Thursday, May 19, 2011

Senate Reform in Canada

Yesterday's appointment of three still smelling losers to the Senate was a little reminder that there is still a need for Senate reform in Canada.

Actually reforming the Senate in any serious way is a massively difficult project under the Constitution given the amending formula's high hurdle for achieving any such change. That being said however, I think there is a way to do that would be successful and meaningful.

Now to understand this I think there are two things to bear in mind. First, I think the only Senate reform worth talking about is abolition. An appointed Senate is an affront in this day and age. It is obviously undemocratic and serves no legitimate purpose that I can see. The so-called "sober second thought" function is largely a joke since the only time such thoughts seem to occur is when the Senate majority can be called upon to ditch a project that the party leadership don't like (both CPC and Liberals have been guilty of this).

Second, an elected Senate -- without massive re-working -- is even worse in some ways. At least as they stand the Senators know that they are the illegitimate bastard children of politics and so keep a low profile most of the time and let the Commons have its way. If elected there will be no such constraint on the Senate. Suddenly legitimized we can expect that they will start poking their nose into all sorts of areas and substantially weakening the power of the Commons. Given the radically undemocratic distribution of seats in the Senate this would make what is already a bad situation in Canada worse. Further, given the weaker central government we have here in Canada (as opposed to the United States) the case for needing disproportionately empowered provincial or regional blocks in Parliament to ensure these interests are respected is weak. The Provinces do this quite well on their own thank you very much.

The simple route to Senate abolition then is this. A brave Prime Minister would announce "we are having a national referendum with one question : Should we abolish the Senate? Yes or No?" He (or she) should then promise that is this passes in every promise the resolution will be introduced in Parliament and, when passed, each Province will be asked to sign-on. If it does not -- then Senate reform will be dropped forever (or at least until there is a new government). It seems to me that this campaign would be a no brainer -- ask any ordinary Canadian if they would like to fire a Chamber full of unelected clowns with serious salaries, staffs and pension entitlements and you will get a resounding "yes" -- even in Quebec.

Then the question would be, would any provincial premier seriously try to turn a "yes" result into a chance to whine about other things when the result might be keeping these people in power?

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