On second thought - Macleans.ca
 

On second thought


 

Having been appointed to the Senate 18 months ago on a solemn promise to reform it, Tory Richard Neufeld now finds he rather likes the place the way it is. And lest you think that’s just the self-interest talking, well, just listen to all the arguments he has for not electing senators:

“The appointment process is quick and cheap. You can have regional representation and do all kinds of things. You can get a cross-section of the people that you want in this place.”…

He said he’s the first senator ever to hail from northern British Columbia. If he’d had to seek election for the job, he doubted he’d have garnered many votes in Vancouver and the populous southern portion of the province.

Now, all of these points may well be true. But as arguments against electing a legislative body, they surely apply just as well to the House of Commons. Appointing MPs would indeed be quicker and cheaper than the current process, you could get a better cross-section of the people “you want,” and some people would get in who could never get elected. Indeed, were MPs appointed, and were it proposed to elect them, I don’t doubt we’d hear the same arguments. “Do we really want that sort of American-style circus? It would be impossible to get good people to put their names forward. etc.”

But these practical points in favour of autocracy run up against a rather more fundamental principle: government by and with the consent of the governed. The only people qualified to enact laws for a free people are the people they freely elect — to whatever house or assembly. If that means we might be deprived of the services of, say, a Richard Neufeld, well, there’s always the Governor General’s job.


 
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On second thought

  1. First off, shame on you Andrew for shooting at the first Harper appointment to actually open their mouth without a PMO approved script. If Neufeld's points are a little weak, at least they are his own.

    • …shame on you Andrew for shooting at the first Harper appointment to actually open their mouth without a PMO approved script.

      I think Coyne is "shooting at" Neufeld for the flexibility of his principles rather than for his ideological independence, a faculty he has discovered, naturally, after his appointment to the chamber.

    • Actually, there has been a relative run off of senators speaking their minds and opposing the Harper/PMO of late. Five altogether in the last month, if I am not mistaken, including LeBreton herself who strongly admonished the PMO for repeatedly saying nothing gets done in the senate.

      • Lowell Murray is doing an outstanding job of standing up to the pressures to be used as a rubber stamp. This stuffed turkey of a budget bill has proven to be the last straw for some.

        • Murray's not a Conservative senator. He's one of the few remaining P.C. senators.

          • You can understand the confusion though.

            The C does stand for something.

          • The C does stand for something.

            Heh. It used to…

          • same true for the P.

  2. The Senate was never meant to be a second HOC. It has a separate job to do, and with the nation as a whole in mind….not just a local riding.

    We should never confuse 'election' with holy water…as if it somehow 'purifies' what goes on…otherwise that 3 ring circus we call a HOC would be blessed beyond belief.

    • no no no, Coyne just said it was a fundamental principle! Decades of history be damned!

      (For my own part, I have no problem with the senate as long as pay is commensurate with perofrmance).

      • Well it's a fundamental principle in the US where they even elect coroners!

        But it's not here.

        If it was, I'd cast my vote for Wills rather than Charles….or better yet, none of them.

  3. But this is not the point, to Coyne a phrase (tee hee!) The arguments for and against have been made several times over. What's new here is a newly minted Harper appointee deciding he doesn't like the bosses' plan and isn't going to go along with it.

  4. The only people qualified to enact laws for a free people are the people they freely elect — to whatever house or assembly.

    Quite true. It's a good thing, then, that the Canadian Senate "enacts" no laws.

    If that means we might be deprived of the services of, say, a Richard Neufeld, well, there's always the Governor General's job.

    Which brings up an intriguing line of inquiry. If an appointed Governor General is consistent with a healthy democracy, why is not an appointed Senate? Why would anyone who tolerates having an irresponsible agent invested with the constitutional authority to decide when (and if) Parliament convenes and when (and if) legislation takes effect not tolerate an irresponsible body invested with the relatively weak authority to amend legislation sent to it by the House of Commons?

    • The GG is different because he/she does rubber stamp laws that come before him/her. The senate actually has a function.

  5. Just as I thought, it's all coming out now: Andrew Coyne, republican. Or is that républicain? Vive Robespierre?

  6. But this is not the point, to Coyne a phrase (tee hee!) The arguments for and against have been made several times over. What's new here is a newly minted Harper appointee deciding he doesn't like the bosses' plan and isn't going to go along with it.

  7. The justification for keeping the Senate unelected is that we already have an elected house, and with its democratic legitimacy it rightly dominates the legislative process.

    Here would be a much easier and more useful reform than making the Senate elected: committ to having Senators be chosen on a meritocratic basis, to advise the house on policy matters by appointing senators as a cross-section of people experienced in the military, diplomacy, the law, business, labour, education, environment, energy, religion, etc. In cases where the government's house caucus lacks someone qualified to be, say Foreign Minister, an appropriate person could be appointed ti the Senate and Cabinet. This could be done in every cabinet, as long as it was done onlly with a minority of the positions.

    This reform would not require any constitutional change, just honest Prime Ministers who care about the state of the government. If Mr. Harper wants to fix the Senate and make it useful, it is entirely within his power.

    • Well they'd have to be able to read for starters.

    • If Mr. Harper wants to fix the Senate and make it useful, it is entirely within his power.

      Well, no, not really. Constitutional change requires the say-so of more than just the head of the legislative body and the executive…

      • He meant Harper could appoint better people.

        • i think Lynn meant that Harper is playing on the edges of reforming the senate by taking a half-arsed approach. my grandfather used to say if something is worth doing, it is worth doing right. doing it right here means reforming the constitution a route mr harper seems to think is too much trouble. instead he compromised his basic principles by appointing folks. i can't say it is surprising that in choosing to do so, he now finds those he appointed are also not so resolute in their supposed principles either.

  8. If the goal is less partisanship and more policy in the Senate, how do we think we'll achieve that better with an elected Senate than an appointed one?

  9. In my ideal governance world, senators would be elected to a 12 year term with a chance to run only once after their first term and one third (or roughly) of a province's senators up for re-election every 4 years and the federal government funding the election.

    However, while I do think this would give them more "legitimacy", I don't think the current senate is anyway illegitimate and I don't think Neufeld's points are crazy or that Coyne's casual dismissal of them is well argued.

    His point about who can conceivably get elected is a valid one. Look at the US senate or the "elected" senators Harper has appointed and you will see what Harper is proposing: a bias toward big, urban, wealthy, white and male. Doesn't mean it resolves the issue at all but it is an important thing to understand.

    • [cont]
      Coyne's other point that it is a fundamental principle that we have government by and with the consent of the governed is weak. I think we have that with or without an elected senate. Ask anyone if they want to open up talks again to amend the Constitution. The answer is pretty clear which can only be taken to mean that we either don't care about elected senators or we don't care enough about them, meaning the current system does indeed operate with the consent of the governed.

  10. FWIW, my two cents: I do not want an elected Senate.

    1. I like the idea that Senators become the institutional memory of Parliament, with the added bonus that they have also worked outside the Ottawa bubble for the better part of their learned careers.

    2. I like the idea that, theoretically, the Senate can be comprised of a cross-section of Canadians of many backgrounds (demographic, social, or otherwise) without having to go through the regional popularity contest that is a general election.

    3. I like the idea that, given the speed at which legislation is capable of passing through Commons, the Senate has a whole 'nother process to go through before stuff gets finalized.

    • I don't like, however:

      1. the partisan manner in which (most) Senators are appointed.

      2. How near-impossible it is to remove poor- or absentee- Senators.

      3. The idea that Senators answer to the leader of the party they represent, rather than the region from which they were appointed.

      As a result, I would propose a stronger meritocracy, whereby provincial shortlists are created by independent (or at least multiparty) panels within each province, then forwarded in a particular order for consideration by a standing Commons Committee. Commons committee then vets, then submits to whole house vote, to nominate proposed Senator, and after being signed off by GG, sits in Senate until they turn 75.

      • Get rid of the party system in the senate. No caucuses in the senate. Not sure what real purpose they serve.

        • I have thought about this… do you not worry that hidden caucuses might be more damaging?

          • Not more damaging no.

            Right now the PM has the ability to enforce party discipline through a number of means: committee positions, budgets, etc. all of which entirely undermines the purpose of the Senate.

            What holds a secret caucus together? Especially when there are no elections to be won to stay there? Maybe a caucus on specific issues and for that I certainly have no problem though I don't see why it would be secret or how it could remain so for long.

          • I agree, I think of them all, it is the fiscal aspect of elections that holds the caucus together.

      • I still say citizen's being able to recall a senator is the way to go to handle all of your dislikes.

  11. The appointment process is quick and cheap. You can have regional representation and do all kinds of things. You can get a cross-section of the people that you want in this place.

    Competence? Merit? Commitment? All surrender to REGIONAL REPRESENTATION. Hey, it works for the Cabinet…

    As for Andrew Coyne's consent of the governed. Very laudable. Which makes true proportional representation nuts. Here are each party's 308 candidates, let's all vote, and see how far down each party's list we get. So, um, to whom did my vote actually go?

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