Pierre Poilievre defends the existence of a Senate

‘A democratic upper house can do what the lower house cannot’


To start the second day of its weekend conference, the Manning Centre staged a debate on Senate reform this morning between Jeremy Harrison, House leader for the Saskatchewan government, and Pierre Poilievre, minister of democratic reform—the former advocating for abolition, the latter for an elected upper house.

I turned up mostly to see what kind of argument Mr. Poilievre might present for maintaining an upper chamber at all and so here is what he offered in that regard.

So why do I stand here today to defend the continued existence of the Senate? Because I believe in democratic bicameralism. A democratic upper house can do what the lower house cannot. Where the Commons speaks for the population, a democratic Senate would speak for the regions. And on this point, Jeremy mentioned that the major opponent of the National Energy Program was Peter Lougheed and he is, in fact, right. And he asked of the name of a senator who spoke out against it and I can think of one: Ernest Manning was a loud and proud opponent of the National Energy Program and a strong voice on behalf of Alberta, imagine if he’d been joined by a group of elected, democratic Western senators who could have represented their constituents along with him in the way that he had done after having served as one of Canada’s most-successful-ever premiers. 

A democratic Senate would also be entirely separate from the executive, whereas the House necessarily blends members of both the executive and legislative branches. And the Senate, with longer terms than the House, would have the ability to look further down the road in the decisions that it votes on. But to do any of these things it must be elected.

That only an elected Senate could fulfill these roles is obviously a point of debate and speculating about the possible mechanics of reform or abolition ahead of the Supreme Court’s ruling is fun, but I’m still more interested in the basic premise of an upper chamber and how precisely we imagine that chamber living out that premise. There is, for instance, the idea that senators can fulfill some roles that MPs can’t or won’t. Could some or all of that be addressed by reforming the House and enhancing the independence of MPs?

The idea that the Senate would be entirely separate from the executive is interesting, particularly in light of what the Duffy affair revealed about coordination between the PMO and senators. But if you really want to separate the Senate from the executive, shouldn’t you follow at least half of the Trudeau reform and draw a line between MPs and senators as it pertains to caucus arrangements?


Pierre Poilievre defends the existence of a Senate

  1. I agree. The questions are less about what benefits a regionally elected, democratic, PMO/caucus-independent Senate might provide than they are about which, if any, of those benefits are provided by the current non-elected, non-democratic, PMO/caucus-run Senate – and what we should do about it.

  2. For a party that wants ‘small govt’ Cons can think of no end of ways to enlarge it.

    Considering we have everything from town councils and school boards to provincial legislatures, the HOC, Senate, Cabinet….and hundreds of other groups both official and unofficial….FN, NGOs, enviro-groups……there is nothing in Canada that isn’t studied and hashed out endlessly, mindlessly……and finally stalled completely.

    We’ve become a giant bog.

    We need more streamlining, not more bodies made expressly to argue.

    • No, no: We’ve become a giant blog!

      • VERY good! LOL

  3. I agree we need an effective senate to speak for the regions.

    So let the regions appoint/elect the senators that will represent them. Take that power away from the PM and give it to the provincial legislatures. Let each province come up with a method to select their senators. .

    • I’m sure all the premiers are just salivating at the idea of more pork appointments. If anything, these characters are even more venial when it comes to patronage than their federal counterparts.

  4. I suppose it’s too much to ask of a Consevative oriented confab to provide more context in this debate? Certainly it’s hard to imagine PP supplying any.
    Notwithstanding the essentially correct framing of the NEP question, we might go on and ask ourselves if an independently elected senate would have gone on to block something most experts find to be a good legacy of the pet era – patriation of the constitution and the adoption of the charter. Neither of these were rammed down anyone’s throats; both received considerable input from Canadians, including critics like Lougheed. Was it perfect? No! A more independent senate might have avoided QC feeling left out. An elected senate at that time would have almost certainly have shut the whole show down for another generation; particularly one the premiers had leverage over. Anindependent senate shorn of interference from the pmo and of limited allegiance to the provinces is the way to go IMO.
    However, if you really want radical…get rid of both the senate and the party system all together.

  5. As it stands, MPs represent their party leaders to their constituents. We don’t have a legislative branch, just an overweening executive.

  6. Poilievre is nothing but a hack and a mouthpiece for the PMO. Is it not interesting that the pmo is coming around to Trudeau’s way of thinking.

  7. i agree