The NDP is usually considered the “left wing” party in Canada. They are known for their progressive social and economic policies. Does this focus on change and growth also apply to their policies on the Constitution?
The only explicit mention of the Constitution in the NDP Policy document is present in their discussion of Quebec. One of their stated goals is “Creating the conditions enabling Quebec to sign the Canadian Constitution.”1 This is a reference to Quebec’s status as the only province to not sign the newly patriated Constitution in 1982. This was done because they lost the veto that they previously had over constitutional changes, and because guarantees of minority language rights threatened their French-only policy, Bill 101.2 This position is not described in much depth, but would almost certainly require an opening up of the Constitutional Question. When you try to change one thing in the Constitution, the entire document becomes open to debate. Who knows what other provinces might demand if this were to occur?
Party policies can have constitutional implications even if they are not explicit. One of their policy points is “Abolishing the unelected and unnecessary Senate.”3 The existence of both the House of Commons and the Senate is explicitly identified in the BNA Act.4 This would also require the opening up of the Constitutional Question, getting buy-in from sufficient number of provinces, all of whom would have likely competing requests. This would also ultimately require the Senate to vote for it’s own dissolution.5
A policy point with more subtle constitutional implications is the commitment to replace our first past the post electoral system with mixed member proportional representation.6 The BNA Act does not explicitly describe a first past the post voting system. However, it does specify that each electoral district will elect one Member of Parliament.7 Mixed member proportional representation causes a certain number of seats to be elected based on voting for a specific person on the ballot (as we already have), but other seats would be filled from party lists based on vote proportions.8 This seems to violate, at least in spirit, the BNA Act.
It is easy to find a party which follows at least an approximation of one’s ideals. However, ideals are not always enough. It is important to look carefully at a party’s policies and consider how practical their implementation would actually be. There are times when, constitutionally speaking, a good idea can be much easier said than done.
1 The New Democratic Party of Canada, “Policy of the New Democratic Party of Canada” (April 2016) at 20, online: <xfer.ndp.ca/2017/Documents/2016_POLICY-EN.pdf>.
2 The Canadian History Project, “Why Quebec Refused to Sign in 1982,” online: <http://www.canadahistoryproject.ca/1982/1982-07-quebec-refusal.html>.
3 Supra note 1.
4 Constitution Act, 1867 (UK), 30 & 31 Vict, c 3, s 17, reprinted in RSC 1985, Appendix II, No 5.
5 Constitution Act, 1982, s 38(1), being Schedule B to the Canada Act 1982 (UK), 1982, c 11.
6 Supra note 1, at 19.
7 Constitution Act, 1867 (UK), 30 & 31 Vict, c 3, s 40, reprinted in RSC 1985, Appendix II, No 5.
8 Aaron Wherry, “The Case for Mixed Member Proportional Representation,” Macleans (8 December 2014), online: <www.macleans.ca/politics/the-case-for-mixed-member-proportional-representation/>.