Social Media

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Who was the real Sir John A. Macdonald?

by Tim Anderson

Sir John A. Macdonald was Canada’s first prime minister; he served in the office from 1867-1873 & 1878-1891. As the two-hundredth anniversary of his birth approaches, Sir John has been a topic of much conversation and controversy. 

Three things to know about Sir John A. Macdonald:

  1. He was the first Western leader to advocate for women’s suffrage. He claimed in the 1880s that the idea of women voting was certain to happen, and that he would be happy to see it in Canada.
  2. At the Quebec Conference, Sir John wrote fifty of the seventy-two resolutions that emanated from the conference that served as the guideline for the British North America Act.
  3. Sir John A. believed in an elected Senate. In advance of legislative debates on Confederation, Macdonald was an impassioned advocate for senatorial elections, and although he did not prevail, his perspective was well known among his colleagues.

Three myths about Sir John A. Macdonald:

Myth #1:  Macdonald was just a pragmatist; he had no political ideas

The Reality:  Macdonald frequently made use of the ideas of John Locke, John Stuart Mill, the American Federalists, and other both during the Confederation debates and while prime minister.

Myth #2:  Macdonald was simply intolerant towards Indian people

The Reality:  This was not the case. Sir John stated it would be wrong for people not to grieve over the sufferings of Indian people, and as a classical liberal, believed that a better life for them would come with settling on the land, developing self-sufficiency, and embracing the liberal way of life.

Myth #3:  Macdonald wanted a large central government rather than genuine federalism

The Reality:  Not really. He said that legislative union alone was impracticable in Canada, and instead fought for a federation where reserve powers rested in Ottawa.

Tim Anderson is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Political Science at the University of Calgary. Originally from the Halifax area, he received an Honours Bachelor of Arts at Saint Mary’s University and a Master of Arts from the University of Calgary. He specializes in the subfields of political theory and Canadian politics. His dissertation focuses on the political thought and statesmanship of Sir John A. Macdonald and Louis Riel. Recently, he has published in National Post about Sir John, and has been a guest speaker for the Canadian Club of Calgary regarding Macdonald.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Do Canadians have the right to a healthy environment?

by David R. Boyd

My recent book The Right to a Healthy Environment: Revitalizing Canada’s Constitution (UBC Press 2012) outlines the need for and potential benefits of incorporating environmental rights and responsibilities into our supreme law.

Three things everyone should know about the implications of recognizing the constitutional right to a healthy environment in Canada:

  1. Canada is among the few nations that refuses to recognize its citizens’ right to live in a healthy environment. This right is included in four major regional human rights treaties and is constitutionally protected in over 110 nations.

  2. Constitutional protection of environmental rights results in stronger environmental laws, better enforcement of those laws, and greater public participation in environmental decision-making. Most importantly, countries with these constitutional rights are making faster progress in ensuring cleaner air, safer water, and healthier environments.

  3. Constitutional recognition of environmental rights and responsibilities would help reduce the thousands of premature deaths, millions of preventable illnesses, and billions in unnecessary health care expenses caused by exposure to environmental hazards in Canada annually.

Three myths about amending the constitution to recognize citizens’ right to a healthy environment:

Myth #1: “Canada is an environmental leader.”

The Reality: According to the Conference Board of Canada, we rank 15th out of 17 wealthy industrialized countries on environmental performance, while countries with constitutional environmental rights and responsibilities such as Norway, Sweden and France top the rankings.

Myth #2: “Recognizing environmental rights could cause economic doom.”

The Reality: No evidence supports this claim. Experiences of 100+ countries suggest the opposite—that stronger environmental rules promote innovation and enhance competitiveness. For example, Norway’s Constitution recognizes this right, and Norway outperforms Canada environmentally, economically, and socially.

Myth #3: “Amending Canada’s Constitution is impossible.”

The Reality: Since 1982, the Constitution has been amended 11 times including two amendments of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. As well, courts could interpret the existing language of the Charter (e.g. right to life, liberty, and security of the person) to include an implicit right to a healthy environment, as has occurred in at least 20 other countries.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

What is the role of non-invasive prenatal testing (NIPT) within provincial health care frameworks?

By Maeghan Toews

Three things to know about the role of NIPT in provincial health care systems:

  1. NIPT is used to detect fetuses with an increased chance of having certain genetic disorders, such as Down syndrome, as well as fetal sex. It involves a blood test taken during pregnancy (at around 10 weeks) that analyzes fragments of fetal DNA that are present in maternal blood.

  2. Provincial prenatal testing frameworks involve screening tests (eg. maternal serum testing) available to all pregnant women to identify pregnancies at increased risk of carrying a fetus with certain disorders, followed by invasive diagnostic testing (ie. amniocentesis and CVS) available to those who screen positive or are otherwise at ‘high risk’. NIPT is currently only recommended for use as a secondary screening test for ‘high risk’ pregnancies. Risk factors include maternal age, family history, and positive results from the primary screening tests.

  3. With the exception of Ontario, NIPT is not publically funded, but available to those ‘high risk’ women who want the test and can afford to pay for it.

Three myths about NIPT’s integration with publically funded prenatal tests:

Myth #1: NIPT will replace amniocentesis in the very near future.

The Reality: NIPT is highly accurate at detecting certain disorders in ‘high risk’ pregnancies and may therefore reduce the number of women undergoing the more invasive tests which carry a small risk of fetal loss. However, NIPT is currently less accurate and only capable of detecting a very limited number of genetic abnormalities, and invasive testing is therefore recommended to confirm positive NIPT results.

Myth #2: NIPT will/should become a routine part of prenatal blood work.

The Reality: There are concerns that the routinization of this blood test may impact patients’ ability to fully comprehend the nature, limitations and implications of genetic testing. Patients should be fully informed about these issues and the availability of genetic counselling.

Myth #3: NIPT is universally welcomed as a positive development.

The Reality: Although the benefits of NIPT have been widely emphasised, NIPT has also attracted controversy, specifically with respect to its ability to be used for sex selection and its potential impact on the disability community.  

Maeghan Toews is a Research Associate at the Health Law Institute at the University of Alberta with a research focus on the legal and policy implications of emerging health technologies in Canada

Thursday, 5 June 2014

How fair is Canada's system of federal-provincial transfers?

by Thomas Granofsky

The MowatCentre’s recent report examines the good, the bad and the ugly of Canada’s federal system of inter-regional redistribution.

Photo: Are you familiar with the good, the bad, and the ugly of Canada’s system of provincial transfers? Are you aware of some of the misconceptions surrounding this type of redistribution? For instance, do you think Equalization is fair? Do you feel that qualifying for Equalization is a sign of fiscal mismanagement? Do you lump provinces and territories into “have” and “have not” categories? The Mowat Centre’s recent report explores these issues (and more), and shows that these distinctions are almost entirely driven by whether or not they are endowed with resource wealth. These, and other factors, play a large role in Canada’s fiscal redistribution. To learn more and to join the conversation, visit the IPAC Impact Blog:

Three things to know about Canada’s system of inter-regional redistribution:

  1. Because of progressive taxation and federal programs that support lower-income Canadians (and less wealthy provinces through Equalization), we would expect wealthier provinces to be net contributors and less-wealthy ones to be net beneficiaries.  Yet this is not the case.

  2. We found that Ontario is a net contributor of inter-regional redistribution – with a “gap” of $9-11 Billion (depending on how you measure), while Saskatchewan and Newfoundland & Labrador are net beneficiaries.

  3. Our fiscal arrangements were not designed to moderate inequities between provinces during times of sustained commodity booms. While eligibility for Equalization is largely driven by disparities in natural resource wealth, the program does little to bridge those gaps.

Three Myths about Canada’s system of inter-regional redistribution:

Myth #1: This has little real impact on people’s lives.

The Reality:  With no justification, Ontarians receive shortfalls in federal funding support for infrastructure, housing and Employment Insurance, critical to prosperity and well-being.

Myth #2: Provinces can be lumped into two camps – either “have” or “have not”.

The Reality:  These labels are untrue and unhelpful.  Ontario can't be considered “on the dole, supported by other provinces” as a “have-not” province when it is a net contributor, just as it makes no sense for Saskatchewan or Newfoundland & Labrador to be considered to be “subsidizing the rest of the country” as “haves” when they are still net recipients.

Myth #3: Qualifying for Equalization is a sign of fiscal mismanagement.

The Reality: Whether or not a province qualifies for Equalization today is almost entirely driven by whether they are endowed with resource wealth.

Thomas Granofsky is a Policy Associate at the Mowat Centre and one of the authors of Cheques and Balances: The Finances of the Canadian Federation. He can be reached at: Follow the Mowat Centre on Twitter @MowatCentre