To reform the Senate: Why term limits?

What is Harper trying to achieve?


Let’s set aside, for now, the inherent ridiculousness of Bert Brown chiding fellow Conservative members of the Senate — intended as a chamber of sober second thought, and at least nominally a check on the House of Commons — for their lack of loyalty to the prime minister.  Here’s something I’ve never really understood about Harper’s bid to implement a term limit of eight (now nine) years for appointed Senators:

What problem with how the Senate is currently constituted and functions is this designed to solve?

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To reform the Senate: Why term limits?

  1. It’s not meant to solve anything, it’s just tinkering with the senate to no purpose.

    If they’re elected and they have term limits….then MPs in the HOC would have term limits.

    Harper’s already over his.

    As to Bert Brown….senators are supposed to be loyal to the queen and the country, not Harper.

  2. My understanding of the proposed reforms is that it would be up to provinces to decide to hold senate elections. Should a province not hold elections, then without term limits that province’s senators would be appointed for “life” (actually, until 75, I believe). With term limits in place those provinces that don’t hold elections would have to make new appointments every 9 years, thus putting an end to the current bizarre situation where being appointed senator is like hitting the jack pot.

    I don’t know if Harper’s proposed reforms are the best way to go forward, but I can’t really see how anyone can defend the Senate in its current form as having Senators *appointed* *for life* is an unquestionable affront to basic democratic principles.

    • The scene, Emily again claims firsties as she does with most of Wherry’s posts. She begins with a dismissal, follows up with something completely irrelevant, adds an insult and finishes by questioning the loyalty of an elected senator. Juxtapose then, if you will, the post of  Jim, a honest attempt to evaluate the question raised without resorting to pettiness, argument from authority and several other logical errors and you see why Emily has become such a pariah, incapable of rational argument, bitter and hapless.

      • LOL another bitter Conbot, sputtering away.

  3. It’s really quite fun. It means that by the time the government changes colour, every single member of the Senate will typically be of the party just removed. In other words, we have a situation where the government in the House of Commons doesn’t even have representation in the Senate.

    What purpose is this measure intended for? Why, it’s to further break the Senate, perhaps to create a crisis and desire to create real change through constitutional amendment. If it’s broke and you can’t fix it, smash it to bits.

  4. From that article:

    “Sources said they expect Conservative MPs won’t drag their feet when it comes to studying and approving the government’s plans, ”

    That’s the problem. Our legislators won’t legislate. They’re only there to stand up and sit down on command, passing bills from central command–the cabal of unelected turds in the PMO–without thought or comment.

  5. I’ve never understood the Conservative/Reform position on Senate reform.  In particular, I’ve never understood why the west would want this.  48 Senators from Ontario and Quebec who have a legitimate argument that they speak for the people?!?!  Be careful what you wish for.

    • This is a very real problem. I’m in BC and we have 6 senators – less than New Brunswick or Nova Scotia (10 each), and both of which have significantly smaller populations than us. The Senate’s constitutionally guaranteed composition royally screws us over. If the Senate is legitimized through the proposed changes then BC, for one, would face issues. That’s part of the reason of why I’m unsure if Harper’s proposed changes are the best way forward.

      Should point out that the Reform Party’s position was for a EEE Senate, where one of the ‘E’s is “equal”. Again, not sure how practical that would be in a country with a relatively small number of provinces with very significant differences in population. Perhaps something like what the German’s do (3 to 5 senators [or whatever they’re called there] based on population) would be more appropriate.

      At any rate, this is mostly day dreaming, changing the Senate’s composition would require re-opening the Constitution and I believe nearly everyone agrees “here be dragons”. Not to mention that any real reform on Senate composition would reduce Quebec’s influence in the Senate and would thus be strenuously opposed.

      Having said that, should Harper’s proposed changes go through and result in a legitimized Senate, is there any way the Senate’s composition could face a Charter challenge on the basis of it denying equality in democratic participation (or some such thing)? I’ve never seen this tossed out as a possibility, but it seems odd that something as blatantly unfair as the Senate’s constitutionally guaranteed composition would not run up against some other constitutionally guaranteed right.

  6. The benefit of having senators serve for extended periods of time is reduced partisanship. The same can be said for why we don’t elect them.

    You can’t be beholden to anyone if they have no power to interfere with you.

    If the senate had any real power that might be a problem, but their entire purpose is to ensure constitutional compliance and act as a safe guard in unusual situations. The most they can do is stall legislation temporarily.

    If you elect the senate however, you legitimize it. You’ve given them a mandate to interfere with parliament.

    Why would we want that again?

    My only problem with the senate is the appointment process, and Harper has exemplified the inherent problem with it.

    Use citizens’ committees like we do juries. Problem solved.

    • Agreed. Reform the appointment process, do whatever we can to get more public input,[ and therefore legitimacy] into the process –  outside of direct elections; but let’s not set up a rival house. I’d go even further in distancing the senate from the HoCs – perhaps even ban parties from the senate; let them sit as independents.[ although that shouldn’t be necessary strictly speaking, if you distance the PM even further from the appointment process.]
      However, I do think some kind of term limit is a must in the era of more democratic accountability and transparency; but not 9 years – that’s just plain silly. 

      I’ve said it before and i often wonder if i’m wrong: but Harper is overrated as a strategist – tactically brilliant at times, yes. But i still am not prepared to let go my conviction, not yet, that Harper is often flying by the seat of his pants – and he’s often just plain lucky.

      • I think you’re underestimating his intention here. Elected senators and term limits are specifically designed to break the Senate and cause a constitutional crisis. Harper’s MO has been to weaken the underpinnings of Canadian institutions as a means of weakening the state and its legitimacy.

        • Presumably you think he believes the state has too much power, therefore decentralize power to the provinces? Oddly enough he never seems to mind the provinces increasing poking their noses in to every aspect of our lives. And he never complains about the 40 year strangle hold conservatives have had on the province of AB. But the liberal hegemony in Ottawa was an outrage. He’s a real democrat through and through is Harper.

  7. The only problem it addresses is one of perception – that the Senate is a sweet gig to which you can be appointed for up to 45 years.

    You could argue that this change has to be read in the context of the change to allow Senate elections – as it might allow a 30 year old to run to be elected to a 45 year term with no democratic accountablity in the interim unless term limits are also set.  

    But if you make that argument, it begs the question of why we are doing this piecemeal in the first place.

    • As it stands now a 40 year old can be *appointed* for a 35 year “term” with no democratic accountability. So, I really don’t think the context of allowing Senate elections makes much difference.  The Senate in its current state is just plain undemocratic on several fronts – up to 35 year “terms”, positions acquired via appointment, inequality in representation (by either rep-by-pop or rep-by-province). It’s a ridiculous entity in its current state and the only saving graces are the facts that there are some senators who do good work, and also senators in general have the sense to usually not exercise their full power.

      And, far be it for me to defend what Harper is doing (like I said, I don’t know if it’s the right thing), but the very sad reality is that this piecemeal approach is the *only* thing that can be realistically done as full blown reform or abolition are for all practical purposes non-starters as they would require constitutional amendments.

  8. Just get rid of this bunch of expensive bums.

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