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?