14

My wish list: John Geddes on pundits, politicians and policy

Why Senate reform efforts should die an early death along with all the hand-wringing about productivity


 

Macleans.ca has asked its leading bloggers, pundits and critics to weigh in with what they’d like to see in 2012—in politics, television, film, books, wherever. The wish lists will run throughout the month of December and will be archived at macleans.ca/wishlist.

(1) When pundits, lobbyists, economists, former bureaucrats and retired politicians—along with sundry other commentators— decide to pronounce on the state of Canadian health care, I wish they would stop just saying it’s getting more expensive. We know the population is aging and demands on the system are increasing. No point repeating it over and over, unless you’re also offering concrete suggestions for reform.

(2) When cabinet ministers puff out their chests and declare that they are taking responsibility for dubious goings-on—blatant pork-barrel spending in their ridings, say, or failure by their departments to keep Parliament properly informed of costs—I wish they would actually take responsibility. Just speaking the words doesn’t make it so. They must say which bureaucrats or political staffers have been fired or demoted, or offer the prime minister their own resignations.

(3) I wish work on reforming the Senate would be abandoned and work on abolishing it taken up with gusto.

(4) When pundits, lobbyists, economists, former bureaucrats and retired politicians—along with sundry other commentators—decide to pronounce on Canadian productivity and innovation, I wish they would stop just saying they aren’t good enough. We know productivity lags and corporate R & D spending is too low. No point repeating it over and over, unless you’re also offering concrete suggestions for reform.

(5) As the long, complex task of renovating and restoring the historic and beautiful buildings on and around Parliament Hill continues, I wish the prime minister would swallow his pride and revive the project to convert the former U.S. embassy—that handsome, needlessly empty Beaux Arts building directly across from the Peace Tower—into a national portrait gallery.


 
Filed under:

My wish list: John Geddes on pundits, politicians and policy

  1. John: Why abolish the senate?

    I can think of only three possible reasons: 
    1. It’s not democratic,
    2. The cost involved, and
    3. The cronyism of it.

    All of these reasons can be rebutted, however.

    To the non-democratic nature of it, I will again point out judges who interpret the law, and police, who enforce the law, have far more affect on the lives of everyday citizens than senators — who can only refuse the law or force the house to re-examine it — yet nobody is saying their appointments should be more democratic.  The senate is no different.. it’s a non-democratic institution that acts as a check and balance on our democracy which, let’s face it, has done some pretty stupid things throughout history — slavery, eugenics, racism, sexism, etc.  And while it obviously doesn’t catch everything stupid coming through, it’s non-democratic nature means that the senate does not have to bend to the often fleeting and fickle winds of public sentiment. (such as the over-reaction immediately after 9/11)

    To the cost involved, I’ll merely point out that parliamentarians are often not experts at drafting legislation, with the most egregious example being the crime bill, which the safety minister himself tried to amend after the bill had already been closed off, with those amendments already being proposed in committee and rejected because of our democratically elected house representatives. The senate, especially in it’s current incarnation of being a position for life, allows these people to gain the necessary experience to deal with legislation, and to understand far better how to craft intent into law.  I’d be willing to suggest that rather than costing us money, I would not be surprised if these guys end up saving us money by keeping the government from having to deal with costly law-suits enabled through bad legislation.

    As to the cronyism, I suggest that this is a feature, not a bug.  The House of Commons acts as a reflection of the will of the Canadians at that time.  The senate, however, serves as a reflection of the will of Canadians throughout the last few generations, with each individual appointment reflecting who we chose as leader at the time.  Those chosen to be senators serve as both our conscience and our penance for the House that we elected.

    • You’ve laid out my thoughts exactly, Thwim.  Only much neater.

    • As Jenn says, very well stated – I concur.   :-)

    • I was starting to think I was alone…

      Nicely put!

    • “[I]t’s a non-democratic institution that acts as a check and balance on our democracy[.]”

      Why can’t I become an unelected senator?  I think I am smart enough to help make laws.

      • Who says you can’t?

    • Exactly. The principle reform it needs is for exclusive power to appoint being taken out of the hands of the PM or the bureaucracy. Give the public some input – no  elections neccessary.

      • See my points 1 and 3. I don’t see any need for any reform at all. What about it doesn’t work now?

        The only other reason I can see why someone might say it needs reform is because “Well everybody’s been saying it for so long, it must be true.” But that’s no better a reason for the senate needing reform than it is for the earth to be flat

        • Obviously i wasn’t clear enough that i do agree with your view of the senate and that it doesn’t need to be elected. But you don’t feel that the selection of senators needs to include a wider participation of the general public, or at least some kind of peoples forum? You’re content with the PM having sole choice over the process? I’m not that content with the status quo.

          • I am, actually. The PM is the choice of our elected representatives, who, technically, represent us. The Senators are the choice of the PM.

            That two levels of remove from direct democracy are, in my eyes, a feature, not a bug. That’s what allows the people chosen to not be politicians. People can be wicked smart and super wise without being the least bit charismatic. If we choose good representatives, they’ll choose a good PM who can then choose the best person out there regardless of that person’s charisma or lack thereof.

            If the public gets involved, then that charisma factor.. something which has absolutely nothing to do with the tasks and requirements of being a senator.. becomes important again.

            If we choose bad representatives..well.. we get people like Mike Duffy. And that’s entirely deserved.

          • I’m afraid i find that a little naive. Fact is we do get Duffy’s and all manner of cronyism all the time. In principle you are correct but in the real world, party affiliations, old debts and pay-offs are the norm. When you look back it is evident it has worked pretty much as you state – i was always amazed at how many quality candidates Trudeau for instance put up – perhaps it gets even better going backwards? Chrietien wasn’t all that bad either, but from there it’s all downhill seemingly.
            A forum such as was used very successfully in BC to look over and recommend a suitable replacement for FPTP might have some utility, no?

          • Might I suggest that the quality of senatorial appointments, both earlier and now, stands as evidence of exactly my point? That the turn downhill recently is simply the system doing exactly what it’s supposed to.

            Remember, both our conscience *and* our penance.

            If we don’t like the appointments being made to senate, the answer is not to change the way the senate is done, but to change who we elect as representatives.

  2. “I wish the prime minister would swallow his pride and revive the project to convert the former U.S. embassy—that handsome, needlessly empty Beaux Arts building directly across from the Peace Tower—into a national portrait gallery.”

    Do we really need oversized portraits of Stephen Harper?

  3. Items 1 and 4; yes, we would all like the nay-sayers to actaully propose something, so that they may be afflicted with their respective nay-sayers.
    Item 2; Resign, Tony. We can stand a certain amount of this, but you crossed the line.
    Item 3; you are addressing our entire constitutional makeup; Thwin has covered it well. You are guilty of the same fault covered in items 1 and 4; what is your better idea?
    Item 5; You’re allowed one pet peeve.

Sign in to comment.