Justin Trudeau on Senate reform - Macleans.ca
 

Justin Trudeau on Senate reform

‘Opening the Constitution to fix the Senate would disadvantage everybody’


 

After getting into trouble for openly acknowledging the distribution of seats in the Senate, Justin Trudeau used part of his speech today to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities to explain his views on red chamber. Here is the relevant portion of the prepared text (note: may not exactly match the speech as delivered).

Last week, in Montréal, I was asked about how I felt about the scandal facing the Prime Minister, and what it all meant for Senate Reform. I said, as I always do, what I believe to true. I said those who are preaching wholesale Senate Reform as a response to the scandal in the Prime Minister’s Office are pandering. After all they know, or ought to know, that major reforms like creating an elected Senate, or abolishing it outright, would require protracted Constitutional discussions with the provinces.

I also said that — and this was not reported — nobody who has watched the goings on in the Senate over the past year could possibly support the status quo. Now, I have a confession to make. It is a deep dark secret. One that, apparently, my political opponents think they can use against me. I am a Quebecer. When I am in the presence of other Quebecers, I will often use the pronoun “we”.

But what I said then was a statement of fact. Quebec has 24 Senate seats and Alberta has 6. That is to Quebec’s advantage. And Ontario’s I might add. That is not my opinion. It is the Constitution. So, it stands to reason that abolishing the Senate would disadvantage the East, just as electing the Senate would disadvantage the West. More to the point, I believe that opening the Constitution to fix the Senate would disadvantage everybody. We would have a fruitless round of negotiations that would end in acrimony, and distract from the very real challenges our country faces.

During the Liberal leadership race, Mr. Trudeau talked about reforming how senators are appointed.

If you believe that there needs to be a second chamber (I don’t) or that the odds of abolishing the Senate are too long (I refuse to give in to such defeatism), there is a case to be made that an appointed and thus less-legitimate Senate is preferable to an elected and thus democratically empowered Senate. I’m not convinced by any of the arguments for maintaining a Senate, but if you insist on having one, you’ve actually got to decide what sort of Parliament you want. And those who favour an elected Senate have some important questions to answer in terms of how they imagine the House and the Senate will interact.

You now at least have three options to choose from. Stephen Harper wants an elected Senate. Justin Trudeau wants an appointed Senate, but wants to change the way senators are appointed. And Thomas Mulcair wants to abolish the Senate.


 

Justin Trudeau on Senate reform

  1. This comment was deleted.

    • vvian mavrou and her four boy toys disliked your comment.

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    • Crashing discussion boards with this won’t win anybody over.

      • pedophile supporter and corruption advocate

    • All six comments flagged.

      Best advice: get a blog and buy an advert. Your comments here, completely irrelevant and out of place, have just served to make sure I tune out this story if it’s put *anywhere*. Congrats.

  3. Now, I have a confession to make. It is a deep dark secret. One that, apparently, my political opponents think they can use against me. I am a Quebecer. When I am in the presence of other Quebecers, I will often use the pronoun “we”.

    No, you blithering idiot, that is not what we object to. We object to your going out of your way to find ways to express Quebec’s superiority to other provinces, and to lobby for its benefit at the expense of other provinces; in particular Alberta.

    there is a case to be made that an appointed and thus less-legitimate Senate is preferable to an elected and thus democratically empowered Senate.

    Well then by all means Aaron…go ahead and make it then. I’ve yet to see it.

    • So what! As I recall ( to the degree I can be bothered to notice) Harper frequently includes himself in the phrase Albertans…think, believe, value, do, don’t or whatever, when he’s in the province. If Harper can self indentify as an Albertan, what possible objection is there to Trudeau using we or our when in his home province?
      Same thing applies with the PM bragging up AB. He has made his distain for the way central Canada has run the country or set the national agenda, on a number of occasions. Either its ok to blow your regional trumpet, or it isn’t. Why should JT be the only one to have to live that down?As to your assertion that JT specifically lobbies for preferential treatment for QC, at the expense of AB,I call bs.

    • The fact you could not restrain yourself from calling him names demonstrates that you are speaking out of your anger and frustration instead of making a reasoned and reasonable argument.

      In fact, Harper’s so called reforms would hurt Alberta – Trudeau is the one standing up for us.

    • Whatever will Trudeau advocate next? A firewall around Quebec, maybe?

      • Oh, I think he’ll go farther than that. He’ll probably introduce legislation recognizing the Quebecois “nation” if he ever gets a chance.

        He’s just that crazy!

    • If it’s elected we get all the problems that come with an elected house. People who win elections do so because they’re electable. People who lose elections do so because they’re not as electable.

      There is almost zero relation between being electable and being intelligent, wise, honest, loyal, or wanting to work for a better nation. That we manage to elect a few politicians who are these things is simply a lucky break.

      Appointments have the ability to, at least in theory, pick people who are the best choices because they are all of the above, but perhaps not electable otherwise (even if that’s only because they’re simply too damned busy being all of the above to bother running a campaign of any sort)

      As for the democratically empowered bit, personally, I think that’s a load of hooey, as I don’t expect there’s a single senator who’s sitting there who would say, “Well, because I’m not elected I won’t fight too hard against that, but if I were, then I’d be kicking up a bloody storm.” Not unless the elections were for a limited term.. and that’s a different argument.

      • Thank you.

        How are these arguments different for a senator than an MP?

        • They aren’t. As repeatedly demonstrated by a number of our MPs and PMs. Quite honestly, elections suck.. but then again, so do appointments, they just both suck in different ways.

          That’s why we need both houses, so that hopefully the faults of one can be somewhat compensated for by the other.

    • And? He’s from Quebec. He is a Quebecer. He is honest about it. If I was from Saskatchewan, I’m a Sask. If I was from Ontario, I’m an Ontarian. Just because he is from Quebec, doesn’t mean he only cares about Quebec.

  4. huffpo seemed to be convinced he was pointing out an unequal but elected senate would have a downside for certain provinces not making a “haha QUEBEC ROOLZ ROC DROOLZ!” His newer words seem to have a slightly different tack.

    • With CPC honesty in quoting Trudeau, they will now run ads saying Trudeau said “haha QUEBEC ROOLZ ROC DROOLZ!”

  5. “Justin Trudeau wants an appointed Senate, but wants to change the way senators are appointed.”

    Wherry must have had a micro-stroke while reading what Trudeau said. Nowhere does he say he has any intention of changing the appointment process.

    In fact, Trudeau has never said anything about changing how senators are appointed. His position is to “demand better” of senators that are appointed by him when he becomes prime minister. He supports the traditional system of stacking the senate with partisan cronies. Or in other words: the Liberals and their friends are entitled to their entitlements.

    What’s the difference between Liberals and Conservatives on cronyism? Conservatives are outraged while in opposition (Mulroney, Harper,) then shamelessly indulge in it when they get elected. The Liberals shut their mouths the whole time. Great choice we have between the bunch of them in our horse-race faux democracy.

    • What’s the difference between Liberals and Conservatives on cronyism? Conservatives are outraged while in opposition (Mulroney, Harper,) then shamelessly indulge in it when they get elected. The Liberals shut their mouths the whole time. Great choice we have between the bunch of them in our horse-race faux democracy.

      On this file, I’ll take the party that didn’t complain, and then didn’t do anything about the thing that they weren’t complaining about over the part that complained to high heaven and then didn’t do anything about the thing they’ve been complaining about.

      You may role your eyes at the notion that Trudeau is suggesting nothing more than “demanding better” of the Senators who get appointed, but Harper’s promise was to never appoint any Senators. Then he changed his mind post election, and (59 Senate appointments later) switched his position to merely demanding better of the Senators he appointed (with literally zero means of doing so beyond taking Senators at their word). Then, he seemingly didn’t even demand better of those that he appointed.

      To me, your complaint seems to be the equivalent of “Why doesn’t Trudeau have the decency to tell us the lies that we want to hear the way that Harper did?”

      • My point is, politicians should be thrown in jail for this kind of corruption. Hypocrisy is the least offense. Yet this practice is commonplace which makes Canada a banana republic.

        Let’s face the facts, our interpretation of democracy is a joke when compared to the rest of the developed world: a) the prime minister is the de facto head of state (who almost always represents a minority of voters, indirectly); b) we dole out representation to politicians who didn’t earn it with a majority of votes; we dole out absolute corrupt power to minority parties (the literal opposite of democracy); c) we have undemocratic appointed senators meddling in legislation.

        One has to wonder where the 4th estate is in all this mess. Fact is out news media is just as air-headed as the Americans’…

        • I don’t totally disagree with any of that, but still. My point was simply that when faced with three parties who all exhibit ZERO serious intention to do anything real vis a vis Senate reform, I marginally prefer the party who’s apathy isn’t ridiculously hypocritical to the party who’s rhetoric is 180 degrees from their actions.

          The point, imho, is that NO ONE can really do much to change the Senate without opening up the constitution, but the Tories, more than any other party, tend to PRETEND that they can (or will) during elections. When every party is equally impotent, the hypocrisy of a party’s rhetoric versus reality is the only way to separate them, isn’t it?

  6. I don’t want the kind of legislative mess they have in the US, and I agree with Justin that empowering Senators without fixing seat allocations isn’t a good end result. Maybe seat allocation changes and some small reforms can be made without unanimous provincial consent, but in the end, I don’t think Harper’s serious about reforming the Senate. Nothing in his actions or appointments to the Senate convince me of a genuine sincerity of conviction. All I see is opportunistic attacks against it when in opposition and every so often to keep their supporters happy, and unrestrained partisanship and patronage since he started appointing Senators.

    I wouldn’t mind it, but I’m not seeing any hope for abolition. From what I’ve read, I think the SCC will say it takes unanimous agreement of the provinces to amend the Constitution, and what chance is there that we can open the Constitution without getting sidetracked by other issues, perhaps Quebec, another province, the First Nations? Then again (and this could just be my strong Liberal preference speaking here), I’d put an NDP win in the next election as an even more unlikely event than passing a Constitutional amendment, so if Mulcair can achieve the greater miracle, who could doubt his achieving the lesser?

    I think the Dauphin has got this one right. I can live with a public appointments commission or the like vetting applicants and giving names to the PM. It may not be the best solution, or even the most preferred solution, but it’s most certainly the simplest and most elegant solution.

    • It’s certainly the most doable solution. I don’t think the status quo is acceptable to anyone. I don’t happen to believe that Harper isn’t serious about reforming the Senate; regardless, the kind of senate reform he has envisioned seems unachievable. It certainly can’t be done between now and when he finally leaves the job. But why should we have to settle for the status quo?

      I don’t see why we can’t fix what we can fix in the meantime and make the senate a little better, rather than ride this old jalopy in its current state, hoping against our better judgement that a permanent/more substantive fix is just around the corner… ’cause it ain’t.

      Nobody wants the senate to remain as a repository for old partisan warhorses (except maybe old partisan warhorses). It doesn’t have to be. So… change what we can change in the short term.

    • “I think the Dauphin has got this one right. I can live with a public appointments commission or the like vetting applicants and giving names to the PM.”

      You are speaking for him. Trudeau has not made any mention of an independent appointments commission.

      According to the Constitution, the prime minister has the right to appoint senators. Therefore it would require a constitutional amendment to change the appointment process. One PM can give up this right; another can just as easily take it back.

      But it is far from elegant having unelected politicians fooling around with legislation passed by democratic government. In the rest of the developed world, countries that have senates elect senators. The reason is simple: people elect politicians to represent them and hold them to account. Appointed politicians are accountable to no one.

      Also other countries often hold referendums to decide on constitutional amendments. This is what PC senator Hugh Segal says should be done to determine the future of the senate. It’s a fallacy to suggest amending the Constitution requires renegotiating the entire Constitution.

      • “You are speaking for him. Trudeau has not made any mention of an independent appointments commission.”

        The link Aaron provided gives a pretty clear description of the kind of open, transparent process Trudeau envisions, it may not be an independent appointments commission in name, but it will be something akin to it.

        You’re right, of course, a future PM could scrap anything Justin would create, but there’s always a risk a future government can overturn the actions of the previous one. Enshrining it into the public to such a degree that no future PM would ever dare change it for fear of political damage would be the obvious solution, it would be up to Justin to prove the process works, and get Canadians to support it.

        I don’t disagree, if the Senate was reformed and the seats re-allocated, a proper understanding between the Commons and Senate over how to ensure we don’t get US-style dysfunction, it’ll be easy to support an elected Senate.

        I don’t think it’s a fallacy at all, nobody can say what will happen when the amendment process starts, will there be such a clarity of intent and purpose that no other province/group/etc wants to move to have something else entered/changed in the Constitution? I don’t think that’s likely.

        The SCC will weigh in, and if it requires unanimity to abolish, then I agree with Justin, not worth the effort to re-open the Constitution. It may only require 7/50 to change the composition of the Senate and make other reforms, but I already conceded that much. Otherwise we’re at an impasse, we’ll have to wait and see what the SCC decides on whether it only takes 7/50 or unanimity to abolish the Senate.

        • ” it may not be an independent appointments commission in name, but it will be something akin to it.”

          You mean you guess it will be… My guess is that Justin will continue the “time honored” tradition of stacking the senate with partisan hacks.

          “Enshrining it into the public to such a degree that no future PM would ever dare change it for fear of political damage”

          It would be hard to impress Canadians with “better” partisan appointments, so much so, they would feel the process enshrined. Of course, when it came time for senate reform, the rest of the developed world either elected their senators or got rid of them. It would be pretty silly enshrining undemocratic appointments.

          “a proper understanding between the Commons and Senate over how to ensure we don’t get US-style dysfunction, it’ll be easy to support an elected Senate.”

          The so-called “dysfunction” happens because the US has 3 branches of government that can conflict. The real conflicts are caused when the presidency and the House of Representatives are in different hands. (Similar to a minority government in Canada.) But it’s better to have occasional gridlock than no checks or balances at all by doling out absolute power to minority parties (and having an ineffectual senate comprised of appointed politicians who play partisan politics.)

          But yes. If the senate was to be elected, there would have to be new rules applied to how it could veto legislation. The US senate can’t kill legislation on a simple majority vote. It would be best to prevent senators from representing any party; that would conflict with their job of representing the provinces (as it does now.)

    • “From what I’ve read, I think the SCC will say it takes unanimous agreement of the provinces to amend the Constitution”

      Obviously you’ve haven’t been reading much. The Constitution can be amended under the 7/50 formula. This requires the amendment passes in the legislatures of 7 provinces (two-thirds majority; not all of them.)

      • Oh no, I’ve been reading fine, thanks. My sentence was unclear, I should have written that it will take unanimous agreement of the provinces to amend the Constitution to abolish the Senate. I thought that was clear as I was speaking about abolition, but on re-read I can see the gap.

        • There are no indications the Supreme Court will rule that abolishing the senate will require the support of all ten provinces. That’s a random guess, not an educated one.

          But even if it did, that would not matter. If a referendum is held and Canadians vote to abolish the senate, it will be up to the premiers to carry out the democratic will of the people.

          BTW, how much representation does PEI get out of Mike Duffy, before or after he was booted from Conservative caucus? A big fat zero. Senators vote along partisan lines. They do not represent the provinces.

  7. So far Trudeau is the only leader who is being honest about the Senate debate. If Canadians want to reform or abolish the Senate constitutional reform is required. Maybe Canadians want to reform or abolish it so much that they are willing to delve into a protracted constitutional negotiation, but Harper and Mulcair need to be honest about that so Canadians can make an informed choice. I agree that Harper is not sincere in his wishes to reform the Senate – musing about Senate reform brings in the donors so I think he has just been pandering for as long as he can. Once the SCC rules that he requires constitutional reform and the consent of the provinces he will shrug and say “I tried but those liberal judges didn’t support reform”.

    What Harper proposes is dangerous to provinces like Alberta. An elected senate will be a more active senate – more likely to vote against legislation that was passed in the House. As Trudeau correctly points out, Quebec and Ontario will have the advantage. Why Harper is trying for elected senators without first fixing the numbers is beyond me.

    • Meant to also say that Ignatieff proposed a vetting system that mirrors the system set up to vet judicial appointments. Makes sense to me.

      • Except judges are appointed based on their expertise of the law. Politicians, in a democracy, are installed by voters to represent them. That’s what gives them the right to affect legislation.

        • Yes, but senators are not installed by voters, hence the suggestion of a vetting system.

    • Trudeau has been the least honest. He says he does not support the status quo. But he has not offered to change anything about the way senators are appointed. His exact words were that we must “demand better” from the senators we appoint. That means he still supports the appointment of partisan crony senators who are entitled to their entitlements.

      Supporting the status quo while saying it is intolerable is hypocritical, not honest.

      • Well you are wrong about that, because he has offered to change the way they are appointed.

        In any event, even if he hasn’t, I would argue that pretending constitutional change, with the protracted negotiation and usual failure that entails, is not required to change or abolish the senate is significantly more dishonest and destructive than saying “I don’t support the status quo” when I do.

  8. Why not have an appointed Senate based on Proportional Representation?

  9. How come when ever I hear Justin Trudeau speak I think Edgar Bergen is standing behind him.

  10. How many times is Trudeau going to have to “clarify” what he says? Even when he clarified what he said, he’s still saying the way the senate is favours Quebec over the western provinces so why would THEY (Trudeau did include himself b/c he’s from Quebec) want to change that? He’s basically saying the same thing with some spin. As is typical, JT’s comments on senate reform are as empty as his stance on other issues (we need “better appointments” without providing any examples of how that’s done).

    Are people starting to realize that there’s nothing under that beautiful head of hair?

    • For as long as his opponents distort his comments. I understood immediately what he said. I didn’t need him to clarify his comments.

      His comments were based on facts, unlike views on the senate from another remarkable and beautiful head of hair which, though very populist, don’t make an ounce of sense.

      • Believe what you like but Turdo has made too many similar comments for this to be distorting what he said. Why was he even talking about the number of senators and how it benefits Quebec when that’s not even the issue with the Senate?? Total rookie mistake. Just like his “root causes” comment after the Boston bombings. Remember, if he is made PM he’ll be representing us on the world stage. I’m not saying what we have now is much better, but it could be much worse.

    • BTW – QC has no advantage over the Western provinces, who also have 24 seats. It would have an advantage over a Western province.

      But that is nothing compared to the advantage Harper wants to give to QC with elected senators, or to, say, PEI over AB in a EEE senate, the surreal piece of BS that came out of our PM and his colleagues. Why would Harper give the same elected clout to PEI as AB or ON is still great puzzle to me. I

  11. How does this “clarify” anything? So he’s against the status quo, but he’s also against abolishing the Senate, and he’s against electing Senators. So what, exactly, is his magical 3rd option? Does he really think any of us is going to buy his idea of electing “better” (ie. Liberal) Senators is going to fly?

    I’m starting to think his handlers are going to put him on a very short leash soon. Every time this guy opens his mouth he’s either saying something stupid, or contradicting something he’s said earlier.

    • Every time this guy opens his mouth he’s either saying something stupid, or contradicting something he’s said earlier.

      Yeah. Next thing you know he’ll be promising never to appoint any Senators if he ever becomes PM. And who would believe a politician who said that?!?!?!

    • It’s too bad the same can’t be done with you.

      This mess is entirely Harper’s doing. Placing absolute morons in the Senate hoping that they will be braying mouthpieces for him out of thanks for the plush job. Of course, being idiots, they eventually do really stupid things.

      Hoping that it would make the idea of a Senate implode (“see? SEE!”) they instead will screw him over.

      Karma. Oh sweet karma.

      Laws and institutions are only as good as the willingness to uphold them.

      Clearly, there are people with no will.

  12. And would electing a senate not require that we change our form of government from parliamentary democracy to being some form of republic — president and all?

    • no, why would it?

  13. Hey Trudeau, we know why we don’t vote for you. Just do something contractive for Canada and at least attempt to be a leader, and support senate abolishment.

    Fact is the senate has never done any tangible good for taxpayers. Certainly nothing that lesser paid people can’t do. And why is the Liberal senator with offshore tax evasion still sitting as a Liberal?

    Fact is Trudeau, more people are catching onto old style Liberal liars. And BTW, I don’t like Cons or NDP ether.

    Here is a novel idea fro Justin if he wants to be a PM:

    – put it in a contract with the people of Canada that if you don’t deliver, you will call a general election in one year. Yep, put some skin in the game ot shore up the Liberal credibility as Chretien has his scams and lied on GST. Liberal history is loaded with lies.

    – forget pandering with other peoples money, represent only the non-government middle class. No one else represents them, yet they carry more votes than unions and other peoples money for nothing types. Why you ignore us?

    – forget every solution requires government and more taxes. Sorry, governemtn can get too big for our own good. Focus not on extorting us with what little governemtn does for us, but focus on eliminating waste and money for nothing endeavors.

    – don’t let lobby money buy you out to sell us out. Don’t do the cdieve us out of our money for back room politics, get some integrity. No deceptive “I am charitable” deception while getting lobby paid under the table.

    But hey, I doubt Liberals are up to the challenge. Just more Liberal BS, anything for a vote and screwing the middle class productive with more taxes….

    • It’s this sort of cynicism that leads to low voter turnout, making it easier for parties to form government by getting out their small base.