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UPDATED: Filling empty Senate seats? It’s about time.


 

It will come as no surprise to ITQ regulars that there will be no squeaks of horror emanating from this corner over reports that the (current) Prime Minister plans to appoint as many as seventeen shiny new senators by the end of the year. Our only complaint, in fact, is that it apparently required a parliamentary near death experience to remind him that, oh, actually, that’s his job – and he’s been downright derelict in duty by failing to do so until now.

Appointing senators, in fact, is one of only two things that a Prime Minister actually has to do. (To be fair, he certainly hasn’t had any difficulty carrying out his other responsibility: advising the Governor General to dissolve, or prorogue, Parliament.) Instead, he spent his first term waging a passive aggressive war of attrition against the Senate that he finally seems ready to give up, at least as long as the threat of the coalition hangs over his head. Yes, it’s a little unseemly to do it while ducking a confidence vote that he very well could have lost, but if that’s what it takes to shore up the numbers, so be it.

As I’ve found myself saying so often over the past year or so, Parliament will always be more important than any one parliament could be.  I just hope that this new batch of senators, whoever they will be, will feel the same way, and won’t immediately set about trying to destroy it from within, using the tried and true tactic of blustering obstruction that turned House committees into parliamentary no-go zones. If they do, however, I suspect that they will be more than outmatched by the current inhabitants — and not just in numbers.

The Senate is a wily beast, and more than one Prime Minister has lived to rue the day he picked a fight with its denizens, many of whom eventually develop more loyalty to the institution than to the party that may have put them there in the first place. Which means that even if he fills the gaps on his side of the Chamber with Senate-hostile kindred spirits like Tom Flanagan and Deb Gray, it doesn’t necessarily mean that every member of the  thirty-strong Tory caucus whose numbers he has deliberately failed to replenish over the last two years will go along blindly with whatever plot he may think he’s hatching about how to fix the Senate — or, ministers of grace defend us, an unholy alliance of Liberals and New Democrats  — but good.  Instead, ITQ suspects, they will be reenergized by the shot of fresh blood, and reinvigorated in performing their constitutionally-appointed duties – which do not include acting as a giant rubber stamp for whatever legislation the government of the day should happen to bring forward.

UPDATE: Well, the NDP is officially outraged – and entirely consistent with that party’s longheld position on the Senate, which is that it should be abolished outright. (Although I did once get a Dipper who shall remain nameless to admit that it could be permitted to continue to exist if sufficiently smacked around with the proportional representation stick.)

Also, Colleague Potter contends that offering senate appointments with strings attached could be considered inducement – and, as such, would be completely illegal.” I’m not sure if that’s the case – I mean, he did make at least one now former senator promise to resign and run for election at the earliest opportunity, but I’m pretty sure that neither would be legally binding if the senator in question decidedt that he or she wanted to stay on.


 

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