The messy details of Senate reform

Paul Wells on C-7 and the political and legal storms bearing down on Ottawa

by Paul Wells

Chris Wattie / Reuters

They seem so far away now, the days when Pamela Wallin and Mike Duffy were just nice people on TV bringing you the news.

Now both of these former journalists are senators embroiled in an expense-account scandal that threatens to end their late-blooming political careers in disgrace. More important, the uproar over the Senate scandal threatens to bring down the entire upper house of Parliament, the stately red-lined chamber of what used to be called “sober second thought.”

Every new outrage fuels a growing sense that the Senate has run its course and is now engaged more or less full-time in self-parody: the personal cheque to Duffy from Nigel Wright, who promptly lost his job as Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s chief of staff for this odd gift to a man under intense public scrutiny; the lurid Deloitte audit into Wallin’s frequent, costly and mostly unexplained stopovers in Toronto on her trips between Ottawa and Saskatchewan; the questions over Mac Harb’s housing-expense claims, which got the Ottawa senator kicked out of the Liberal caucus.

The NDP, which has opposed the Senate’s existence for 50 years, spotted an opportunity in the uproar and has launched a “Roll up the red carpet” petition calling for the Senate’s abolition. The upper chamber has almost never figured so prominently in public debate about what it should do and how it should be composed.

That debate will only intensify, now that two high-profile court cases are about to delve into the messy details of Senate reform. It’s easy to wave one’s hands and say, “Shut the place down,” or, “Senators should be elected and equal,” or whatever other solution you might advocate. But abolishing, or even seriously reforming, the red chamber may be altogether more difficult than that. The Harper government has a bill before Parliament, C-7, designed to implement modest reform. Senators now serve until they turn 75; the bill would cut that to a single nine-year term. And where senators are now named by the Governor General on the Prime Minister’s advice—stripped of its constitutional niceties, that means they’re handpicked by the PM—the bill would seek to “consult” provinces by inviting them to hold elections to fill vacant Senate seats. Future prime ministers would be required to consider, though not necessarily appoint, the winners of such provincial elections.

That plan has met with widespread opposition from provincial governments and minority groups, who have long viewed the Senate as a place where allies might be found if they are few on the ground in the Commons.

Harper has long avoided a national debate on the function of the Senate. But he’s out of luck. A year ago, the Quebec government of then-premier Jean Charest challenged Bill C-7 with a “reference,” or a formal request for an opinion, to the Quebec Court of Appeals. Hoping to shut down Quebec’s reference, the federal Conservatives sent a reference of their own to the Supreme Court of Canada in February. But the Quebec court ignored a request from federal Justice Department lawyers to suspend their reference while the highest court considered similar questions. Both cases will go ahead, almost simultaneously.

That was only the first setback the Harper government faced. Federal lawyers asked the Supreme Court to skip oral arguments, claiming that everything that could possibly be said about the Senate has already been said. The Supremes laughed that claim out of court. There’ll be oral arguments up the wazoo—from every provincial government in Canada, as well as two sitting senators (Anne Cools and Serge Joyal) and a few special-interest groups, to boot.

That means the Senate will occupy all three rings of an unprecedented political and legal circus this autumn. In the centre ring will be the show you know, the continuing political drama in Parliament. In the second ring, a Quebec Appeals Court hearing room in Montreal on Sept. 10 and 11, when lawyers from Ottawa, Quebec City and several other jurisdictions will argue Quebec’s Senate reference. Finally, at the stately art-deco Supreme Court building on Wellington Street in Ottawa, from Nov. 12 to 14, many of the same legal characters will convene again to argue the federal reference before the ermine-clad justices of the country’s highest court.

Already, written legal arguments from the main protagonists are starting to arrive at the two courts in dozens of spiral-bound volumes. An examination of the arguments suggests almost every intervenor in both cases will be taking direct aim at Harper’s claim that he can substantially amend the Senate without consulting provincial governments. As for abolishing the Senate outright, several participants in the Supreme Court reference are arguing it cannot be done without the unanimous approval of every provincial government, as well as Ottawa.

The federal case, contained in a 60-page “factum” written by three Justice Department lawyers, of course argues that Bill C-7 is constitutional. Provincial votes to designate senators would be only “consultations,” the federal lawyers argue, not real elections that would bind a prime minister to appoint the person elected. And replacing senators-’til-75 with nine-year senators would be a minor change with no need for provincial input.

Not true, says just about anyone else involved in the cases. Ottawa’s main antagonist is Quebec. Though it is now led by Charest’s successor, Pauline Marois of the Parti Québécois, the province’s government is making precisely the same case it made when the provincial Liberals were in charge.

“The attorney general of Quebec considers that Bill C-7—by reducing the length of senators’ mandates and adding an electoral process—changes the Senate’s fundamental characteristics and its role,” Quebec’s written factum in the Court of Appeals reference says. “In fact, this bill considerably reduces the Senate’s independence and alters its ability to act as a counterweight to the House of Commons.” Because shorter terms and elected senators would represent such a big change, Quebec argues, Parliament alone can’t implement that change. Ottawa would need the approval of at least seven legislatures from provinces representing at least half of Canada’s population.

Ottawa’s lawyers say this is nonsense, that an elected and date-limited Senate will be close enough to the old one that provincial governments won’t need to trouble themselves with getting involved in the change. Quebec’s lawyers reply: Why, then, were such changes only ever discussed in full-blown federal-provincial conferences until Stephen Harper became Prime Minister?

Ottawa’s lawyers, continuing their attempt to low-bridge the whole exercise of Senate reform, argue that any Senate election would be merely a “consultation” that would not bind any prime minister in his advice to the governor general. Quebec’s lawyers blow this claim out of the water. Bill C-7’s own subtitle calls it “an Act respecting the selection of senators,” they note. And they list a stack of quotations from Harper and federal press releases stating that the government’s aim is to permit direct election of senators. So it’s a bit late for Ottawa to claim it has no intention of electing senators.

To back its claims, Quebec has filed expert opinions from four political scientists. (Perhaps ironically, given the sovereignist credentials of the Marois government, all four are Canadians from provinces outside Quebec.) David Smith, from the University of Saskatchewan, calls the Senate “a key feature of the political compromise on which the Canadian federation is founded.” Because electing senators for short terms would “affect fundamental features of the Canadian parliamentary system,” the changes “should not be allowed to be enacted unilaterally by the federal Parliament,” Smith says.

We could go on. Armies of lawyers certainly will, in Montreal in September and again in Ottawa in November. Harper’s relationship with Senate reform has been curiously distracted and on-again, off-again. Bill C-7 is the eighth attempt to change the composition of the Senate that the Conservatives have introduced since they were first elected seven years ago. Previous attempts went nowhere. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister has held only one formal meeting with all his provincial counterparts as a group, in November 2008. He has hoped he could either delay reform indefinitely, or get it done without having to listen to anyone else. This autumn’s assorted gathering of political and legal storms seems designed to give those hopes a rough ride.




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The messy details of Senate reform

  1. The Harper government does best when it can outspend the other side to have unequal time to make fanciful arguments to a public not really paying attention. When all sides are given equal time and the job is to convince people with considerable expertise of the merits of your position, they tend to fare much much worse. Already they look to be losing the battle. Add to this an outlook that’s got too much Ted Morton (extremist polisci of dubious scholarship) and not enough P.W. Hogg (basic respected law), you’re going to get a government that not only loses, but is incapable of knowing what went wrong.

    On another note, I recall mentioning in the comments of this very publication when the recent senator problems came to light how ironic it would be if Harper started usinghis own appointments of examples of why the senate should be changed.

    • There seems to be a presumption that Harper wants to reform/abolish the Senate. Why would he? He has been fairly successful in reframing the discussion to be about the Senate rather than the misadventures of his strategic Senate appointments. Moreover the Senate Scandals involve misappropriation of fairly minor amounts of cash. The In&out involved much more cash with the strategic goal of manipulating an election. Roboscam was a direct attack on nonConservative voters during an election. Which would you rather have your opponents focusing on?

      I don’t think Harper cares about Senate reform any more than he cared about the long-gun registry. However at this point, he does want the public to engaged in a discussion of Senate and he no doubt would love to have Trudeau on the other side of that argument. Trudeau would repeat all of the arguments referred to by Wells about how it can’t be done. Harper would say “leaders lead” and claim he will abolish the Senate. Of course, Harper won’t abolish the Senate but he might squeeze another term in office out of it

      • That could very well be and might also have played a role in the near decade delay in the reference question.

      • I agree that Harper likely doesn’t care about the Senate nearly as much as other issues. But Senate reform has been one of the few consistent rallying cries on the right for the past twenty-five years, being included in every electoral manifest of the Reform/Alliance/PC/Conservative Parties since 1993, so it’s tough to just drop it entirely, even if the specific proposals are so watered down as to be worse than the status quo.

  2. Who is expected to pay for these non-binding elections? How much is each Senatorial candidate going to get from his or her province to run an extremely expensive election (because you have to run in the entire province)? Good luck taking out a loan for this campaign for a non-binding election! And, because there aren’t any rules around donating to the political campaign of a Senator, does that make it wide open for corporations, unions and other entities that we’ve finally just managed (at least theoretically) to get OUT of federal politics buying?

    • I confess I haven’t read all of C-7 but I believe it has answers to many of these questions. This, too, is a problem for the feds because one of the other intervenons argues: if these elections are merely consultative, why are they described in as much detail as (binding) elections to the Commons?

    • As a good example of leadership to all Canadians, Senator Doug Black has helped set the bar for Senate election practices.

    • I’m sure such a plum position would attract the most statesworthy individuals.

  3. http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2013/02/10/john-ivison-upper-chamber-is-changing-regardless-of-harpers-senate-reforms/

    [Conservative insiders say the Prime Minister remains committed to reform, even though it may suit his partisan purpose to let his appointees dominate the Red Chamber until future governments can stack it with their own placemen.

    But, regardless of whether term limits become the law of the land, the Senate is changing.

    We are witnessing the emergence of a more muscular Upper Chamber that has indicated that it is prepared to send legislation back along the south corridor to the House of Commons, if it deems it ill-considered.] excerpt from article.

    http://news.nationalpost.com/2013/02/08/bert-brown-senate-reform/

    [After steering their tractors through the Alberta barley field, making perfect turns and straight lines, the farmers had ploughed a slogan capturing their cause: “Triple-E Senate or else.” The trinity of Es carved that 1984 day stood — and still stand — for Elected, Equal and Effective. And after 29 years of championing his vision for the red chamber, Bert Brown is still fighting for all three.

    Today, Bert Brown is Senator Bert Brown, himself elected by Albertans and then appointed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in the summer of 2007. His province is the only one to elect senators, but he has been crisscrossing the country at Mr. Harper’s behest asking premiers to organize their own Senate contests.

    “Democracy demands elections,” he said as a matter of fact in an interview this week.

    Next month, Mr. Brown will be forced to leave the very place he is seeking to change. March 22nd is his birthday and this year he turns 75, the Senate’s mandatory retirement age…] an excerpt from the article.

    Democracy demands suspicion. The framers of our government understood that fundamental fact. Democracy leaves a door open to unbridled populism and an attendant risk that voters may elect a scoundrel, or worse a team of scoundrels.

    Yes, the notion of an appointed body over-ruling an elected one seems offensive today, but the fact remains that our system has checks and balances of which one is the Senate; it isn’t just a check against a government, but democracy too.

    It isn’t surprising that people these days, so influenced by republicanism inherent in American culture, find the notion disturbing, but the Senate is just what it is supposed to be. The notion of reform or abolition is ridiculous.

    The Senate is supposed to function by a collection of cronies and hacks who are supposed to feel somewhat independent of party politics, or an allegiance to the PM who appointed them. Naturally, one assumes that their thankfulness for the perks and pay maintains their loyalty, but thankfully too, politicians are not moral creatures. They are scoundrels, as they are supposed to be.

    The problem isn’t the Senate. The problem is the unwillingness of politically astute observers and pundits to understand the purpose and role of that great institution. It is doing just what it is supposed to do. Our system of government is dependent on several ironies; this is just one of them.

    The underlying assumption is counter intuitive, but true. Democracy rests on power and the natural tendency for it to corrupt decent people. That insight, written so long ago by Baron John Acton (1834-1902), expressed a widely understood political reality in a letter to Bishop Mandell Chreighton in 1887: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” and “Great men are almost always bad men.”

    Today, people consider such an opinion negative or cynical, but Baron Acton was more right than he knew. A democratically elected, majority government can be just as tyrannical and corrupt as the worst of European monarchs who ruled by war, oppression, and privilege. The institution of the Senate brings balance and essential second thought on legislation passed by the Lower House, which steadies Democracy in uncertain times; at least that was the peculiar notion that the framers of our political system imagined when they envisioned it.

  4. “Provincial votes to designate senators would be only “consultations,” the federal lawyers argue, not real elections that would bind a prime minister to appoint the person elected”

    Really, how long is it going to take some of the best legal minds in the country to laugh this out the door?
    If the courts won’t play ( surely they won’t) along, Harper will have effectively blown any chance of ever reforming the senate to kingdom come, as surely as if he took a flame thrower to the place. What self respecting premier or stakeholder would ever want to sit down with this guy at any kind of future constitutional negotiating table? We should probably board the place up now. At best we’d have to wait for a new Liberal PM to have a hope of meaningful reform.

    • ” wait for a new Liberal PM to have a hope of meaningful reform.”…………….
      ………Don’t hold your breath.

      • “meaningful reform” by the libranos. If anything, if the liberals actually get JT in to the PMO, he would probably appoint his friends from the Muslim Brotherhood to the senate.

        • As long as they’re more honest than Harper’s friends, who care what religion they practise.

        • Yo, Brenda.. Focus, girl, Focus!!

  5. I feel sorry for the lawyers in the Justice Department. It cannot be easy to make arguments you probably do not agree with…

  6. Stephen Harper might yet go down in history as the Prime Minister who finally managed to abolish the Senate.

    It could not have worked out much better if he planned it this way. Harper came to power vowing to reform or abolish the senate; and indeed, the first senators he
    appointed had to agree to support his reform efforts. Then it all went off the
    rails. Did he foresee that by appointing shallow “pseudo-celebrities” like
    Duffy and Wallin; or borderline cretins like Patrick Brazeau, whose only claim
    to fame was being native Canadian and having some role in a marginal native
    organisation, he would set the stage for the Senate’s exit?

    It would be ascribing too great sagacity and prescience to Mr. Harper to suggest he planned it this way. He seems, however, to have stumbled on the perfect solution to getting Canadians behind him on the senate file. As an added bonus; Justin Trudeau and the Liberals have hitched their wagons to the red carpet; something they will
    come to rue in the end. Despite the batting he has taken for the senate debacle
    –in particular his early support for Pamela Wallin –Mr. Harper will end up on
    the winner’s side if he stays the course.

    Now, if he only can make the home run.

    • it’s times like these I wish there were people in real life who actually thought this way, and that I knew them and that they liked to bet substantial sums of money on their theories coming too fruition.

    • Just so (with fingers crossed the PMO doesn’t find a way to boot this strange boon).

    • How do we know he didn’t plan it this way? I dislike almost everything he’s ever done (kudos to standing up for the LGBT community) but I believe he’s very clever. Particularly if the rumours coming out of Duffy are right and he advised them to do this crap.

      • I have thought this all along, he is ‘clever’ is what I disagree with, he is devious, divisive and undemocratic

  7. Considering the relatively consistent performance of Harper appointed senators, if there were to be even one change to senate protocol it should be the prime minister being responsible for their appointees to the senate.

    Reporting the news is hardly an appropriate background for a chamber of ‘sober second thought’ to consider changes to law.

    • How about the hockey player Mavolich–appointed by the libranos??

      • Hey, Brenda, ..we’re all kinda working from the front page.. please join us!!

      • I take it you prefer hockey coaches?

  8. the senate needs to be fixed, yes. However the best way to.reform the senate without cracking the constitution is to simply appoint better senators. Harper seems to have a bad judgment skill in this regard so maybe its in his best interests to not appoint any more.

    Having just the pm pick senators is fraught with risks like harpers poor judgement of people (the litanny of his advisors and candidates facing criminal charges, most outside of the senate, are proof of this weakness), abuse of the system by appointing party insiders effectively paying them on taxpayer dime to do political work, and that someone may not even do the job well, or at all.

    A better system would be how the us picks supreme court judges, with a vetting process comprised of prominent canadians who are immenently qualified to judge and vet someones past and ability to do the job in a fair and competent manner. This would not alter the political stripes of the prospective senator, as the pm could merely only put forward one of their own kind and keep trying until one gets approved. Perhaps restrict those on the panel to people who hold an order or canada medal with a university degree, or some other method, and ensure the entire hearing process is completeley public.

    Of course this process may not have weeded out duffy and walin, but it sure would have forced them to pony up on what they would expect to be doing as a senator and why they figure they are qualified to accept a lifelong unelected job in a role counterbalancing elected politicians. Duffy may have actually moved to PEI rather than leave it to an ottawa reporter who wonders how he got his seat when its plainly obvious he lives in ottawa. Wallin wouldnt have made it through the process if she said what she brings to the job is the ability to raise bags of money for the conservative party.

    The legislation could even allow the prime minister to keep trying perpetually until someone makes it through, so his ability to hand pick would not be affected, just his ability to hand pick croniesl criminals, fraudsters, and complete idiots.

    This simple change would turn the senate right around, albeit it would take time. I have watched the senate on cpac and their committees do do a lot of good work with less rancor and more thought than in he house. Its worth saving – but not if the PMO gets to fill it with hacks, idiots and fraudsters.

    • You mean like the provincial government of Ontario who appointed a pedophile as deputy minister of education? Or maybe the NDP who chose two MPs who are tax evaders? Or maybe the libranos who had to pick up a senator (poor women was mentally deficient) and take her home as she could not find the way on her own? How about that other senator, Mr. Lavigne, who is in jail–another librano? And you say Mr. Harper picks the wrong ones!!!

      • Yes, Harper picks the wrong ones, and he’s a notch above his predecessors because Harper picks them knowing they’re the wrong ones. Duffy was being investigated for breach of ethics of his profession’s code at the time of his appointment, and Finley’s actions in the in-and-out were before the court at the time of his appointment. A prime minister should not name persons before the end of these proceedings.

      • Hi, Brenda, .. I think you should have a separate page with all the wrong doings of the Liberals, both of the Provos and Feds, in your Documents folder so you can copy and paste without having to do all that typing. It would also allow the moderators to post your comments faster as they never change from article to article.

  9. We are almost to the point where anything new will be better than what we have. This scandal tarnishes by association those senators who are Honourable and do perform the work of the Senate Honourably.

  10. As a hard core fiscal conservative, wanting to like the Conservative Party – I can’t. They have to get rid of Harper and the used car salesmen he surrounds himself with – time to be reinvigorated with those who have a moral compass.

    • You are talking about politicians here dude, there is no hope.

      Their lust for government cheques is persistent and endemic, people with more ambition than talent.

      They’ll always outlast good people trying to make a better world.

  11. The Senate is an archaic form of power, one with no democratic principal. Elections without specific rules giving the same value to everyone’s voice, are not synonimous of Democracy. The infamous 3E Senate is just a trick to give the ‘rightwing’ a “permanent” balance of power. Proportional representation is the only true improvement beside the abolition of the Senate. Sorry but the USA with Senators elected for six years, two of them for each State whatever the population, qualified votes (60%), special powers, while the said ‘low’ Chamber composed of true Representatives of the People, must face expensive election every two years. What an outrage to common sense. Harper is simply trying to transform the country into a disguised dictatorship. Canadians want fareness, justice, peace, equality of rights and liberties, progress for the many, protection of lives, wealth, living enviroment and health. Same on Harper and the reformists for their backward politics designed for a return to the 19th century rules.

    • I don’t understand – how would a EEE Senate “give the ‘rightwing’ a “permanent” balance of power”?

  12. HEADLINE: “While Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin’s expense scandals dominate debate …”

    What an interesting headline. Unfortunately it is quite accurate, thanks to the mainstream media who keeps Mac Harb’s name buried deep in the story and reserves the headlines for alleged conservatives. Eight itty bitty characters would have included the liberal senator in the BIG print, but I guess it just doesn’t play well in Toronto.

    And this is why we need Sun News. To keep the spotlight on ALL the miscreants, not only the ones the legacy media finds interesting.

    • I think you keep your head buried in the sand. I have read several articles on Mac Harb recently. Why haven’t you? They were there online and in print. Why do YOU ignore the Mac Harb expense scandal?

      • Did you read my comment?

        My question to you is: Why is Mac Harb’s name not in the headline? He, alone, is responsible for a larger amount (allegedly) of fraudulent claims than Wallin and Duffy combined. His name should be first. First billing, so to speak.

        Why do you think it’s okay to keep his name out of it?

        • partisanship is pointless. in my opinion, all politicians are sleaze in search of government cheques.

          it doesn’t matter what party colour they wear. nor which partisan ‘news’ source reports what, whether the Librano CBC, the socialist’s Rabble, or the Con’s Sun Network.

          partisanship is pointless. free you minds, think for yourselves.

          • I believe that hearing ALL sides makes it possible to “free” your mind and think for yourself.

            When the legacy media goes out of its way to only place conservative names in headlines in 24-point font, then we need to push back and point out their blatant bias. They are ALL crooks and they all deserve 24-point font.

          • For the record, your conspiracy theory is baseless. Further for the record, trying to reason with you will be impossible. You will ignore the facts and insist your paranoid view of the world carries the day.

            One of Harper’s greatest achievements – convincing his minions that negative reporting is completely due to unfair media bias.

            Sadly for him, his pool of minions is growing smaller and smaller with each passing scandal. Soon it will only be the truly deluded left…

            PS. Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin were very well known before being appointed. Something that Harper used to his advantage when he sent them out to raise money and campaign for his candidates. There is a reason why high profile people get a lot of attention when they disgrace themselves…

          • What conspiracy, Gayle? Can you not read the headline yourself? Do you really think that if Mac Harb had been a reporter or news anchor instead of some schlub of a city councilor that his name would have been included with Duffy’s and Wallin’s? I don’t think it’s paranoid to point out the obvious.

            I will agree with your last point, however. Duffy and Wallin did stump for the cons. Just like Justin Trudeau, the federal lib’s closest thing to a celebrity, stumped for libs back east. It feels slimy, but it’s what they do.

          • I am not going to try to reason with you. YOu cannot reason with someone who is unreasonable. You clearly cherry pick things that back up your paranoid delusions.

            I do not see the comparison between Trudeau fundraising for his party, and Duffy and Wallin being appointed to a juicy plum little patronage appointment so they can do the same. The fact you see a parallel demonstrates how far you are willing to reach to find “proof” of your conspiracies.

          • “I do not see the comparison between Trudeau fundraising for his party … ”

            I didn’t say fundraising, Gayle. I said stumping. You know what that means.

            Interesting how you changed the conversation from legacy media bias to Duffy and Wallin receiving plum patronage appointments. We have no disagreement there. We have 105 plum patronage appointments in the Senate right now, only one having been elected by the people.

            Yet the leader of Canada’s natural governing party wants to keep the status quo. Do you agree with that, Gayle? Keep those arrogant unelected buffoons like Duffy and Wallin in those plum patronage positions?

          • There is no legacy media bias, except what is in your head. I don’t talk about things that don’t exist.

            I don’t care if it is fundraising or stumping – still no comparison between Trudeau and the Duffy/Wallin issue.

            What I do not agree with is Harper’s claim that he can change the senate without amending the constitution. He is wrong – but then again I do not think he cares about lying to Canadians about that because it raises money for the party, and possibly wins him votes.

            I DO appreciate the fact that of the three party leaders Trudeau is the only one being honest with Canadians about what is necessary for Senate reform. I believe he is correct that it is dangerous to reopen the constitution right now. Last time that happened our country nearly split up. So he offers the only reasonable solution – a better process and better appointments. Ignatieff proposed a process similiar to that for judges, which includes a nominating committee and peer review before any appointment is made. It is not perfect but infinitely preferable to constitutional discussions, which are more likely to drive our country apart than solve the senate problem.

          • I agree that at the very minimum a nominating committee and peer review must be instituted. But I would still rather see a complete overhaul of the Senate. Tear it down and start again. We can’t continue to put band-aids on top of an oozing wound. (Sorry for the visuals there). I suggest that an elected Senate, five representatives per province, elections every six years, would ensure fairness between the provinces and still retain safeguards for the smaller or less populated provinces.

            On all other counts, I believe we will just have to agree to disagree. Thank you for keeping name-calling to a minimum.

  13. At least the Quebec lawyers have their ducks in a row.

  14. Most people today are less skeptical about democracy than
    our Founding Fathers so long ago. They understood that the ‘First By The
    Post’ system of elections meant that a PM elected by majority was, in
    effect, a dictator for 5 years. There would be nothing to stop a
    renegade from doing just about anything he wanted to do, including
    passing a bill that would make Parliament illegal.

    So, the Founding Fathers imagined an Upper Chamber, the
    Senate, that would have the power to examine legislation passed by the
    lower House and return it for further review and amendment. They wisely
    exempted money bills from this procedure.

    When people casually assert that the Senate ought to be
    abolished, they are failing to appreciate the critical function the
    Senate performs. Those who advocate abolition should consider the
    logical consequences of such a fundamental change to our political
    system.

    Many people who propose abolition are unlikely to support
    Proportional Representation, which would be necessary, if there is no
    Senate. The voting system used in Australia is an example that may be
    easily adopted here. Majority governments would be impossible, which
    would remove the likelihood of democracy running amok or a tyrant
    winning a majority, but it would make passing controversial legislation,
    that might be necessary for the betterment of the country, far more
    difficult.

    The value of the Senate needs to be understood and
    appreciated before anyone reforms it or abolishes it.. There are abuses
    in provincial legislatures, Ontario is a fine example of that, but
    nobody seriously advocates abolishing the legislature. The Parliamentary
    Auditor issues reports that show substantial waste, but nobody
    seriously advocates abolishing Parliament.

    People, and Senators, need to grasp the fundamental idea of
    the Senate that the Founding Fathers understood as they shaped it to
    fit a Canadian experience.

    • Unfortunately the Founding Fathers really cared about the Country and it’s people, unlike today, where most Politicians only care about ” what’s in it for themselves” as can be plainly seen, and will be exposed even further once the Auditor General starts poking around. I wish him the best, and would love to hear that they called back Ms. Shelia Fraser to assist.

  15. I agree with the New Democrats. Let’s just abolish the Senate. If a one-house Parliament is good enough for Spain, it’s good enough for Canada. Why have an elected Senate that can filibuster like the U.S. has.

  16. No messy deals required. Anything complex for government is guaranteed to fail and cost too much. And often times it is better to eliminate something that is hopelessly broken as it is so simple even government can get abolishment wrong.

    The real issue here is pro-senate types are trying to make it complex to stall reform, and like so many times in the past, talk a lot and get nothing done. And even if they came up with something, I can assure you it would not be effective.

    Abolishment is the only thing that makes sense.

    • Your first and last sentences are contradictory (abolishing the senate would require messy deals).

  17. I don’t believe it is appropriate to have harper doing fundamental changes to this country without provincial oversight. It is interesting that, although he ran on senate reform, he did not approach the Supreme Court until after Quebec sent theirs to the Quebec courts.

    • In my opinion that is because he never truly wanted senate reform (I am pretty sure he is smart enough to know he needs constitutional reform). He used the senate for the same thing he complained about – he appointed party faithful as a reward, or, in the case of Duffy and Wallin, in order to exploit their profiles to make lots of money for his party, and win votes for his candidates. He also used senate reform as an issue to raise money.

      His hand was forced by Quebec.

  18. Abolishing the Senate is like throwing the baby out with the bath water.

    Harper wants an elected Senate? I don’t think so but even if he does then he is saying he does not want the PM to make Senate recommendations to the GG it’ll come form the Provinces and Territories. He needs a Constitutional change to make this happen.

    Who takes on the costs of holding the elections for Senators in the Provinces and Territories? How often do they hold elections? If no seat available then do they elect Senators in waiting? What happens then if that Senator in waiting three years later decides they don’t want to wait any longer? Guess they spend more to yet another election of a Senator.

    The NDP want to abolish the Senate because they have NO Senators. If the Senate is abolished then all Conservative and Liberal Senators are released from their positions and the NDP then is on an even playing field with the other parties – NO Senators.

    Senators are representatives of their Provinces or Territories so why not have the Province and Territory make the recommendations in a list to the PM and the PM makes the recommendation to the GG by selecting names only off the submitted list and the GG then appoints the Senator. No Constitutional change needed and no PM to stack the Senate with patronage or partisan appointees.

    The Provinces or Territories may elect, or have a plebiscite, or a write in campaign, or select their names from their own legislative wranglings. That way the costs may be contained and not passed on to the Provinces and Territories to have to hold formal elections if they do not choose to.

    Anyway, Harper (the PM) is saying he doesn’t want to make the recommendations for appointment which is what an elected Senate ultimate accomplishes so let’s agree without having to have a Constitutional change that the PM will only use the names he gets from the Provinces and Territories to recommend as the name to the GG for the Senate appointment. No elections needed, no PM involved in skewing appointments, Provinces and Territories get the people they have decided they want to represent them. The Senate stays and PM influences for stacking the Senate have been removed!

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