The Senate: The only thing standing between us and tyranny

Bert Brown fears what abolishment would bring


Conservative Senator Bert Brown worries about what will happen if the Senate is abolished.

The outgoing elected senator from Alberta and the government’s point man in the upper chamber on Senate reform is adamant that reform is needed instead of abolition because without the Senate, Canadians could become subject to the dictatorial whims of a prime minister.

“It’s one of the five major institutions of the Canadian government and if you were to take that away, you’d just be creating a dictatorship,” Brown said in an interview in his office overlooking Parliament Hill. “Anytime you get a prime minister that won’t listen to anything but his own advice, you get some of the crazy things that we’ve seen.”

The lack of a second chamber, for instance, is why all of this country’s provinces have long since ceased to be functioning democracies.

But then Senator Brown also seems to believe that prime ministers have already carried on like dictators.

“What I’ve finally learned in the last little while is we’ve had too many prime ministers that became their own dictatorship. Take a look at it. When you are young — reasonably young — and you’ve just become an MP, if you have any liking of the job at all, you’re not going to criticize the prime minister of the day. If you get to be a minister, you’re certainly not going to speak even against the prime minister,” Brown said.

So the Senate must be maintained because the House of Commons cannot be trusted to hold the prime minister accountable.

This seems rather defeatist and I’m not sure how much evidence there is to suggest that the Senate has generally acted as a regular and worthwhile check on the prime minister’s power—ironically, in the case of Mr. Harper, the Senate might be preventing him from moving forward with legislation to reform the chamber—but perhaps Mr. Brown’s concerns open the door to a grand bargain on parliamentary reform. To deal with his concerns, let’s amend the Elections Act to remove the power a party leader has over the ability of individuals to run under the party banner, let’s reform Question Period to reduce the power of the parties to determine who gets to ask questions, let’s reform the estimates process and let’s empower the committees of the House. Then, with the House better empowered, we can safely the abolish the Senate.


The Senate: The only thing standing between us and tyranny

  1. I’d answer him, but I’m too busy rolling on the floor laughing!

  2. While we’re at it, let’s politely ask the Vandals to recross the Rhine.

  3. Or we could reform Senate appointments to ensure that the Senators are beholden to no party, and limit their term to four years regardless. I’m not comfortable with the idea of no check, however theoretical, on the Harper government.

  4. Yes, we narrowly missed acting on the will of the elected House on climate change.

    ~ phew ~

    Thank you for standing up for carbon culture Bert!

    • Refusing to tilt at windmills (in that specific case) is a great example of the usefulness of a second house.

      • Even if your mewling were true they gutted it at an inopportune moment instead of properly sending it back. But party above country for ever and always, CPC supporters

  5. Not that Wherry’s reforms aren’t worth considering in their own right, but bicameral federations are the rule for a reason. The fact that Brown bases his argument on specific harms poorly apparent in the contemporary Canadian context doesn’t mean that his larger point is wrong: an upper house with different electoral timing than the lower house provides a material check on the scope of legislation, which is significant in Canada given the ability of the executive to control the legislative function via the lower house.

    • They are not the rule….nor are they necessary.

      It’s a historical left-over that’s a silly waste of time and money

      • The US, AU, Germany, and Belgium are examples of federations with upper houses (the UK has one too, and is a federation, but I don’t think the link between the two facts is very strong). I would describe NZ and those Canadian provinces who formerly had upper houses as exceptions that prove the rule.

        • Yes, we’ve been all through this.

          It is still a waste of time and money….and a leftover from times past.

          Contrary to popular belief….exceptions do not prove anything.

          • The proof is in the eating. We’ve always had a senate, and we have yet to become a real dictature. It’s like an insurance policy – you can consider this a waste of money if your house never burns down. What would protect us from such happenstance? Should we rely on our belief that we are too advanced a society to get into that kind of trouble ? That’s a very dangerous belief to live by.

          • LOL that’s like saying it’s saving us from a tiger attack. We’ve always had a senate, and never been attacked by tigers…..so it’s working.

            Unless senators hide pitchforks behind their benches, they can’t protect us from anything. Nor were they meant to.

          • I have never heard of a tiger that became a dictator – but I have heard of many politicians who became dictators. Senators cannot stop a dictator but they make his life more difficult. That’s why dictators love to get rid of bicameralism. IMO, a person who assumes sole and absolute power is a dictator, whether or not he is elected.

            I hope you can laugh at yourself often EmilyOne because your tiger hallucinations are hilarious.

          • Well, you think all our provinces are sovereign countries, so your opinion is irrelevant. Ciao.

          • Your reading abilities are deficient : I never wrote provinces were sovereign countries. I wrote they were sovereign states. They exercise full sovereignty over health, for example, and they have, by Canadian law, the right to adhere or exit this federation.

            Meanwhile you see tigers attacks occurring in parliament – your mental health should be relevant to some.

          • They aren’t sovereign anything. Go play elsewhere.

  6. I’d say that Senators are more likely to break rank than MP’s if it came down to a serious vote.

  7. “with the House better empowered, we can safely the abolish the Senate.” — Nice dream, but I will still sleep better with at least the hope of some check on the power of a prime minister with a 4 year mandate.

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