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‘We need to get back to basics’: The best comments from Hub readers this week

Commentary

This week saw Hub readers discussing the dying dream of Canadian homeownership (and how it should be revived), Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre’s surging popularity, rising crime in Canada, and our electrical grid problem, among many other topics.

The goal of Hub Forum is to bring the impressive knowledge and experience of The Hub community to the fore and to foster open dialogue and the competition of differing ideas in a respectful and productive manner. Here are some of the most interesting comments from this past week.

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It’s time for Canada to seize Russian assets

Monday, March 18, 2024

“Ukrainians are being bombarded in their homes on a daily basis and soldiers are dying on the front without sufficient means to defend themselves. They need all the help they can get.”

— Lynda Thivierge

“I like both the idea of Canada taking the lead and the obvious justice of using Russian money to begin to compensate for the non-human destruction inflicted on Ukraine. The justice for the utterly immoral human destruction should take place in the Hague, hopefully after a Russian defeat.
Other than the illegality in relevant countries, which can be remedied with legislation as Canada has done, I don’t understand the nuance of why there is resistance to taking this step.”

— Paul Attics

The Canadian dream of homeownership is dying

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

“Our country faces a fundamental problem of lack of growth in wealth. Our economy is stagnant. Businesses are not investing in Canada. Without economic growth, the free market doesn’t work well. Government interventions are rarely helpful, often hurting real investment. I’m afraid we need to get back to basics.”

— Al Raftis

“The Canadian economy has obviously suffered while home ownership, the traditional foundation of our society and economy, has been eviscerated.”

— John Hartley

“Some people need to be able to buy within a few years, but even more need confidence that it’s worth saving and working towards. Young people can see that governments are restricting the supply of housing (mostly houses and townhouses) that people actually want with no apparent plans to stop doing that and that, when push comes to shove, housing affordability is likely going to continue to be put second to other goals like population growth.”

— Valerie

Poilievre’s popularity is surging—his working-class appeal is a key reason why

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

“The reason Pierre Poilievre is so popular is that he is saying what the vast majority of Canadians feel. We must get our spending under control.”

— Kim Morton

“I suppose your definition fits the dictionary definition of ‘working class.’ However, I would suggest that most people, maybe as you suggest as well, see it as those who work to survive either to just get by or to at least not have to ask for help from the government. This definition would include way more than 6.5 million Canadians and would explain the polls.”

— Sandra

Canada’s crime problem is only getting worse

Thursday, March 21, 2024

“Improvements to law enforcement coordination are a must. Not only to catch the ‘big fish’ but because, if most cars are retrieved, the financial incentive to steal them for export diminishes. If, as implied in the article, low-risk offenders are in jail awaiting trial while repeat offenders accused of violent offences are out on bail, then that needs to be fixed and fast.”

— Gordon Edwards

“Part of the problem lies with the car manufacturers making cars more difficult to steal and this costs the manufacturers money to develop technologies and integrate them into the building of the vehicle. Many high-end cars use keyless fobs which can be hacked fairly easily by professional auto thieves. The insurance industry is also pressuring manufacturers to make cars more resilient to theft.”

— Michael F

An electric vehicle is charged at a Tesla charging station in Ottawa on Wednesday, July 13, 2022. Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press.
Our electrical grid can’t handle the coming demands

Friday, March 22, 2024

“Electrifying Canada’s 26+ million registered vehicle fleet by 2050, in addition to the almost 300 million in the U.S., over 300 million in China, and another 250 million in the EU, will require far more crucial battery minerals and REEs than the world’s current reserves. EV batteries come with high, upfront, carbon footprints and environmental degradation due to the mining and processing of those minerals.”

— Michael B

“Our current generating capacity is far below what will be needed to supply future demands that Trudeau’s policies will create. Wind and solar are not the solution, as electricity is a demand commodity. “

— Greg Jackson

“Today we design grids—generation and transmission—which must be able to address the peak demands we anticipate for the coldest hour of the coldest day and the hottest hour of the hottest day, for the next few years, plus a safety margin. But our electricity demand is usually quite a bit lower than those peak times, and in fact, if you look at most jurisdictions the capacity is about twice the actual consumption over the year.

That’s inefficient and expensive, and one of the reasons we are now looking to smarter grids, smarter appliances, storage, and other ways of better-distributing demand towards off-peak times.

Electric vehicles already come with this advantage. Most charging (over 70 percent) is fine at home, and most of that is done overnight during times of low demand. So, as with time shifting, while consuming more power generation, the nighttime portion of that does not necessarily require more capacity.

It is easy to paint all of this transition as unachievable, or requiring that’s what was said about phasing out coal power, until jurisdictions like Ontario, the U.K., and now Canada as a whole showed it can be done in about a dozen years when the political will to do so exists.”

— Rick Anderson

Norman Siebrasse: Stick to the law, Supreme Court. Leave politics to the rest of us

Commentary

The official X account of the Supreme Court of Canada recently tweeted that “Achieving gender parity among judges at all levels in Canada is a step in the right direction towards having greater diversity on the bench.” No doubt many people agree with this statement. But that does not make it appropriate.

That is because it is a political position about the “right” direction to take the country—and a contentious political statement at that. In the United States, about two in three Americans (68 percent), including a majority in each ethnic group, said that last year’s ruling by the Supreme Court of the United States ending the use of race and ethnicity in university admission decisions is “mostly a good thing.” In Canada, one poll has suggested that a significant majority of Canadians would support a constitutional amendment to prohibit affirmative action programs.

Of course, the Supreme Court should not be making statements one way or the other based on what a majority of the population thinks. That is exactly the point. The Supreme Court must decide cases according to law, not according to politics.

As the Supreme Court has explained, “public confidence in our legal system is rooted in the fundamental belief that those who adjudicate in law must always do so without bias or prejudice and must be perceived to do so.”Wewaykum Indian Band v. Canada 2003 SCC 45,[2003] 2 SCR 259 ¶ 57. Bias or prejudice means “a leaning, inclination, bent or predisposition towards one side or another or a particular result…it represents a predisposition to decide an issue or cause in a certain way which does not leave the judicial mind perfectly open to conviction.”Wewaykum Indian Band v. Canada 2003 SCC 45,[2003] 2 SCR 259 ¶ 58. In order to ensure public confidence in the courts, even the appearance of bias must be avoided. That is why judges cannot speak publicly on any matter that may come before them. Issues relating to affirmative action are not only political, they are also legal.

For example, the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal has held that it is not contrary to the province’s Human Rights Act to discriminate against white people.Lisikh v. Ontario (Education), 2022 HRTO 1345 (CanLII) ¶ 19. If that case, or one like it, were to be appealed to the Supreme Court, could we be confident that the Court does not have a predisposition to decide the issue a certain way?

This is a particularly unfortunate time for the Supreme Court to be chiming in on this political issue. It is well-known within the legal profession that the Trudeau government is aggressively pursuing an agenda of diversity hiring in appointments to the judiciary. The Supreme Court of Canada should not be seen as endorsing a divisive political agenda that relates so directly to the demographic composition and ideological orientation of the judiciary.

It might be said that there can be no objection to the Court endorsing an affirmative action program because section 15(2) of the Charter permits affirmative action. But just because a governmental policy is constitutionally permissible does not mean that it is normatively desirable. Applying affirmative action to judicial appointments is a controversial political decision. Even if it were clearly constitutional, it would not be appropriate for the Supreme Court to act as a cheerleader.

Suppose the Court had decided a case on the constitutionality of carbon taxing and decided in a unanimous decision that the tax was clearly constitutional. It would nonetheless be inappropriate for the Court to tweet the next day “The carbon tax is a great policy measure that we wholeheartedly endorse.” Any such statement would cause us to question whether the Court had come to its conclusion based on legal reasoning or on the basis of partisan politics. We aspire—or we used to aspire—to a Court that is above the political fray. 

Supreme Court of Canada justices before a ceremony at the Supreme Court, in Ottawa, Feb. 19, 2024. Blair Gable/The Canadian Press.

Further, it is one thing to say that the Charter protects affirmative action programs and another to say that a particular affirmative action program is constitutional. Suppose an affirmative action program provided that disadvantaged youth of South Asian, East Asian, Hispanic, or Pacific Islander background could apply for a full university scholarship, but youths of an African background were ineligible. Would that be constitutional? That would turn on the interpretation of section 15(2). The fact that the Charter permits affirmative action in broad terms does not mean that it permits a program such as just described. Any legal question turns on the details of the law and the specific facts at hand, and in the absence of legal analysis and evidence, it is inappropriate for the Court to comment. 

The Court followed up by tweeting that “Canadians need to see themselves reflected in their judiciary because that builds trust in our democratic institutions.” This raises similar problems. Again, this is a very common sentiment—but is it true? At least one study shows support for the intuition that same-race judges are more likely to impose harsher sentences, which might suggest that criminal defendants would prefer a judge of a different ethnicity. Of course, one study does not establish this is true, and even if it is true, it is debatable as to whether that should influence how judges should be appointed.

But that is the point: that people prefer judges of their own ethnicity is debatable, not a self-evident truth. More generally, is it true that Canadians are so race-conscious that their trust in the judiciary is based on the ethnicity of the judges, rather than on the care and transparency of the process and reasons? That is an emotional and disputed question, and the truth lies in facts and evidence, not intuition. 

It is inappropriate for the Supreme Court to be making extra-judicial statements on controversial matters of fact and policy. The official X account of the Supreme Court of Canada is written by staff, not by the judges themselves, and this particular tweet was probably the work of a young staffer. But social media is the new town square. Canadians will reasonably look to official social media statements as a reflection of the views of the Court itself. Presumably, the chief justice has authority over the account. Whether this tweet reflects the actual views of the Court or merely appears to do so, public confidence in the Supreme Court as an institution has been undermined.