How to manufacture a non-partisan Senate

One suggestion for Senate reform


If the idea of a non-partisan Senate intrigues you, Jean-Rodrigue Pare has a suggestion about how you might do it.

Therefore, the key question is: how can we enhance the Senate’s popular legitimacy and foster senators’ independence without increasing the power of the Prime Minister? To make such a change, the Prime Minister would have to agree to delegate to another body the power to recommend senators’ appointments. The chances that such openness will happen are slim. By giving up this political advantage, the Prime Minister would create a precedent that could snowball and, if the confidence of the House of Commons became more fragile, force the Prime Minister to delegate recommendation powers in other areas.

A balanced solution would be to delegate the power to recommend the appointment of senators to a committee of the House of Commons that would meet in camera and make decisions by consensus.

This process would increase senators’ popular legitimacy while ensuring that the House of Commons remains the only confidence chamber. Consensus—no one is opposed—would be more practical than unanimity—all are agreed—and would eliminate any suspicion of partisan politics, since, in a majority government situation, a simple majority could be perceived as equivalent to a recommendation by the Prime Minister. The risk of such a process would be that a single committee member could systematically block all recommendations to bargain for a benefit elsewhere or to express opposition in principle to the institution itself. The ways to mitigate this risk are many, but the simplest is to require the opponent to present a reasonable alternative or lose the right to vote. Holding deliberations in camera would lead to better candidates. This might be considered an elitist argument, but there is honour in being selected without having sought the position. The Senate should be composed of distinguished individuals who have been chosen for the sincerity of their commitment to the country. A candidate who declared “I want to be a senator” would arouse suspicions of ambition and opportunism and render the recommendation less honourable. It would therefore be preferable for the discussions to take place behind closed doors and the recommended candidates to be announced only once they have accepted the position. The committee could take the form of a special committee made up of MPs from the province or region of the Senate vacancy.

I continue to find the arguments against abolishing the Senate to be less than entirely convincing—packing abolition with some reforms of the House and I think we’d probably be fine—and in principle I find it hard to accept that an appointed chamber should remain to sit in judgment of an elected chamber, but, whereas the other possibilities likely require some amount of constitutional change, this does have the simple advantages of practicality and plausibility. (I think I’d like it more if it could somehow include reducing the total number of seats in the Senate by half.)


How to manufacture a non-partisan Senate

  1. Another terrible idea. Parties that have a small number of seats in the HoC would have more clout than they deserve in the Senate selection process. Why should the Green Party, with a whopping 1 MP have any say at all in who sits in the Senate? Its clear that Green Party values are not representative of Canadians as a whole, so their values shouldn’t be a prerequisite for sitting in the Senate.

    • If senators are not being selected on partisanship but rather on what they have to offer the country, that really shouldn’t matter. As for May’s opinion, I’d trust May to avoid injecting partisanship in her choices far more than I would representatives of any other party, based on her performance in the HoC to date.

    • Rick, every party should have some kind of say because the senate should be about “sober second thought” not partisan “clout”. We should have every party put forth a list of DECENT potential candidates who could be vetted. The ones who pass a bi-partisan ethics committee vetting could be drawn at random as openings come up. In time, no one in the senate would “owe” their appointment to any sitting PM or even to any party head.
      Your comment on representing “values”, made me chuckle. Exactly who, in the last list of despots involved in senate scandals represents the values of any self-respecting Canadians?

    • The fact that the Green Party has only one seat is not representative of their popular support, which is increasing with each election. And 1st past the post isn’t exactly “representative of Canadians as a whole” either. I liked Justin Trudeau’s comment when asked about abolishing the Sentate – “appoint better Senators”. This could be a good way to achieve that goal.

  2. How about a senate that common people could serve on. Have a lottery of the willing from across Canada and appoint senators for some variable length of time.

  3. Certainly much better than the current approach.

  4. Stick to working on a non partisan media. It’s much more important.

    • Wherry has always been contributing his part in making the media more partisan. His contribution exceeds almost all others.

      • Absolutely ridiculous. Wherry is way, way, down the list of top partisan hacks.

        • As far as I’m concerned he’s close to number 1 in the list. He’s certainly number 1 at Maclean’s.

          • That’s nice. It gives us all an indication of how deranged you are.

          • Actually no, on this blog, pretty well any comment whatsoever that is not partisan is considered deranged. This blog is an echo-chamber for people like you, led by none other than the blog writer, Aaron Wherry.

          • This is also ridiculous. I’m amazed by the way your mind works, and worry for your general sanity. Have a nice day.

          • I’m amazed you write stupid little phrases like “have a nice day” or “that’s nice” because you think it’s cute to say such little niceties while insulting someone.
            I consider it deranged.
            But it fits right in on this blog – claiming objectivity while being heavily partisan, and saying pointless and obviously stupid little niceties at the same time as rude insults, for no apparent or logical reason.
            It’s just a small indication of the kind of person you are. I’m something you have never tried to be: genuine.

          • You’re right. The problem is that I can’t take you seriously.

          • Like I said before, “serious” is not your specialty. In fact, it’s truly a challenge for you. Ridiculously partisan is your specialty. That’s why you like Wherry. And no, you don’t consider it a problem, you like being that way.

    • I am all for banning the Sun chain.

      • That’s very tolerant and progressive of you.

  5. a side note – it’s weird how often in this debate people keep saying that if things were to change politicians would never be able to change back because apparently, the outrage of the people would be too strong. (Once the PM appointed provincial nominations it would be suicide to go against the will of the people! And here, the odder claim that the process would “snowball” and affect other instutitions).

    It’s like these people have never heard of fixed election laws.

  6. A proposal with merit. Elected representatives based on regional interests would appoint someone to a vacancy, hopefully based upon merit. As opposed to popularity or a golden parachute.

  7. The whole idea that there is some magical people out there that are not partisan and there is a magical way of selecting them that is not partisan, that is absurd.

    This is so utterly stupid it’s ridiculous. There is no such thing as non-partisan. Everybody has an opinion on things and the moment you have an opinion on something you’ve taken sides.

    The reason that political parties exist is that people don’t agree! Everybody has a mind of their own. No matter what you do, any and every deliberative body in existence will by definition always be partisan.

    • I think maybe you’re projecting a little.

      There are plenty of people who are capable of thinking somewhat objectively rather than rah-rah supporting Team Blue or Team Red. Some of those people already sit in the Senate, like Hugh Segal. That doesn’t mean he is apolitical. He’s just not particularly partisan (a la Pierre Polievre, Marlene Jennings, etc.).

      • I certainly agree with you that some people are much more rabidly partisan than others. In the business world, for instance, you run across a lot of people who may be quite interested in current events and who would make fabulous leaders (because they’re bright, talented and very capable), but they’re utterly turned off of politics because of the way you seem to be forced to take sides and behave like a trained seal, etc.
        Party politics and certain activist groups (on both sides of the aisle), on the other hand, are definitely overrepresented by certain people who seem to have some deep psychological need to pick a side, dig themselves in (as they say in military parlance) and see their side as the white hats and the other side as the black hats.

    • “The whole idea that there is some magical people out there that are not partisan and there is a magical way of selecting them that is not partisan, that is absurd.”

      I’m gonna try to answer this in a non-partisan fashion. If a party leader is telling you how to vote on something, that’s partisan. That means that, if you as an MP or Senator are having less-than-warm feelings about your party’s stand on Issue X, you’re probably going to have to vote along party lines, not how you’d want to vote otherwise. If you’re not part of the party or the caucus and are immune to party discipline, you can vote however you want. That doesn’t mean you have to stop being left-wing loon or a right-wing nutbar.

      I don’t know if this is a good idea or not, all I’m saying is that if you’re not part of a party, or beholden to a leader, it’s easier to strike an independent course.

    • Agreed. Anyone who thinks removing parties from the system leads to better results need only take a look at any city council that ever existed in Canada. Certainly no worse than federal or provincial governments, but certainly no better either. If they’re not beholden to parties, then they’re beholden to whatever interest groups help them get elected. Whether or not this is an improvement is entirely random.

    • Many (many) Canadians choose to remain objective and refuse to belong to political parties. Nothing absurd, stupid or ridiculous about it.