Serious about Senate reform, huh?

But not serious – or politically suicidal – enough to reopen the Constitution, apparently. The PM may be “prepared to stack” the Senate, but the numbers are stacked against him — even if he were to follow in the footsteps of a previous prime minister, and invoke the infamous Section 26 to stuff a few more warm bodies into the currently unacceptably red Red Chamber:

From today’s Globe and Mail:

PM prepared to stack Senate so Tories can make changes

Newly re-elected Prime Minister Stephen Harper served notice Wednesday that he will stack the Senate with Tories if necessary to push through democratic reforms of the chamber.

Mr. Harper told reporters in Calgary that the Conservatives are serious about promised changes to the Senate – which include elections and eight-year fixed terms – and will fill it with new Tory appointments to push through reforms if the Liberal majority there opposes them.

“We don’t believe an unelected body should in anyway be blocking an elected body,” he told a news conference in Calgary.

There are 16 vacancies in the Senate because Mr. Harper has let retirements go unfilled, but the Liberals still dominate with 59 unelected senators in the 105-seat chamber.

“I have held off for a very long time in naming senators. That said, I do not believe it is justified that the Senate would continue to [be] dominated by a party that did not win two consecutive elections,” he said.

“We are looking for the opportunity to elect senators, but if at some point it becomes clear some senators are not going to be elected, the government will name senators to ensure that the elected will of the House of Commons and the people of Canada is reflected in the Senate.”

The Tories have complained about Liberals in the Senate obstructing their ideas.

By January of 2010, there will be 31 vacancies in the Senate and the Liberal caucus will be reduced by then to fewer than 50 seats in the chamber. Mr. Harper could theoretically appoint 31 senators to one-year terms and use that strength to push through whatever changes were deemed necessary.

Constitution Act, 1867:

Addition of Senators in certain cases 26. If at any Time on the Recommendation of the Governor General the Queen thinks fit to direct that Four or Eight Members be added to the Senate, the Governor General may by Summons to Four or Eight qualified Persons (as the Case may be), representing equally the Four Divisions of Canada, add to the Senate accordingly. (15)
Reduction of Senate to normal Number 27. In case of such Addition being at any Time made, the Governor General shall not summon any Person to the Senate, except on a further like Direction by the Queen on the like Recommendation, to represent one of the Four Divisions until such Division is represented by Twenty-four Senators and no more. (16)
Maximum Number of Senators 28. The Number of Senators shall not at any Time exceed One Hundred and thirteen. (17)

Current Senate standings:

Liberal Party 59
Conservative Party 21
Progressive Conservative 3 (Atkins, McCoy, Murray)
Independent 4 (Pitfield, Prud’homme, Rivest, Spivak)
Independent New Democratic Party 1 (Dyck)
—— 1 (Cools)
Vacant seats 16 Newfoundland and Labrador (1), New Brunswick (1)
Nova Scotia (3), Prince Edward Island (1)
Quebec (4), Ontario (2), Yukon (1)
British Columbia (3)
___
TOTAL 105

Should this minority government manage to survive until January 2010, when the Liberal ranks would have been sufficiently depleted to allow a restocked contingent of Conservatives to control the Chamber — that is, if each and every one of them was willing to carry out PMO-issued marching orders, which is, historically, a foolish – and politically dangerous – assumption for a government to make — any attempt to fundamentally change the nature and purpose of the Senate on a unilateral basis would put Stephen Harper on a collision course with the provinces – particularly Quebec. Which means that even his proposed changes made it through Parliament, the whole mess would end up in court, which could take years to decide whether a Prime Minister can do through backdoor legislation what he lacks the political courage to do through a constitutional amendment. In the meantime, the Senate would continue to exert its power, and fulfill its duty to examine, amend, and – if necessary – defeat legislation.

Is that really how Stephen Harper wants to spend what could be his last term as Prime Minister?  Wouldn’t it be easier – and more enjoyable – to govern the country, rather than pick a fight with parliamentary tradition just to indulge his nostalgia for Reform-era policy?




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