Original sin - Macleans.ca

Original sin


JJ McCullough blames the founding fathers for the Senate.

Canada is a living example of why constitution-writing is not a task to be taken lightly. The Harper government’s current efforts to carve a workable second chamber from the breathtakingly incompetent mess that the Fathers of Confederation devised nearly a century-and-a-half ago is a testament to just how intellectually uncurious and uncreative many of our nation’s supremely overrated founders were. Indeed, the entire Senate reform exercise really highlights the degree to which “Canada,” as a whole, is a fundamentally ungovernable creation under any political system except the uninspiring status quo. A country that cannot reform even its most universally reviled institution (only 5% of Canadians like the Senate as-is) is not a country that’s built on solid foundations.


Original sin

  1. Tantrums by adults are decidedly pathetic, but it does suit his logic in this matter.

    Of course we can reform the senate. There’s an entire formula laid out to do precisely that. I’d hardly call it a fault that our constitution requires some concerted effort to be altered. Good grief.

    But let’s read deeper shall we? Clearly what he’s really complaining about here is that the government would have to actually consult with the provinces and get their blessing to make the changes they seek.

    That would open an entire can of worms in which open discussion, debate and compromise would be required.


  2. ““Parliament may exclusively make laws amending the Constitution of Canada in relation to the executive government of Canada or the Senate and House of Commons,” so long as Parliament’s amendments don’t affect seat distribution.”

    Dion is absolutely right.  The Harper proposal will above all screw the West.  But undeniably that’s what they want: an upper house with the legitimacy of the electorate that is heavily, and forever, controlled by Central Canada. I read a few Westerners, and persons in favour of reform, warn against this, but mostly people want change, no matter the consequences.

    • Yeah, I was just telling a friend the other day that an elected Senate with the current regional breakdown would completely screw the Conservatives.  I don’t get why Harper would go for an elected Senate without some simultaneously implementing other reforms.  Unless he really thinks the Liberals are dead forever and he can win their votes everywhere…

      • The Thousand Year Regime?  They usually fall hard.

        • To clarify, I wasn’t necessarily saying the Libs would or would not revive, just that Harper seems to be working under the assumption that they won’t and that he’ll win a large percent of the Liberal vote going forward.  While both are definitely possible, I personally wouldn’t bank so much on them, especially when talking about legitimizing a second house of the parliament that will likely be controlled by your opponents.

    • I keep warning, but it falls on deaf ears. I wonder if they hope to trigger a constitutional crisis.

      • Yeah, I’m wondering the same thing.

        The changes are so open to constitutional challenge its crazy.

        Unless that’s the point.

  3. Having now read the article in full, I can come to no other conclusion than this man hates everything about Canada, for reasons that amount to little more than “it doesn’t look like I want it to”. I mean what kind of idiot says:

    “…Yet the very fact that seat distribution is not on the table exposes the limits of how much common sense our constitution is willing to tolerate. Canada’s provinces are so completely arbitrary, lacking any consistent principle of size, shape, population, or history to serve as a common standard of legitimacy for their borders…”

    I think this guy’s been playing a little too much “SimCity” and needs to get out into the real world again. Sheesh.

    • “I think this guy’s been playing a little too much “SimCity” and needs to get out into the real world again.”

      What does it mean if you and I agree, Phil King? 

      Which one of us should be worried? :)

      • I say we just pretend it never happened. LOL

  4. Wow…now there’s a blast!

    Personally I think the biggest problem with written constitutions is that people start considering them as sacred writ….instead of documents done by a committee [and we all know what committees are like]  well over a century ago.

    Some politicians in the US are even taking the stand that since ‘healthcare’ isn’t in the constitution, Americans can’t have it.  Well no…but then cars and computers aren’t in the constitution either.

    We are taking thoughts and ideas from an era where the doctor showed up in a horse and buggy, with a little black bag and possibly leeches….and trying to live by it in the 21st century.

    Not doable.

    Founders of both countries were writing for their own time….a future they thought would remain one of farmers and small merchants….even though the industrial revoution was underway, they couldn’t begin to foresee the changes it would bring.

    And now supposedly our hands are tied by this outdated world view.

    • Yeah, supposedly is right.

      We’ve already made massive changes within the past 30 years, so its hardly undoable eh?

      The amending formula of 7/50 is pretty darn reasonable too if you think about it.

      I think this guy just wants it handed to him on a silver platter.

      • We could chuck the whole thing out and start over if we actually wanted to….and while it’s difficult, gawd knows, to get Canadians to agree on ANYthing…we do have that amending formula, so I don’t see the problem.

        • The Second Canadian Constitutional Monarchy…..

          Sounds less catchy than the Fourth or Fifth Republic eh? Or the Third Rei….um, nevermind. 

          • I was thinking more along the lines of…Canada upgrading to 21st century, by chucking feudalism.  LOL

          • What have you got against moats? 

          • @JanBC:disqus 

            LOL oh I dunno…alligators, mosquitos….so it’s harder to get out to a Thai restaurant.

          • Canada 2.0 (Beta)

    • We can easily negociate with Lybian rebels but we can’t get the premiers of this country around a negociating table. Gutless leadership, I say. 

      • Good point!

  5. I am not very conservative most of the time but I am quite traditionalist when it comes to tinkering with Parliament. 

    Senate does not look good on its own, I agree, but as part of whole it looks much better. No reason to muck about with Senate. 

    Westminster model is best form of government man has created so far because we are most stable, wealthy and progressive countries in world – America is basically Westminster, too, except they have elected Head while ours is appointed. 

    Oscar Wilde ~ In examinations, the foolish ask questions the wise cannot answer

    conservative: disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc., or to restore traditional ones, and to limit change.

    “Canada’s parliamentary system is referred to as a “Westminster Model.” This model was first developed by the British and is named after the Palace of Westminster, which houses the British Parliament. Many former colonies of Great Britain, such as Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, adopted this British parliamentary model once they became independent nations.”


    • Actually, the US is one of the least Parliamentary democracies out there.

      The differences between their system and ours are more than just subtle ones. I’m not sure it’s better or worse. For instance, the executive is entirely separated from the legislature. The cabinet are not members of the legislature.

  6. I can’t imagine it being impossible to find a change to the senate to which 7 out of 10 provinces could agree; considering “only 5% of Canadians like the Senate as-is”. I am sure that if the PM and premiers sat down for an afternoon together they could find a solution. It is hard to come to an agreement in the first ministers never meet.

    • That change would be abolition.  It’s the easiest to agree on and easiest to implement.  Any other change and you suddenly have everyone disagreeing on the details.  

      • Absolutely agree.

        I move the constitution be opened.

        I move the senate is hereby abolished

        I move the constitution be closed.

        Done deal.

        • Dumb comment of the year nominee, right here.

          • Oh I know….it’s vastly complicated….beyond human understanding really….something written in 1867 simply can’t be tampered with…or we’ll be hit by lightning bolts….even though we have an amending formula

            Do you have this trouble with all change?

          • I’m criticizing the comment because it’s like JFK telling America in 1962:

            “Going to the moon is simple.

            Build a rocket.

            Put people in it.


            Drive golf cart.

            Return home.


            Constitutional change is not impossible. It sure as hell isn’t easy or simple. Remember Charlottetown and Meech Lake?

          • @Andrew_notPorC:disqus 

            Well you may remember the Americans did just that

            So surely dumping our Senate is easier

            We have already amended our constitution 10 times since the 80s.

          • It’s like talking to a wall.

            Are you saying that building a moon program is easy and routine?

          • @Andrew_notPorC:disqus 

            Then clean your ears out

            JFK said they were going to do it…and they did.

            I said nothing about ‘easy’….and he specifically stated they were doing it NOT because it was easy but because it was hard.

            Compared to a moon program…amending a constitution is child’s play

    • “I can’t imagine it being impossible to find a change to the senate to which 7 out of 10 provinces could agree; ”

      I think big problem is that opening talks about Senate opens talk about everything to do with Confederation. Not possible to just talk about Senate without bringing Quebec is a nation into discussion and then West alienation and …… etc. 

      Premiers are pretty flexible when it comes to Senate, I am sure, but pols don’t like surprises either and Senate talks could unleash all sorts of ‘conversations’ pols can’t control. 

      Well, that was a fast trip through the perilous terrain of Senate reform. B.C. Premier Christy Clark was in and basically out in 24 hours. No wonder, when you consider the political situation in British Columbia.


  7. The people contending they should be able to change the constitution with a simple majority are the same ones who also think we can’t afford to let issues of transparency and accountability distract the government from tending the fragile economy.

    Seems to me that a stable constitution would contribute to a stable economy and is ultimately more important than whatever a band of yahoos from 905 and 403 think we need shoved down our throats at the moment.

  8. “…A sizeable majority of Canadians (63%) believe Canadian senators should be limited to eight-year terms…”

    Well that’s pretty much that then. I doubt the supreme court will challenge such a popular change, given that the only basis by which they would do so is senate independence.

    “…About a third of respondents (35%) endorse the idea of creating a panel distinguished Canadians to choose senators, instead of the Prime Minister…”

    The position I’ve supported all along. It’s an easy thing to change this provision and wouldn’t require opening up the constitution. Personally I’d go with a citizen’s committee, but this would suffice.

    “…Three-in-ten Canadians (30%) are ready to abolish the Senate of Canada altogether, including 43 per cent of Quebecers…”

    Probably wouldn’t make too much difference, but it’s nice to have a second body of authority to contradict parliament when appropriate. We shouldn’t under estimate the value of a stop gap.

    “…However, the most popular idea continues to be allowing Canadians to directly elect their senators. Two thirds of respondents (69%) would like to see this happen, including 78 per cent of British Columbians…”

    This is the one I think people aren’t really thinking through. The concept of “democracy” always gets unqualified support, but the implications are considerable in this case given that the House of Commons is already democratic, and the senate is in charge of reviewing their work. It creates two tiers of legitimate government that suddenly have real reasons to contradict one another, since each has a different group of constituents. Its bound to create some real animosity if the senate starts sending bills back all the time.

    Additionally, this move will require a constitutional amendment, and if it confers a true democratic mandate, then the senate would become much more powerful. The senators would represent more people than individual MPs and they would have the power to act on it. So it would fundamentally change our system of government in ways we’ve yet to understand.