The Right to Assisted Dying

Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

Protecting the Parts of the Whole

Much angst has occurred in the House of Commons concerning the Supreme Court’s deliberate pressure on the new government to lock-step or rush this important legislation, almost as if they want the ruling government to fail in the effort.

Nevertheless, I approved of the proposed C-14 legislation. After all, the concerns I presented to the Justice Minister was elegantly dealt with. The Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould also unveiled it to the press, and thus to the people, in a very specific way which I applauded: she clearly indicated that this was the groundwork legislation to be presented for the June 6th deadline. Further specific and scientifically and sociologically informed legislation would deal with issues such as palliative care, mental illnesses, and so on.

The following is my research that I sent to the Justice Minister. It explains the context of my approval of the legislation:

Avoiding the Slippery Slope

justice jody


Janet A McDonald, Strategic and Tactical Criminal Analyst



Right, Left, Centre

The term right, left, and centre are based on the seating arrangements of the French parliament which, in the 18th and 19th Centuries,  was shaped like a horse shoe with the speaker placed at one end. Seating was divided among three major sectors, right, left, and centre.

The right side or wing (on the speaker’s right) was occupied by groups of various kinds of conservatives, the centre by liberals, and the left by socialists in several groupings. Each group was subdivided and the more radical moved to the extreme right (reactionaries) and to the extreme left (communists).

Each term is identified by a philosophy or ideology.

The right is conservative, people who believe that humans are more bad than good, need super wise men to lead them, people who see a relationship between the church and the state to tell the people what is right or wrong, much attracted to tradition and history, suspicious of democracy, favouring free markets and free competition.

The liberals, for whom John Stuart Mill is a spokesman, believe that people are naturally good, rational, and able to govern themselves. There is a need for government, but limited government. Liberals do not fear change, have no great attachment to tradition or history, and believe the church and state should be separated. Liberty is their prime value: class structure is not thought important. Most liberals like the free market and they value private property.

The socialists dislike the free market because it leads to monopolies and abuses, exploiting the workers. Power should be centralized, more industries should be owned and run by the state and there should be central planning on a wide scale. Extreme socialists, unlike socialists “on the right,” likely see violence as a legitimate and necessary means to bring about political change.

Personally, I think they all miss the boat. Set something up to support apprenticeships, the independent small business person, innovators, and have profit sharing, day care, and school rooms for the worker’s children in the larger corporations. Come up with a system that supports this. Then we’ll talk.

Federalism and Constitutions

There are three basic ways or choices of ways to govern a state: confederation, federation or unitary. Canada is a federation. This means that its constitution has divided governing power between two orders of government, federal and provincial.

The federal government deals with state wide problems such as defense, foreign affairs and monetary policy, while the provinces deal with regional and local matters such as property, marriage, and so on.

Although there are disadvantages, federalism is an appropriate form of government to accommodate Canada’s enormous land area, dispersed population, cultural diversity, and its population divided up into several nations, and our level of education.

Canada’s cultural diversity makes federalism accommodating. It allows provinces to effectively meet the needs of its particular citizens. The provinces are free to legislate within their powers. Theoretically, change is easier because you have a choice between federal and provincial governments. We can argue this or ask for clarification, but these are undergrad notes, not great expository tomes.

During the earlier part of the 20th Century, one of the western provinces elected socialist parties of office influencing the evolving of our welfare system. Federalism makes it possible for the provincial people to have a government of their choice quite different from the one in Ottawa.

The disadvantage is overlapping between the two levels of government. It discourages the development of nationalism: matters assigned to one level may later be more suited to the other, but federal constitutions are difficult to change–particularly if a member in the negotiations is disingenuous; it promotes nationalism at the provincial level and can lead to separatist pressure, as with Quebec.

When Prime Minister Harper called Quebec a “nation,” he was not as off as the media would have it. Cries of encouraging separatism ensued. Yet, in the historical political evolution between the terms and realities of nations, nation-states, countries, territories and colonies, he was not being anything of the kind. I am not a big fan of much of his political policies, but we need to remain objective as painful as that may be at times.

Indeed, the media and others misstating the separatist tag invited the Quebec populous and other francophones in Canada to revisit what Harper said and to take on the media interpretation/reporting of separatism. Another case of the media creating a self-fulfilling prophecy if we let it.

Constitutions and their classifications

The constitution is the framework for a state, the basic law. It spells out the organisation of the state, how power is divided, what rights if any are guaranteed, has a amending process, and specifies the limits to government authority and when and how elections are to be held.

Constitutions can be classified in various ways: rigid/flexible, written/unwritten/party written.

A rigid constitution is hard to change. Its amendment process is very difficult and requires a near consensus of everyone interested.

A flexible constitution is easy to change, possibly through the legislative process. The United States has a rigid constitution, the United Kingdom has a flexible one.

A written constitution is a visible one in a law or paper. It has concrete form which spells out in great detail how the state is to be organized and run, such as the United States.

The UK has an unwritten constitution, not based on a specific document, but on a state framework of tradition, convention and precedent.

Canada is sandwiched between the two with both a written and unwritten constitutional document. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms, for example, is a document subject to a formal amending process. The unwritten part reflects the British origins of our governmental system; there is actually no document which describes the role of the prime minister, or indeed mentions the job at all.

Law Alone Not Enough

I came across a reflection on the implementation of law, once written. The following quote is by Linda E. Ledray, R.N., Ph.D., Recovering from Rape, Henry Holt and Company. New York, NY, 1986, pp 216-217:

Laws alone won’t stop rape. The laws are only as good as the people who enforce them….

When the government decided it was time to stop litter, an active campaign was launched across the country and littering was essentially stopped in many areas. When a West Coast city elected a woman mayor who took an interest in stopping rape, there was significantly less rape. Perhaps when more women are sitting in the House and Senate, preventing rape will become as important as curtailing litter.

Barring the little detail that American mayors have more authority to act than Canadian mayors do, we can see the principle that Dr. Ledray is proposing. One person’s vision does matter.

Dr. Ledray closes her manual with core reflections for women. Only self-reliance will relieve fear and conflict. Dependence relieves it only for a short time. It is false security. Women must become strong, independent, self-reliant and in control of their lives and bodies – in short – women must assume their place as equals to men. She backed up this position earlier in the book with a study of various tribal groupings. It was in the tribes in which the women were dependent that rape was occuring in the society.

Change within society starts with the one. It starts with ourselves.

Unofficial Flows of Communication

Is Everyone Up to Speed?

Unofficial flows of communication within bureaucracy are, well, unofficial. As such, they are difficult if not impossible to pin down in any systemic way. Best guess is that unofficial channels of information do several things: they are convenient, likely interactive with feedback, have the danger of missing out on letting certain people in the department know what is going on, and leave no paper trail. All of these features have an up side to it and a down side. Office dynamics often place a crucial role in the healthiness of unofficial flows of communication. Nevertheless, the twenty-one organizational charts for the City of St. Catharines back in 1994 clearly fall into linear patterns of hierarchical control.

Work reports are quite linear. The information moves from lead hand to foreman, to senior clerk, to manager, to director and then to the City Administrator. So far so good. Straight forward chain of command.

Understandably there are weekly meetings of all department heads. Copies of departmental reports are discussed. Reports which are going to be cancelled are reviewed and reports for information purposes are given. Specific developments on an issue which need to be voted on are brought forward.

Tom Derek, City Clerk in 1994, received all correspondence and passed grant requests on to the various departments and other matters which arise. It is the City Clerk’s department which prepares all information for city council meetings.

Hiring, firing and disciplining for the departments is centralized in the personnel department. They take on an advisory position in the case of grievence meetings and in disciplining meetings. Yet, managers do have a say in who is hired, fired, and disciplined. The supervisor/manager interviews the applicant with the personnel officer to ensure that the interview is fair and consistant among all applicants. The supervisor reviews the specific job requirements which had been listed with the job title. The hierarchy is explained so they know the chain of command.

We can see the stove pipe model of governance which Sheila Copps referred to in Worth Fighting For and I referenced in a previous blog. Input from workers “on the bottom” of the hierarchy to improve and integrate the system is lacking.

The clerical and technical workers are unionized. Postings are thus primarily made on a seniority basis and not necessarily according to the best person for the job. There are always thorough documented interview processes in case the decision concerning the choice of who is promoted goes to arbitration. Consistancy of questions and the presentation of questions helps to offset problems of accusations of unfair hiring practices later by the union. This interview time may be the only opportunity for the personnel officer to meet the employee.

The job description for each job is very specific. To avoid inflexibility the last requirement has a catch-all phrase “to perform other related duties.” This gives the employers and supervisors some latitude in making requests of an employee and in expecting the employee to comply as part of the job.

The senior clerk of the engineering department coordinates the work of the engineering team. There are coordinating functions in the Parks and Recreation Department as well as party chiefs who survey crews. There is no hint of creative interplay between departments for future policy planning. Considering that both “Parks” and “Recreation” are integral to a healthy lifestyle both in ecology and physical fitness, this older administrative model that harked from a more physically active society is not adequate to our present needs.

Max Weber

How Does Weber’s Bureaucratic Traits Track in your Municipal Government?

Weber’s Bureaucracy1
1.Weber’s description of a bureaucracy presents itself as a hierarchical structure, a unity of command. This indicates that there is no conflict in the flow of authority and consequently with the lack of conflict, there is unity. For each position in the hierarchy there is only one supervisor providing a clear line of authority with responsibilities allocated to subordinates in clear unambiguous terms.
2.Specialization of labour is also essential according to Weber. As a person specializes, skills are more nearly perfected and output is more efficient.
3.Employment and promotion is based on merit. This removes the partisan and fovouritism tendencies in choosing staff. The best person for the job is chosen.
4.Full-time employment ensures willingness, dedication and ability to abide by organizational regulations in carrying out duties.
5.Decisions based on impersonal rules toward the public ensures fairness to the public. Also, internal decisions based on impersonal rules protect fairness in the workplace. Impersonal rules also engender rigidity and immobility.
6.Written files are kept of decisions made under established rules and guidelines. This ensures an obedience to established rules over obedience to a superior. A superior does not have the power to arbitrarily change rules and procedures.

How does this work in practice? February 10, 1994 I interviewed Joanne Potter, the personnel assistant for the City of St. Catharines, Ontario at City Hall. I ased her the following indirect interview questions to reveal possible Weberian traits.

Trait 1: Hierarchical Structure
Are there flows of communication and reporting in the workplace which the organizational chart overlooks?
Do workers report their work to more than one individual?
Do several copies of reports go to various departments?
What is the role of the personnel department of hiring, firing and disciplining? Is it advisory?
Do managers have a say in who is hired, fired, and disciplined? Is the responsibility divided?

Trait 2: Specialization of Labour
Is there a job description for every job?
Are there certain departments which have a diverse range of activities for each worker, perhaps in a coordinating capacity?
Are some of the workers rotated on the job periodically?

Trait 3: Employment and Promotion based on Merit
How do you advertise to fill vacancies?
What do you look for when you interview?
How do you make hiring decisions?

Trait 4: Full-time Employment
Are there part-time staff? Is the majority full time?
If so, where are the part-time staff on the organizational chart?
Is there a higher turnover rate in part time staff than with the full time staff?

Trait 5: Decisions based on Impersonal Rules
Is there some mobility with the various departments to meet people’s special needs that may have been previously unanticipated in the guidelines?
Is there an operating manual or a book of procedures for departments? Is it exhaustive or general in nature?
Are these procedures communicated down to staff and to new people on staff?
Do new staff receive an orientation and initial training?
What is the chain of events to implement new rulings passed by city hall?

Trait 6: Written Records
When people make decisions, how are they communicated to other people in the department and to other departments? For example, how does engineering communicate a decision to the planning department?
Is there a reliance upon word of mouth or memos in the bulk of the day to day communication?

There is an interrelationship between the questions and you may find when you ask your administrative assistant these and other questions that some of these later questions will have been answered when responding to earlier questions.

What other questions can you think of upon reflection of previous blogs posted here? Enquire about their advice on improving the organizational model. Do they want more input and respect concerning their expertise regarding policy development? Have there been trust issues in the past between administration and city councillors? If so, what was done to mend the breach? You get the idea.

Local Admin IV – full-time employment


Full-time Employment

Full-time employment, according to Weber, is used as a dependency on income mechanism to exert greater control over the worker.1 Full time workers prevail, functioning well for continuity of communication within departments and outside departments. In terms of Weber’s contention that employees are more agreeable to direction and control when full-time, I would have to agree that full-time employees have more to lose than those who are working part-time, besides the substantial salary, they lose benefits which are only given to full-time employees. This buys allegience beyond the issues of dedication to the workplace.

Issues of merit and impersonal rules enable city workers to apply to other departments of the Corporation without prejudice. The employee would have to develop the appropriate skills on his or her own time to meet the requirements of the desired job in the other department.

The City Administrator is required to inform the council members of problems with implementing policies as set down so that an issue may be dropped or reevaluated according to advice of the Administrator. Thus impersonal rules do not preclude interaction and negotiation.

Weber’s bureaucratic trait of written records is explicitly kept in municipal bureaucracy. Beyond this, the weekly meetings of departmental heads discuss the overall implications of what each department is doing and discusses any possible conflict and establishes coordinating efforts among the departments.

The elaborate filing system is necessary for further reference to clarify issues as the city continues to grow.

The principle characteristics of a bureaucracy as outlined by Weber is present within the Corporation of St. Catharines. The combination of impersonal rules which encompass chains of command, specialisation of labour, employment and promotion based on merit, full-time employment, and written records along with the presence of the Canadian Union of Public Employeess to protect the workers’ established rights within those rules, ensures an efficiently run organisation that is as diverse as any governmental organisation with various departments. The Corporation of St. Catharines has maximized Weber’s traits of a bureaucracy to ensure continuity, efficiency, and fair dealing.

Is that enough? Is that good enough to serve the increasingly complex urban life we live in?

1Ibid., 36, 37.