Northwest Territories to “devolve” relations with Ottawa

In what Prime Minister Stephen Harper called a “historic” agreement,

“Negotiators have reached a consensus on the terms of a final devolution agreement,” Harper said.

The final agreement, as it stands, gives the Northwest Territories more control over its natural resources — it stands to get half the money collected from oil, minerals and diamonds. Based on last year’s numbers, that would have added about $69 million to the territory’s budget.

Five of the territory’s seven aboriginal groups signed a consensus document, including Nellie Cournoyea, a former N.W.T. premier and the current chair of the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation.

“Being part of the agreement, then we’re able to ensure we can work together with what we received in our land claims agreement. So it gives us a parity with the territorial government,” she said.

What to do about the Senate?

The Canadian Senate

As was mentioned in class last week, there has been much discussion in Ottawa (and across the country) about the state of affairs in Canada’s Senate to the point that this week the NDP has tabled a bill which proposes abolishing the Red Chamber altogether.

But before we get to all of that, a little background (courtesy of Wikipedia):

The Senate of Canada (French: Sénat du Canada) is a component of the Parliament of Canada, along with the House of Commons, and the monarch (represented by the governor general). The Senate is modelled after the House of Lords and consists of 105 members appointed by the governor general on the advice of the prime minister. Seats are assigned on a regional basis, with each of the four major regions receiving 24 seats, and the remainder of the available seats being assigned to smaller regions. The four major regions are Ontario, Quebec, the Maritime provinces, and the Western provinces. The seats for Newfoundland and Labrador, the Northwest Territories, Yukon, and Nunavut are assigned apart from these regional divisions. Senators may serve until they reach the age of 75.

The Senate is the upper house of Parliament, and the House of Commons is the lower house. This does not, however, imply that the Senate is more powerful than the House of Commons, merely that its members and officers outrank the members and officers of the House of Commons in the order of precedence for the purposes of protocol. Indeed, as a matter of practice and custom, the Commons is by far the dominant chamber. Although the approval of both houses is necessary for legislation, the Senate rarely rejects bills passed by the directly elected Commons. Moreover, the government is responsible solely to the House of Commons; the Prime Minister of Canada and Cabinet stay in office only while they retain the confidence of the Commons. The Senate does not exercise any such control. Although legislation can normally be introduced in either house, the majority of government bills originate in the House of Commons. Under the Constitution, money bills must always originate in the House of Commons.

So what to make of the discussion of the Senate in recent weeks? (See the links below to get a clearer picture of the situation.) 

Despite Senate reform being part of Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party platform during their minority governments, the recent controversy began surrounding several Senators’ places of residence, and whether they were eligible to claim travel benefits and living expenses from the government (one of these Senators, Conservative appointee Patrick Brazeau, was also arrested for assault related to a domestic disturbance in one of his homes).

Suffice it to say that the above flurry of relevant current events has sparked much legal debate about how Senators’ expense reports are documented and overseen by the Parliamentary Budget Officer (who the Toronto Star recently hailed as a “National Hero“), and even prompted the Senate to seek out a way to have Kevin Page drop his legal challenge against the federal government for failing to disclose its data.

BC has introduced in its own legislature a bill to elect its own Senators, following reforms in Saskatchewan and Alberta, and Conservatives in the House of Commons await advice from the Supreme Court as to whether Stephen Harper can begin reforming the Senate without approval from the provinces.

Not only that, in a bold play that some of the linked headlines might make slightly more feasible, the NDP has tabled bills in the House of Commons that – among other things – propose “immediate steps towards abolishing” the upper chamber.

It is indeed an exciting time to be engaged with our Federal politics, as these to gentlemen may agree:


Further Reading:

Quebec’s Senate appeal proceeds ahead of Supreme Court case

House votes to keep Senate

Consensus communication, Talking Sticks, silent meetings, and Hawaiian talk-story


I posted this video on my blog sometime last year, but think it might tie in to our recent reflections and conversations about how to go about actualizing the potential of classroom discussions. In the comments of the post, TALONS parent, Tasha, introduces a few ideas that may prove valuable in putting together next week’s Discussion series.

How might this translate to the classroom? Most Canadian students have run across the “talking stick” at some point, in which only the person with the stick (or other object) in hand may speak and where that object must be passed about for discussion to continue. Another approach which can help highlight quiet voices is to follow small group discussion with a larger discussion in which speakers can only represent someone else’s idea, rather than their own (thus putting the big talkers into the position of highlighting the opinions of their less assertive brethren).

Quaker silent meetings and Hawaiian talk-story are quite different approaches. Quaker silent meetings require silence both before and after speech, with the intent that the silence will facilitate thoughtful reflection and will prevent head-on debate or conflict. Talk story, on the other hand, is predicated on the idea of a shared, collaborative narrative, making use of overlapping, participatory speaking. 

It might be interesting to see what result the diverse approaches yield on who participates and how the discussion proceeds and what kind of ideas rise to the fore. Do different people participate? Do different ideas emerge?

Introduction to the American Revolution, courtesy of the TALONS class of 2011

Courtesy of

One of the grand things about working in a classroom that has been blogging about the same historical curriculum now for a few years is that those threads of conversation that transfixed the TALONS of a few years ago exist as an understory to the current class blogs, waiting to be taken up again. As we begin with our study of the American Revolution this semester, I want to invite you to select one of the posts linked below to discuss in class on Tuesday (clicking the name that follows each quote will take you to the original post).

Be ready to respond to the following questions regarding your selected post:

    • What is the author’s main idea, or thesis in the post? 
    • How do they support this claim?
    • Who are the key figures / what are the main events discussed?
    • What conclusions about the American Revolution does the post give you? 
    • What questions about the American Revolution does the post give you? 

The American Revolution is a very prominent example of the recipe for disaster. It is full of unsavory ingredients like a lack of communication, dishonestly, a healthy helping of greed following with a generous dose of violence and punishment. For those of you that question your cooking skills, whipping up a batch of revolution is as simple as pie.


The American Revolution. The event is taught in textbooks, discussed by classes, and referred to by almost every American. But as our TALONS class delves deeper into what the revolution truly meant, many controversial and fascinating opinions have surfaced within the class. The biggest question that was nagging in the back of my mind was; how do many people with clashing opinions and views all come together to progress as a society?


The events leading up to the American Revolution was a power struggle waiting to happen.  The British were using their position of power, having given support to the Americans during the Seven Years War, to exploit America of its goods and money.  Unfair taxes were being placed on the New Englanders, every man between thirteen and seventy was drafted into the British Navy, and British men were being positioned in homes around the colonies.


In the US, the teaching of the American Revolution glorifies the American patriots and vilifies the evil British imperialists. In Canada, it is more neutral, but I would say it still paints the Americans quite a bit as the good guys in their revolution. Whether or not they were is a huge debate on its own. However, it cannot be denied that the American revolution is considerably more complex than the ‘Zomg evil brits were taxing the americans to death and bein evil and stuff’, and there are certainly a large number of questionable acts on the American side in the events leading up to the war.


“In 1776, Samuel Adams, Patrick Henry, George Washington, Thomas Paine, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton had had enough. They went secretly to Philadelphia and wrote a Declaration of Independence. This started a Revolution that “ was the political upheaval during the last half of the 18th century in which thirteen colonies in North America joined together to break free from the British Empire, combining to become the United States of America.””


The rich, white men who led the American Revolution could be looked at this way. Because of the innocence, or ignorance of the lower-class, they had an advantage. They could give the bruised orange to the poor men, and in return, gain respect and honour and power. The poor people did not know that they possibly could have obtained the little orange themselves. Meanwhile, many of the Founding Fathers have heaps and heaps of fresh, pristine oranges stacked in neat crates. But again, the common people do not know of this, or are too blind with the need for their oranges to notice the ones the colonial bosses have.


During the American Revolution, the rich were the ones in power. Why? Because as we’ve learned, wealth equals power. But what if we were to turn that around? What if the poorest people of the country held seats in Parliament along with the rich and middle class? Since one of the major problems today, and in the time of the American Revolution was poverty, maybe giving the poor a chance to lead and bring forward ideas would benefit them more as apposed to a rich figure (such as Sarah Palin) trying to speak on behalf of them. After all, the poor are the ones who understand their issues the best.


Howard Zinn even says for himself “Letters in the papers questioned the distribution of wealth: How often have our streets been covered with thousands of barrels of flour for trade, while out near neighbors can hardly procure enought to make a dumplin to satisfy hunger?”

The answer to that is, back in the 1700’s, if you didnt have land to your name, you might as well not have been born. There was no use for you, and maybe, just maybe, if I, the richer citizen, left you alone, you might just die off and not be a problem anymore.

I think the reason the high class Bostonians even had any contact with the poor was soley because they were tired of having their houses burned down, and their expensive belongings destroyed. Plus, they needed to get on the good side of their poor neighbors if they wanted enough fighting power to even think about winning the up coming revolution.


George Washington was one of the Southenerns who voiced his dislike of slavery. As the man who led the army that won independence from Britan, and the first President of the United States, he understood the country quite well. The United States economy relied on slavery, and it would fall apart if it was outlawed quickly.

Jen A

I understand that the Americans patriots wanted the ability to govern and make choices for themselves, and stand on their own two feet. But how can you justify preaching equal treatment of all men and the need for freedom as you tar and feather, scream at, and kill your opponent?

Here I go again with John Adams, who tried to address this problem. He thought that using your knowledge and the law, you can implement change and press your opinion minus the rampant mobs. If this is how the American Revolution played out, I would have much more respect for the patriots.

Jen A (again)

“When the Declaration of Independence was written and signed by the founding fathers, they were pioneering democracy which, by definition is “a state of society characterized by formal equality of rights and privileges.“, or, as Alvin put it “the Right to be unique“, or the right to be who you are, and the freedom to do what you want so long as it doesn’t violate the law, regardless of other factors. People like Benjamin Franklin were trying to set up a state where free will was encouraged and practiced. While the reason why they did this is in question, either to genuinely promote freedom or simply to gain more power, the fact remains that they created a place where liberty came before all else.


At the time, approximately 20 years after the revolution, the United States was still a very young and weak nation. It was trying to assert itself in the world, while at the same time trying to figure out and do what the leaders of the country believed America stood for. Do they stay close to the ideals of the revolution, promising freedom and equality for all? And if they did, how far would this extend? To all people, or just a chosen few?

At the time, approximately 20 years after the revolution, the United States was still a very young and weak nation. It was trying to assert itself in the world, while at the same time trying to figure out and do what the leaders of the country believed America stood for. Do they stay close to the ideals of the revolution, promising freedom and equality for all? And if they did, how far would this extend? To all people, or just a chosen few?


I look at the evolution of society almost the same way most people look at evolution of animals. In nature there are mutation that accrue randomly, if they are positive and help the animal survive and reproduce, then they will be past along. If the mutation gives enough of an advantage, then given time, all of that species will have the mutation. If the mutation is bad and gives the animal adisadvantage, then the animal dies, taking the mutation with it.

Jen S

…it is the freedoms that groups of people can agree on that change the world. It is important, then, to talk about our rights, to understand what you have and what you want, and perhaps more importantly, what others feel they deserve. Only then can you fight for your freedom and for the rights that you feel should be given to you. Many of the most important events of history – like the French and American Revolutions – were at their core about groups of people fighting for their common beliefs about freedom. So I’d like to post about something more personal today – a few of the freedoms I believe in.


Every child is born different, and unique. Does that mean every country and culture is unique and different too? Maybe this is the element America forgot as it set out to free the world from its past and bring it into the present. As successful and fair as democracy is, or as open and free as having a choice of religion, for some cultures, it may be quiet difficult to wrap their head around. For Hindus to accept the “untouchables” of the caste system is equal to them, will take more than one day, one year, or even one hundred years to truly accept. Big Brother forgot that the little ones are individuals too, and might get tired of bowing down to things they do not believe in.

As for big brother America, perhaps its youthful years are coming to an end. Perhaps the jewels and sparkles adorning its high throne is falling apart, bit by bit.