Senate Abolition or Reform
Now all three major political parties have a position on the Senate. The NDP wants to take the steps necessary for abolition. The Liberals want an improved quality of “eminent” Senators chosen by an independent body. Stephen Harper has declared that he will continue his now official policy of not appointing any more senators, “to save money” and “to pressure the provinces into coming to the table for reform.” Talk of a future referendum on abolition or reform of the Senate is now widespread. For what it’s worth, I think Harper’s policy of non-appointing senators is unconstitutional and would likely be overturned by the Supreme Court of Canada if it were put to the court on a reference. In my view, it is yet another example of Harper’s persistent putting himself and his policies above the law. Given his track record of unilateralism on every issue, what credibility has he got as a “leader with the provinces” in seeking a consensus for real reform?
Canada Post Community Mailboxes
Last spring, the City of Hamilton passed a by-law requiring Canada Post to get a permit from the City for the location of their proposed community post boxes, and to pay a permit fee of $200 per box. The City went to the Ontario Superior Court seeking an injunction against Canada Post from installing any further boxes until the court decided the issue. Canada Post challenged the constitutional authority of the municipality to pass their by-law. The issue was: who had the right to control the location of mailboxes used to carry out the federally mandated postal delivery? Justice Alan Whitten found that was within the core power of the federal government, as given to Canada Post, and that Hamilton’s by-law was “inapplicable and inoperative.” The City of Hamilton has now appealed. I will report on the appeal decision once it is heard.
In the meantime, Canada Post has announced that door-to-door mail delivery would continue in “the core” of downtown Toronto (the heart of the business community). That “core” will end at Bathurst Street and not extend west into my neighbourhood. Toronto councillors took the matter to the Canadian Federation of Municipalities in June for a national response. Now that the practical implications of ending door-to-door mail delivery have become more clear, the one-size-fits-all policy of Canada Post has become a hot-button political issue.
The “Politicization” of Federal Judicial Appointments?
Sean Fine’s fine in-depth analysis of the federal government’s judicial appointment process published in the Globe and Mail on July 25th, entitled “Stephen Harper’s Courts,” and the follow up articles which have appeared through the week, should be required reading for all citizens interested in the justice system. The federal appointment process has always been of concern but, according to Fine, the Harper government has made it worse. The increasing concern about “politics supplanting merit” is a response to the recent appointments of Justices Bradley Miller and Grant Huscroft to the Ontario Court of Appeal. Both are proponents of “Originalism,” the right-wing American legal theory of constitutional analysis championed on the American Supreme Court by Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, and outside the mainstream of Canadian legal jurisprudence. The surprise appointment last week of Alberta Justice Russell Brown to the Supreme Court of Canada has added to the concern. He has called himself “a conservative libertarian” and has but two years of judicial experience. The Globe and Mail headline today tells it all: [Justice Minister Peter] “MacKay declines to explain court pick.” Wasn’t it Stephen Harper who once campaigned on the need for Parliamentary review of Supreme Court appointments? That was then; this is now.
My First “Official Publication”
I was delighted to open the Globe and Mail this morning and find published a Letter to the Editor I’d written. A comment on “Judge’s Powers,” it follows up on an analysis of the Carter decision which I wrote in a March post, on Re-view from the Bench, relating to speedy Supreme Court decisions. You can read the letter yourself on the Globe and Mail Letters to the Editor webpage for July 30th. Thanks to Malcolm Metcalfe for providing me with the link. Not a bad way to recharge my batteries after a lengthy lay-off.
Hope everyone is enjoying a good summer.
There is a revolution brewing, and rightfully so. Two years ago, Canada Post decided to cease all home delivery of mail, phased in over the next few years. Their decision was out of the blue, without any public discussion, with no apparent government input, and without any consideration of alternatives. It was an autocratic decision from on high to curtail all home delivery of mail in favour of community post boxes. “One size fits all,” says the post office. Everybody else in Canada is happy with “community post boxes,” why should the cities get any different level of service?
Now that Canada Post is beginning to roll out their program, the implications of what they are doing are becoming very clear. Initially, the objections were based on the need to accommodate the aged and the disabled, those for whom collecting mail down the street or around the corner would be a hardship. The post office said they “would try to accommodate them.” How? Who qualifies for accommodation? Who decides what accommodation? Will there be an appeal of an adverse decision? How quickly will the post office respond if one breaks a leg? The administration of adequate “accommodation” could be mind-boggling. Or non-existent, which is much more likely.
Then there was the “litter” issue, the inevitable debris which the community boxes will attract. TTC bus shelters are already repositories of refuse. Who is going to clean that up? Those city street cleaners who walk around with their bags, or ride around on their electric carts? How much will that cost? The existing state of TTC bus shelters is hardly encouraging. Is the Post Office going to employ janitors to monitor the public presentability of their community post boxes? To clean them of graffiti and clear the snow in winter?
The real issue is the nature of the “community post boxes” themselves and the Post Office’s apparent position that they have the legal right to put up boxes wherever they choose. Thomas Walkom, in today’s Toronto Star, hit the nail on the head. He quotes Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre, who has called for a moratorium on community mailboxes because “the planned community mailboxes would simply take up too much space.” He writes of a report done for the City of Montreal which “calculates that if all the community mailboxes required to service Montreal were laid end to end, they would stretch for 25 kilometres.” Apparently, the City of Montreal and three other Quebec councils are joining a legal action opposing the “community mailbox” decision.
Walkom also described how Hamilton has passed a bylaw that specifies the location of community mailboxes and charges a $200 licensing fee for each superbox. Canada Post has refused to abide by the bylaw and is now arguing in the Ontario Superior Court that the City of Hamilton has no legal authority to pass any such bylaw. No wonder Councillor Janet Davis of the City of Toronto has requested a staff report on the implications of Canada Post’s policy on the city. And that other city councils across the province and the country are upset with Canada Post.
I considered this issue as it applies to my city block. I live in downtown Toronto on a residential street west of Bathurst and south of Harbord. My street was developed first in the 1880s and then in 1904-1905. The houses are typically three stories tall, a mix of detached, semi-detached, and small three-story apartment buildings, on lots which are generally 18 to 25 feet wide. Many of the houses have been divided into flats, three per house generally, some more; some are rooming houses with who knows how many individual units. Ours is a typical downtown neighbourhood street with deep lots and narrow front footage. Municipal planning policies are encouraging even more density.
I walked down the one block of my street and counted 47 separate dwellings. To provide for all the separate flats, apartments, and rented rooms on the street, there would need to be at least double or triple that number of individual boxes at the “block superbox.” And that would accommodate only the current usage. The high cost of housing in Toronto encourages new owners to add a second or third unit to existing single family premises. The number of units on the street is constantly changing. The original configuration of the community box may well be outdated before it is even installed. How does the post office plan to keep up with the increasing density of the street?
And where is this “block superbox” to be located? Both sides of the north corner are sidewalks adjacent to a busy street which already has a dedicated bike lane on it, and is a bus route. Placing a post box on that corner would block visibility. The rest of the block includes small private gardens (treasured because they are so small), and sidewalks under a canopy of city trees. The only empty spot on the entire block is the verge of the parkette where there is a memorial stone honouring the namesake of the park and several trees. So now are we to have a wall of metal boxes blocking the vista between the parkette and the street? Not only on this block, but on every other block in entire neighbourhood? Hardly an aesthetic contribution to the neighbourhood. I don’t know about you, but if our very limited public space were taken up with an aluminum “block superbox,” I would consider it reminiscent of Stalinist Russia.
Canadians who live outside the big cities may not be sympathetic with our plight. My sister lives in Dawson City, Yukon, a community of 1400. There, everyone has a mailbox at the town post office. Picking up the mail is part of the daily ritual and the post office is a social center for the community. That’s how it has always been; that’s how it always will be. Similarly, my son and his family live in Whitby, in a recently-built suburban housing development. When they bought their home, they did so with the knowledge that the community mail box was right around the corner, built into the planning of the new community.
Neither scenario applies to the old city of Toronto. And if Canada Post thinks they can impose their “one size fits all” agenda on everyone willy-nilly, they’d better think again. In Toronto, that’s not how things are done. Here, the expectation is that all government bodies, agencies, businesses or organizations, anyone wanting to use city property for their own purposes must apply to the city, and get their approvals. If they want buy-in from the locals, they’d better go out and get input from the community in advance. Why should Canada Post be any different?
Snail mail may be increasingly obsolete, but it is not entirely dead. Better to have less frequent delivery than have the city cluttered with “Stalinist superboxes.” Isn’t the federal government responsible for Canada Post? Where is Stephen Harper on this issue? How come Justin Trudeau and Tom Mulcair are not calling him to account? And if local governments do not have the authority to pass bylaws which can apply to Canada Post, then Kathleen Wynne’s majority government at Queen’s Park should see that they do.