How about a non-partisan Senate?

The NDP suggests as much

Among its suggestions for improving the Senate, the NDP proposes that senators stop aligning themselves with party caucuses.

The NDP has long protested the fact that senators are able to campaign and do party work, and it once again demanded senators be prohibited from partisan work. This would mean senators would no longer join party caucuses, do fundraising or organize for a political party, said Charlie Angus, the party’s ethics critic.

“As appointed officials, they need to stop using their position to further the political interests of the old mainline parties,” he told reporters. “Senators should not participate in party caucuses or do the fundraising organization or the advocacy to pursue the narrow interest of a political party.”

Partisanship is too easily denigrated in the discussion about what ails our politics, but there might be something here. At least in the theoretical world of fantasy Senate reform. And at least so long as there is going to be a Senate.

There is some precedent here. The legislative assembles of Nunavut and the Northwest Territories function without formal parties. And Nebraska’s state legislature is also non-partisan.

Could you legislate a ban on party affiliations in the Senate? That might prove tricky, though party affiliations do seem to be somehow out of bounds at the municipal level in Ontario. If it were somehow feasible, even as an accepted convention rather than a legislated impediment, an appointed, but non-partisan Senate might be somewhat less objectionable than the current Senate and closer to the ideal of sober second thought that apparently justifies its existence. Particularly if you could somehow design a non-partisan appointments process.

Presuming, of course, that you could stand an appointed chamber of any kind sitting in judgment of a democratically elected chamber.




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How about a non-partisan Senate?

  1. A much better idea is to have Senators selected by an independent process, not unlike judges, based on knowledge of the various areas of jurisdiction of the federal government. These Senators would not be party hacks, but people of knowledge and experience in particular fields. These people would know how to analyze legislation, point out potential flaws, know which experts to ask for opinions, and what questions to ask them.
    Imagine a Senator who has little or no knowledge of technology, yet has to review and vote on legislation on the auction of wireless spectrum. Well this is happening now. But a Senate with experts in technology would be much more capable of properly analyzing the legislation in a non-partisan way, and to ask appropriate experts on their opinions on the topic. This would allow them the ability to provide the “sober second thought” that the Senate is supposed to provide us.

    • Yeah but that would make sense.

    • sure, but they DON’T get a veto. If elected, accountable, HoC decides on legislation, that legislation should proceed.

    • Actually, the time to bring in the experts is when designing and reviewing legislation. There’s no way to anticipate which kind of experts would be needed in senate appointments. In a democracy, the function of a politician is to represent voters.

      The function of a senate is to give regional representation at a federal level.

      The real work of reviewing legislation is done by legislative committees which include members of the opposition. The biggest problem with our system is that we dole out absolute corrupt power to minority parties which can bully committees.

      If we bring in ranked ballot voting as Justin Trudeau proposes, this will allow committees to go over legislation with a fine tooth comb. Then it will become obvious the senate is a clunky fifth wheel.

      • The function of elected politicians is to represent voters. Senators currently lack legitimacy because they’re appointed, yet they act like politicians. My vision would see the Senate as a non-partisan, and more non-political, institution. Politicians are not the only people who represent the public interest. Judges are tasked to do the same, as are medical professionals, police officers, and so on.
        As far as expertise is concerned, you have to know something about a topic in order to ask the right people the right questions. The expertise you need in the Senate is based on the ministries at the federal level, which, in turn, represent the areas of federal jurisdiction. So you need people in justice, finance, trade, banking, industry, environment, health, technology, etc.
        I remember watching a Senate committee once on internet TV. It was pathetic. The Senators had no clue what they were talking about, and couldn’t ask an intelligent question if their life depended on it. The whole meeting was useless because the Senators knew almost nothing about the topic. Yet, they had to review the law and provide “sober second thought”. Yeah right!.
        I’m not familiar with Trudeau’s proposals for parliamentary committees, but they don’t exclude this idea. You can have both.

  2. non partisan senate: good idea. How about a non partisan political media?

    • poof! your wish is granted (with the possible exception of the Post)

    • Well that eliminates the Sun chain, and leaves us with the CBC, so works for me!

      • Apparently you’ve never heard of this guy who uses the CBC as his political soapbox named David Suzuki.

        • The show has been around since 1960…in 40 countries.

        • Yes, climate science is certainly all politics to right-wing cranks…

          • Suzuki talks about far more than climate science, in case you haven’t noticed. And to claim that he’s some sort of lily-pure scientist is delusional BS. He jumped the shark into the world of issue advocacy a long, long time ago.

        • And what party would his “partisan(ship)” be favouring?

          • Anybody but Harper’s.

          • Sounds like some pretty inclusive partisanship.
            I’m sorry missed that political episode of The Nature of Things.

          • He claims that politicians with whom he disagrees should have criminal charges brought against them. He’s a veritable paragon of non-partisan tolerance and civility, isn’t he?

          • Geez, another episode of The Nature of Things that I missed.
            Any idea when those episodes were aired so I can try and find copies?

    • How about a non partisan political media?

      Agreed. Much more important.

    • The truth is, we’d never know if the Senate is non-partisan because all the reporting we ever get on the Senate is partisan.

      It’s like relying on the car salesman to tell you whether you’re paying too much for the car.

      • Isn’t Dean Del Mastro suffering enough without you piling on?

  3. I like a combination of the independent selection process (which was floated by Ignatieff when he was leader) and a ban on party affiliation.

    It is nice to see the NDP actually being proactive and suggesting something that is doable. This is an idea I think people would approve.

    • It’s nice to see them come around policy-wise and start participating in reform ideas instead of just abolition: they kind of backed themselves into a corner with that one (ie cut out of on-air discussions because all they could say was “abolish”), and had poor response to their “roll out the red carpet” speaking tour.

  4. How about Senators are appointed completely at random? That’d still be better than the current system, I’d imagine.

  5. What about the Supreme Court? Are they not an un-elected body, that rules on (and strikes down) legislation from the elected HoC? What’s the difference philosophically?

    • Oh, I don’t know — one’s a court, and part of the judicial branch of government, while the other is a legislature and part of the legislative branch? How about that?

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