancient rights and demand that the governments in both legislatures submit these illegal taxes to a vote.
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