Sunday, September 23, 2007

Conning or Cunning? The Canadian Senate Debate

The con's have made much of the fact that most Canadians want Senate Reform. I believe there was a poll last December that suggested that most Canadians thought that was a good idea.

What do you suppose most people really know or understand about our Senate and it's purpose? I suggest, precious few.

I don't think Canadians are stupid, but our Senate is not a topic of conversation at most dinner tables. Nor has the question been adequately debated in the media. Is it in vogue to fight institutions? Perhaps, but I imagine that most people see that the US Senate is an elected body and they assume that it works. Different systems of course and there is plenty of evidence to show how their system doesn't work.

This article intrigued me. It's written by an Alberta Senator who is a Progressive Conservative. I'm with her on most of the issues.

I've long opposed an elected Senate, for the very reasons she puts forth. There is too much partisanship as it stands and electing them, will only make them more beholding to their respective leaders, for they'd have to campaign on their Party's issues.

The one point that she brings up that I found interesting, is how the caucus's meet. Caucus meetings are all about strengthening party roots and loyalty. I think that may be a logical point to begin looking at reform. Perhaps not a complete exclusion from caucus meetings, but maybe quarterly. It seems to me that this move could reduce the automatic partisan stance of Senators, particularly in these heated times.

I'm also not opposed to term limits, but they must be reasonable, recognising just how long issues must be reflected on and reviewed. You must maintain a base of individuals who have a grasp of the subject, when it came into being.

It's interesting that this Senator is a PC. A rare breed these days. I admire her ability to step back and reflect...that is what they are meant to do of course.

To go back to my start point, how many Canadians really understand their role? I love our system and I'm open to improvement.

Harper's suggestions do nothing to improve the system, in fact, he suggests remedies that will make the "patient" more ill. Snake oil salesman comes to mind.


Red Canuck said...

Despite Harper's bleating, an elected Senate would be fraught with problems.

If senators ran on party platforms, they would be akin to MP's...and what would be the point of a second chamber of MP's?

I'm not opposed to making the Senate a more efficient body, but that would require significant consultation from Canadians and elected officials...not to mention constitutional changes. This EEE push by the Harperites is nothing more than phony populism.

Anonymous said...

I believe that poll was a government U believe them.I don't....leave the senate works well as it is.

Anonymous said...

With all his posturing, Harper has around 15 seats he could fill in the senate. He should do it and it would start a build up for a more balanced senate.

Besides, the way Harper wants to do it - most provinces aren't covered.

Let sleeping dogs lie and let's get on with other more important issues.

Also, can you just imagine what the costs would be for taxpayers to elect senators? Enough already.

Anonymous said...

The Senate is useless. Abolish it and save the taxpayers a few bucks.

Anonymous said...

Senate useless? Hardly - imagine leaving everything up to the clowns we have in parliament today? Shudder the thought....

Oldschool said...

The Senate we now have is a catch-all for mostly Liberal Party connected old farts that are collecting a six-figure salary.
Unelected bodies are a left-over from the 18th Century . . . no place in a modern democracy.
What is needed is an elected senate, with distribution by population, with a term limit of 2 terms.
Costs!!!! Senators could be elected at the same time as the regular election cycle.
Of course if the Senate was dominated by "Cons" you would all be singing from a different book!!!

Karen said...

Actually oldschool, if the tables were turned, I wouldn't change my position.

Scotian said...


Given that some of us are more than old enough to remember when the Senate was dominated by the Cons your comment is particularly lame even for you. I felt the same way then as I do now, it is healthy for a democracy to have a body that is not subject to the pressures of populism alone, and an appointed Senate without the power to neither initiate nor stop money bills fits that description quite nicely. The problem I have with many so called Senate reformers is that they are focused more on the partisan makeup of the Senators than they are in the underlying fundamental principles upon which the Senate and our Parliament rests.

I happen to think that our Senate provides a very useful function and that it does not need changing, since its primary mandate is to be a body of "sober second thought" and not merely the rubber stamp for the government of the day as some CPCers clearly would prefer it to be. I could go along with taking away the lifetime appointments but I would want at least a 15 year term in place instead, because the last thing we need is yet another elected partisan body more interested in securing their positions than in actually formulating good policy for the nation, especially in terms of long term planning. You see, one of the great failings of democracies is that they tend to be short term thinkers, namely from election to election, and some government policies simply do not work well when placed secondary to such forces, which is why I like the idea of an unelected body of senior statespeople and Canadians acting as that long term filter.


As to the thrust of KNB's post, one of the things I believe I recall from the government poll and surveys/hearings in question was that while those that were uninformed about the Senate preferred an elected one, when it came to those that came to testify to panels held around the country it turned out that the more informed they were about the purpose and actual functioning of the Senate the more they tended to think it should be left alone. I am not convinced this is a winning strategy outside of the base CPC vote which Harper already has. I think it is also more than a little underhanded to claim to be interested in reform without being willing to actually open up the Constitution since no fundamental reform of the Senate can occur without that process taking place. This piecemeal approach may be great for soundbites but it is horrible governing/legislating, alas all too typical of the Harper regime to date, even more so than the average of his predecessors from both Lib and PCPC backgrounds.

I think Harper may be making a serious mistake if he goes down this route, especially given his many words on the topic from before he morphed into the moderate centrist he portrays himself as. This would be an invitation by his opponents to yet again bring up his many speeches on the topic where he argued for a form of government not saleable in the rest of the country aside from his western base as proven by the repeated failures of the Reform/CA/CPC when they campaigned on such principles. It would also add more fuel to the hidden agenda concerns most Canadians still have regarding what Harper would do if he got a majority, especially (since becoming PM pandering to nationalism within Quebec, never a good thing IMHO) given all the recent pandering to Quebec in direct opposition to long held principles he held from the late 80s until 2005 when suddenly he changed positions without explanation nor repudiation of prior positions nor even explaining why his former positions were wrong. That is what makes these changes within his positions appear so worrisome and nothing but a mask, for if he really believed that his old positions were wrong and the new ones were correct he would explain why, something he never did.

You have been doing very nice work here as of late KNB, I am very impressed. I thank you for that, especially since the past few months I have been how shall we say less than prolific in my own writings on these important and serious issues. I thank you profusely for helping to pick up the slack, especially given how well thought out your work has been IMHO.

Karen said...

You're very kind Scotian. Truth be known, I'm so opposed to this man and his "real" intent, that I can't help but speak out.

It's taken me some time, but here we are, my friend.

I thought you were taking a break, so I haven't been to Saundrie lately. I apologise for that. I also have to remember how to put your blog on my sidebar. I'm not a techie, but I'll figure it out.

I'm in a hurry I'm afraid, but just popped over to see that you are writing again. I'll be over when I'm not pressed for time.

Again, thanks. When the discourse sinks to the bottom, it's reassuring to know that sanity is still out there.

Karen said...

RC, absolutely agreed.

Karen said...

Anon @ 6:08, do you Have the poll? I can't find it, but if what you say is true, I'm with you.

Anon @7:37, good points. Harper of course contradicts himself if he fills the seats, but why stop now?

Gayle said...

"This EEE push by the Harperites is nothing more than phony populism."

I am not sure Harper has ever said how he wants the Senate reformed, other than electing them and term limits.

He would never come out and publicly support Triple E because to do so will lose him votes in Ontario and Quebec. More importantly, if he actually says he wants that much reform then he is saying he wants a constitutional amendment - which would be fatal to his chances of re-election.

I was very young last time capital punishment was debated in this country, but from people who participated in the debate I have learned that at first the majority of Canadians supported it, however when more information became available the majority opposed it.

I believe the same will happen with senate reform.

Not only that, but I believe the opposition parties have to make it clear that Harper is really talking about constitutional reform - and ask the country if we really want to go down that road again.