Brad Wall is a tall man. A tall man whose words are fists of democracy. Boo, McGuinty. -

Brad Wall is a tall man. A tall man whose words are fists of democracy. Boo, McGuinty.


From the Inkless mailbox, without which today would be quiet indeed:

Federal Government Welcomes Saskatchewan Move to Consult Voters on Senate Nominees

May 20, 2008

OTTAWA — Statement by Hon. Peter Van Loan, P.C., M.P.:

“The federal government is encouraged by the decision of the Saskatchewan government to move forward with their own provincial Senate consultations process.  Prime Minister Stephen Harper has already appointed one Senator (Bert Brown) recommended through a provincial selection process in Alberta.

“While the federal government is working to achieve a national Senate consultations process, the proposal by Saskatchewan to consult voters on appointments to the Senate is a reflection of the same objective.  It demonstrates a growing desire among Canadians to modernize and democratize the Senate.

“Two bills have been introduced in the House of Commons to achieve a Senate that is consistent with democratic values, principles, and traditions.  The first, Bill C-19, limits the terms of Senators to 8 years from a current maximum of 45.  The second, Bill C-20, gives Canadians a direct say in who represents them in the Senate through national Senate consultations.  These two bills represent real change in an institution that desperately needs it and the federal government is committed to enacting them into law.

“The Senate consultations Bill, Bill C-20, is currently being studied by a special legislative committee.  It has been at the committee for over three months.  Hopefully, the initiative of the Saskatchewan government will encourage the committee to quickly finish their study and report the Bill back to the House of Commons.


Brad Wall is a tall man. A tall man whose words are fists of democracy. Boo, McGuinty.

  1. Perfect timing and I hope and pray that the PM will appoint the representative elected in the province. I am 100%$ behind Harper on this issue (as well as many others). Next stop is another province being a BC’er I only wish that our Premier would go along with this rather than stick to his constant postion of abolition of the Senate … although it is a thought … none the less I think that the idea of a upper house of sober and second thought could be usefull however this can only be if elected and effective.

  2. Thank you for your consistency, Wayne. Never an unpleasant surprise with you around.

    Enlighten me, though, Macleansers. What is the point of an elected senate?

  3. The point of an elected senate? Um. Democratic legitimacy?

    I hope I can be counted a slightly more surprising commenter than some, but I’m actually rather tickled by the Harper government’s attempts at Senate reform by inches. I’m not sure it’s at all a bad idea for the country. Harper has started from a simple base — any possible outcome from a reform project is better than the current patronage house, whether it’s abolition or democratic reform. Of course this analysis is largely partisan: a patronage house becomes a way to preserve Liberal influence during the occasional brief Conservative interregnum, the way hot-water radiators keep a house warm for a while after a power outage. And so he keeps…pecking at the Senate, unsure where the reform will go, but delighted it’s going away from where it was. I find this perfectly legitimate, especially because the prime minister is doing it this way because he *can’t* unilaterally impose Senate reform holus-bolus. Couldn’t even if he had a Commons majority. So if the opposition to Harper’s project — which could be the Liberals facing him, or other provincial governments, or public opinion in general — gets too het up, it can stop him at any point. I find it one of the most interesting things Harper’s doing, and while I’m not convinced he’s heading in healthy directions, I’m inclined to let him run a ways to find out.

  4. Due credit for the title of this post:

    (as a general rule you can always assume that really weird blog post titles here are actually incredibly obscure references to some kind of inside joke, usually incomprehensible even if you get the reference. Just one way we like to add value here at Inkless.)

  5. I guessed that it was in reference to something. Years of watching people requote Simpsons jokes has given me that ability.

  6. If democratic legitimacy cannot come from appointment by elected officials, we have a whole host of illegitimacy running amok. Judges, cops, nuclear safety commissions, whole arms of government that have power over us, why, even Elections Canada — never being elected. Who would’ve thought that all of these are illegitmate?


    The notion that an elected official is the only one that is democratically legitimate is total hogwash. There may be valid reasons why we want an elected senate, but legitimacy ain’t it. Me, personally? I like it that there’s at least one body of lawmakers that doesn’t have to play with the media to achieve their positions.

  7. Oh, yeah. Senators nevvvvver talk to any of us.

    I’m perfectly willing to entertain the notion that Senators need not necessarily be elected. But I’m not gonna pretend it’s a slam dunk. Indeed, I have to stretch a bit to buy the argument. Have you ever explained our system to a non-Canadian, especially one whose parliament is all elected or unicameral, and had them say, “Cool! We should stop electing our upper house!”

  8. And if senators are like judges, could the judges start attending the weekly party caucus of their choice so we can keep count? ‘Cause the senators really do.

  9. Senate reform is a lovely ‘idea’, one demanded by Preston Manning. However, once you decide to elect senators, you open up a whole new can of problems, ones which, to be honest, we have neither the time, money or interest to invest in. Even were they to ‘magically’ be able to pass aforementioned bills, they would have to pass through years and years of research and debate until all of the problems that arise from elected senates are solved. Also, nobody from a republic understands how a constitutional monarchy works anyway.

  10. An elected senate is an attempt for the West to dictate the parameters of the Canadian Nation without ever having to have an actual majority of Canadians living on its territory. Forget it. You want to rule from Calgary? Get people to actually want to live there.

  11. Australia, to pick one country that fits the description above, is not a republic. When I write “not Canada,” it’s not axiomatic that I mean “the USA.” (And indeed, writing “the USA” is not synonymous with “boo, hiss.” I learned that from the guy who entrenched a constitutional bill of rights.)

  12. Good point bigcitylib, people are just FLOCKING out of Calgary these days.

  13. Yeah, they flock there and then they bail out again. St. John’s is starting to look good to the Newfoundlanders that went West during the oil boom.

  14. Head of pin…angels dancing….how many…

    Elect a Senate. Have be as functional as the
    House. Yes.

    Where was I ….. forest… tree falling..

  15. I said ‘republic’ because I have tried many times to explain the point of a constitutional monarchy and a House of Commons to my cousins in France. (and have failed, many, many times) WHich is a republic. I’m yet to try to explain our system of governance to any Australians. However, the country of whom we were an on-paper colony until 1980, and thus from whence we get most/all of our government systems also has an appointed upper assembly. Indeed, in the 18th century it was more powerful than the House of Commons, and elected representatives were looked down upon by members of the House of Lords. What is it they dop differently in Australia? I thought we were fairly similar in terms of government.

  16. To be less sarcastic to bigcitylib, I have to ask what about electing Senators has anything to do with “ruling from the west”? I guess because a complementary demand from western reformers has been that seats be equalled between provinces. But that part can’t be done without amending the Constitution. The election part, which is far more important, has nothing to do with that. Peronally I favour abolition but I do think that the status quo is completely unacceptable in a modern democracy and ANY change is better.

    I’ll also note that to Canadians who are not of your political persuasion, supporting an appointed Senate seems like a transparent attempt to have the Liberal party dictate the parameters of the Canadian Nation without actually winning. It bothers me that Liberals seem so shaken by a single lost election that we get people like Sophie who appear to long for an 18th century style government where entitled aristocrats are seen as more legitimate than the people’s representatives. Would you still believe in the wisdom of the Canadian people if Paul Martin had been a little more competent? The whole thing reminds me of conservatives in opposition who sided with the provinces in any squabble, regardless of what was at stake, simply because they both had a beef against that particular federal government.

    It’s also amusing to see supporters of a party whose prouder moments include replacing the Britishness of our flag and our Constitution leap to the defence of the House of Lords because… that’s just our system. Canadian governance was officially perfected in 1982.

  17. As a westerner, I have to say that if Canada were ruled from the West every 4 years or so, this country would be a heck of a lot better off. The MPs from ON and PQ would have to actually see the rest of the country, instead of the other way around.

  18. What happens when Quebec elects Bernard Landry under a BQ/PQ banner, or BC elects David Suzuki under the Green Party?

  19. Once again, the language barrier appears to have allowed my words to be misconstrued. I was not ‘jumping to the defence of the house of lords’, rather, I was pointing out that many commonwealth nations have appointed senates. I don’t ‘long for an 18th century style of government’. Battle of the Plains of Abraham ring a bell? Yes, people in Lower Canada had a fantastic time with the British Aristocracy, naturally.

  20. What an excellent debate, with strong arguments, a bit of teasing among antagonists, but no cheap ad hominem silliness. At the risk of sounding like Andrew Potter, another thing the Maclean’s bloggers have been saying to one another is that so far (!) having comments open has been a great improvement on anything we were coming up with by ourselves.

  21. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but here’s an issue where I actually agree with Stephen Harper.

    I want a Senate. If you ask why, I will point to the House of Commons. Veiled voting, anyone? Please, we do need a house of sober second thought.

    I don’t want an elected Senate. Again, I point to the House of Commons. Elected Senators would be just as prone to the ridiculous squabbling and nonsense enacted (apparently for our entertainment–don’t you all just love Kady?) It’s bad enough that Senators are currently affiliated with a particular party and therefore tend to toe that party’s line.

    I don’t think an appointed Senate is democratic. And I think I’ll go out on a limb and say I support democracy.

    So it seems to me that it might be best if each province elects, say, three Senate candidates for each seat that province needs to fill in the Senate, and the Prime Minister of the day chooses one of the three for the appointment.
    Sorta elected, kinda appointed, and I think maybe closer to what our Confederation Fathers had in mind.

    I wonder how it would work if the provinces elected only candidates with NO political party affiliation?

  22. What I’m wondering is how these two bills can be on the one hand be “consistent with democratic values, principles, and traditions” (when neither we nor the British Parliament we are modelled on have ever had anything like an elected upper chamber) while at the very same time “represent real change in an institution that desperately needs it”. Ah, but for an opposition to point it out.

    Frankly (and somewhat less sarcastically), I think an elected senate would be a conservative’s worst nightmare, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Look at the US as an example: make the senate and senators elected and effective and they will actually start trying to GET elected and BE effective. By which I mean, they will be more active, have campaign promises on which to follow-through, be more intent on having legislative “wins” to showcase in the next election, etc.

    All of which means: more centralizing and more spending and more conflict with the House.

    Heck, we may even need to start giving the GG a real and not just symbolic veto over Congress, er, Parliamentary bills.

  23. But at least the senate would then be “legitimate”.

  24. “At the risk of sounding like Andrew Potter…”

    You say that like it’s a bad thing.

    Well, no chance of that on this thread, anyhoo. I think Sophie’s the sanest person here, and she’s right about an elected senate being a form of republicanism. And don’t tell me about Australia — it’s enough getting it from Jeff Simpson every year or so.

  25. The main thing we do differently here in Australia when it comes to our Senate is, obviously, that it’s elected, and more or less equal (whether or not it’s effective is open to debate). Consequently, it’s able to perform its function as a national “house of review” more convincingly, I think, than your Senate with its built-in bias towards the largest provinces.

  26. After Appreciating the Senate Week – which may be extended until the end of the session, just because there’s more to appreciate than was expected – I now consider the Senate, in its current form, to be the functional part of our bicameral system. (Not *more* functional, to be clear.) I’d challenge anyone who truly believes the perennial anti-Senate propaganda to spend a few hours hanging out at committee — any Senate committee; seriously, pick one, and I defy you to walk away without at least a slightly more nuanced perspective on the Other Place.

  27. Jennifer,

    It would be foolish for anyone to mount a campaign for Senate if there was only a one in three chance they would get seated EVEN IF THEY WON.

    Similarly, the proposal Harper has put forward in the past seems to allow ANYONE to run for Senate (within the provinces whose seats need filling), but only says words to the effect that the PM will take the result under advisement.

    So, again, what if you spend money to mount a campaign, win, and the PM doesn’t like you?

  28. I wish that instead of complaining about a Liberal dominated Senate, Harper wold just go ahead and appoint some Senators. By the time the next election is called there could be 30? conservatives in there.

  29. 30 more, I mean.

  30. I am sorry, but I just can’t past my distrust of Harper. He just doesn’t have any democratic credibility. Here is a guy who doesn’t believe in rep. by pop in the lower house saying he wants to “democratize” the upper one (while still, in the final analysis, appointing Senators btw). Please give us true rep. by pop. in the House of Commons first, then we can talk about democratizing the Senate.

  31. Wow – an actually informed, rather civil discussion on a serious matter of public policy rife with ideological underpinnings – how refreshing! Must…wade…in…

    Observers of Parliamentary deportment in Canada will note that it is the appointed Senate in Canada which (generally) operates in the least partisan fashion. Attend any Commons Committee meeting and you’ll see the parties lined up, in assigned seating, on opposite sides of the room in clearly adversarial fashion. Walk into a Senate hearing, and you’ll witness exactly the opposite: Senators sitting wherever they wish, and an impressively collegial atmosphere (due in no small measure to their smaller numbers and, dare I say it, longevity in office – two other (other than appointment that is) key elements that add effectiveness to the differences between the upper and lower chambers). In 2005, Senators of all stripes voted overwhelmingly, in a free vote, to pass the same-sex marriage legislation. After all, it is their constitutional responsibility to uphold and protect minority rights.
    In the U.S., as in Canada, the Senate is the “upper chamber”. Both countries created a bi-cameral Chamber or House to have a “check” on each other; the lower chamber more sensitive to public opinion and the other more detached, more deliberative form of wisdom (sober second thought). One key difference, that of Senators being elected, has brought the U.S. Senate much closer to the vagaries of public opinion (and the fairly constant pursuit of public fundraising). And it is the Senate in the U.S. which has several exclusive powers (granted in their Constitution, before the tradition of electing Senators became convention), including approval of Presidential appointments such as those to the Supreme Court.
    While the assent of the Canadian Senate is required on all bills adopted by the House, conventional measures exist to ensure that in fact it is the will of the Commons that prevails.
    So, moving to an elected Senate will not accomplish what Stephen Harper thinks it will; in fact, as several pundits and serious politicians have pointed out, it will gain the “legitimacy to thwart the will of the Commons”. This combined with the constitutional regional preoccupation of the Senate, and Harper’s penchant for the devolution of powers to the provinces, without other significant constitutional re-arrangement of powers, will absolutely weaken the federation and make “firewalls” even easier to construct.
    The more democratic and effective reform, when coupled with Canada’s relatively high incumbency turn-over rate in the elected chamber, is the proposal to limit terms of Senators to 8 to 10 years.

  32. I distrust this process a great deal. The very foundations of a country should be very difficult to alter, no matter the arguments for and against. (As I understand it, there is debate regarding the constitutionality of even the modest changes currently proposed). Change should come after long and thorough discussion with all stakeholders, and if they can’t agree the institutions which have served us for so many years should remain untouched. this is far better than change coming from the flailings of one autocrat (one with an irrational fear of elections and supreme court judges, to boot).

  33. er, “elections” above should read “Elections Canada” :)

  34. Kady, the senators can impress you as much as they want, it doesn’t give them a legitimate mandate to change or hold up what the House does. I must also say that if I had to make a Patrick Muttart style prototype of those who support the Senate in its current form, she would be a political reporter based in Ottawa with a blog named “Inside the Queensway”.
    My comments above about Sophie were barely tongue in cheek, because I am getting a strong feeling from a lot of people here that they find democratic politics unseemly. For example, check Jennifer Ross’ statement: “I don’t want an elected Senate. Again, I point to the House of Commons. Elected Senators would be just as prone to the ridiculous squabbling and nonsense enacted”
    Then check Kady’s post about the Peter van Loan committee meeting. The self-congratulation that abounded, as much as it made Kady swoon, was nauseating. Like this bit of wisdom from Sen. Cowan: “We are fixing what the House of Commons is doing. We probably wouldn’t do it if we were elected, because we’d just behave like politicians. Like you people do.” Sheila’s argument above is of the same type.
    What these people appear to believe is that competitive politics makes for bad decision making because of the need to pander to the unpredictable masses. Public discourse is inherently lowbrow, so adult supervision (which is to say, a perpetual majority of people who agree with me) is required to keep them in line. But whether Sen. Cowan thinks what the House does needs fixing, at least we put them there to do it. And we have long since discarded the guy who put Sen. Cowan there (whoever it was).

  35. Unlike what passes for debate in our august House of Commons, this discussion is unbelievably rationale and civil.

    This is surely what God intended when s/he invented the Internet.

    (See, I even refrained from making a snide joke about Al Gore inventing the Internet.)

    – JV

  36. I would argue that the long terms for Senators is exactly what gives them the ability to be unbiased. Consider: If you were a) elected or b)appointed by the Prime Minister for terms of, say four years, then in all likelihood, the Senate would be in the exact same mess that the House of Commons is frequently in. Senators would cease to exist for the purpose of ‘sober second thought’ but rather to pander to political or public opinion in the hopes of being reelected. It doesn’t matter how principled the senators are, that would happen because it’s human nature to want to win. Not being elected is what allows our senate to function, rather than undermines it.

  37. Democratic legitimacy? When someone says Democratic legitimacy I hear tyranny of the majority, and it swings both ways.

    Let’s think outside the box for a minute. What would you want the senate to do?

    What I would like to see in a senate:
    – Regional representation
    – A group of the best and brightest injecting practicality and vision into our political system
    – A chamber of sober thought
    – A house with a firm grasp on constitutional law that can provide feedback and guidance to parliament
    – Clear guidelines as too how they can legitimately stop or change stop legislation and what they have to accept as the will of the people.

    What I would not like to see in a senate:
    – Partisanship
    – Unmotivated senators
    – Unqualified senators
    – Open ended senate placements

    Time for the bugaboo. Why does a senate need to be elected? Democracy is good and all but it does have its limits. I agree that un-vetted appointment is not particularly healthy. On the flip side I see very little direct value in having elected senators. Frankly I am not overly pleased by the level of candidates we have been selecting through elections in parliament today. I have serious questions about some of their motivations, qualifications and integrity. Getting elected does not prove you have the skills to get the job done. So what makes everyone think that the candidates elected to the senate would be any better? Frankly I want fewer “politician” in Ottawa.

    I do think the senate can provide an essential service to our democratic process. It is my opinion that the senate needs to focus on implementation of legislation and providing regional focus that may be lacking in the lower house.

    At my work people don’t get their jobs by, having the best smile, putting on a snazzy election campaign, or just being an all round good person. They get it based on merit and based on their skills to get the job at hand done. To me “merit” seems to be lacking in our political system. Merit seems to be synonymous with getting the most votes not necessarily the quality of ones work.

    What I would like to see is a non-partisan group working to select senators that best fill the needs of the senate at a given time. Depending on the skills and the work at hand some terms could be 12 years and others 6 months. It depends on what we need at the given time to accomplish specific goals. I don’t want senators making promises; I don’t want them hindering elected officials on issues of politics.

    For example, if major justice reforms are in the works let’s get the best and brightest legal minds onboard for 6 months to pass laws that reflect the will of the elected officials and have a relatively good chance of being upheld. They would be accountable to the Lower house to ensure that laws matching the spirit and intent of legislation get written.

    The trick with this system is a non-partisan vetting process with key people being held accountable. No, I do not think having a vote once every 4 years is a suitable way of keeping people accountable. I think the lower house has become a partisan mockery (government and opposition equally implicated here). If I had my druthers I would like to see the Upper House rise above this. I don’t think the current discussions on effective electoral reform take this into account.

  38. Paul:
    “… but I’m actually rather tickled by the Harper government’s attempts at Senate reform by inches. I’m not sure it’s at all a bad idea for the country… ”

    I’m not sure I agree…. Inching somewhere may end up with you painted in a corner. I would rather see discussion opened up with the provinces so we can can have concerted and focused improvement. Not something we stumble into.

  39. Well, if by “long since,” you mean in the last election. Senator Jim Cowan was appointed by Paul Martin in 2005, and, under our current constitution, he and the rest of his Senate colleagues do, indeed, have every right – and, in fact, a duty to “change or hold up” legislation put before him, if necessary. Have you ever actually looked at the amendments that the Senate typically puts forward? When they’re not fixing glaring errors in translation that, if uncorrected, would cause havoc in statute form, Senate committees tend to be tasked with addressing concerns – legal and otherwise – that were pointed out when the bill went before a Commons committee, but which, for some reason or another — let’s say, because a prime minister keeps making every piece of legislation a confidence matter, for instance — didn’t make it into the final version as passed by the House. If MPs won’t, or can’t, do their job, it’s up to the Senate to fill in, and that is exactly what it does. I’d direct you to my coverage of the Special committee on the Anti-terrorism Act as an excellent example of a Senate committee taking the initiative and doing the work that would, in this current Parliament, be impossible for a Commons committee to do.

    Oh, and don’t you or Patrick Muttart worry yourselves too much about the dreaded so-called Ottawa media monolith — there aren’t many like me in the gallery, especially when it comes to my unabashed support for the Senate in its current form.

  40. To reiterate (in a different way) what some people are saying, I see the problem with a partial Senate Reform being that election does confer more legitimacy than an appointment. If it comes to a showdown between the elected government and the appointed Senate, well, the elected government is almost always going to win.

    But how do you square that with Senators who have been elected – can they claim “mandates” to do things? and if so should they act? I don’t know if that is a bad thing or a good thing, but it is a thing, and we need to discuss whether or not we want an active Senate, rather than just say “elected – good, appointed – bad” (or vicey versey).

    For my money it should be electoral reform first, senate reform second.

  41. I’m curious to see if any of these “elected” senators will respect the 8 year term limit that Harper is also proposing.

  42. Go sophie!

  43. Its always struck me as a good idea to keep the old coots in plain sight so we know what they’re up to.

    If it is going to change, though, do it all at once. Chart the whole thing out and get agreement on it. Incremental yet discretionary changes in the power structure are a recipe for disaster.

    Can’t say I’d be too quick to consider putting another layer of politicians on the campaign trail a sign of progress.

  44. While I also don’t support an elected Senate for many of the stated reasons, nobody has yet mentioned a couple of the big problems with piecemeal reform. With apologies to Professor David E. Smith, whose books on the Senate I am drawing this from, the biggest problem is that with all this inching toward reform, there is no overall vision of how we want the Senate to look once we finish reforming it, or what problems we are aiming to fix. Unless we can actually articulate what those problems are–and whether or not they are real or imagined–we’ll only compound the problems. If it’s “democratic legitimacy,” we have to ask what powers it will give Senators that they don’t already possess, and what it will cost for that (such as the independence of the Senate). If it’s equal regional representation, the problem then becomes that it will not actually solve any of the problems that it seeks to because no one province could veto legislation that it deems harmful to it (such as the perpetual example of Alberta and the NEP). We would instead have a whole host of new problems without solving any that we are currently looking to.

    Simply giving Senators supposed “democratic legitimacy” will empower them to exercise their veto powers, and we’ll have Parliamentary deadlocks with no measure for resolution. In fact, what that may end up doing is further empowering the Executive, which is something we should be avoiding. Simply saying “elect them and we’ll sort out the details later,” which is the model that Harper seems to be following (and which Preston Manning and Mike Harris advocated in their joint manifesto a couple of years ago) means that we’ll wind up with a mess of confusing powers that, once again, won’t actually solve any of the supposed problems that are in place.

    And for every person who brings up Australia’s elected Senate, we should be mindful that their system has nearly wound up in constitutional crises on several occasions, and their system may not work in Canada because they also don’t have to contend with linguistic minority rights, which our Senate is mandated to protect.

  45. Cowan was put there by Martin? Good enough. Paul Martin got uncerimoniously booted from office and yet his appointees have lawmaking power they don’t deserve.

    I can’t rule out the possibility that some perfectly useful stuff might come out of the Senate. But the point is not whether you like them or whether you like the current government. We’ve elected a Parliament, given it a mandate to govern for us and it will be accountable to us. None of that is true of the Senate. You don’t like having a Conservative government, I don’t like having a Liberal senate. The problem is that only one of us will get a chance to change anything.

    At any rate, I should get back to work. I won’t have my job until age 75 unless I do.

  46. “comment by Paul Wells on 20 May 2008:

    The point of an elected senate? Um. Democratic legitimacy?”

    oh please. like passing around more glossies and another round of counting noses is some sort of quantum improvement over trusting someone who’s already in on a nose count to pick out the real ringers for us.

  47. Sophie beat me to my point but I think it is worth revisiting. Is sober reflection the result of not being elected or the result of having the time to review? I would submit that the Senate would remain largely unchanged if there were elected senators or term limits but term limits AND elections would cause a negative shift in the organizational culture of the Senate. Yes, 8-12 years is still a long time but senators will face enormous pressure from their party to pursue policy agendas and political gambits that enhance/diminish the different party brands, rather than simply doing what is right.

    If the goal is to preserve the valuable practice of senators only listening to their own reason then the status quo, electing senators, or providing term limits will likely continue that practice. The sober nature of the upper house is threatened when the latter two options are combined.

  48. What value does an elected senate have that the current senate does not?

    In my view, absolutely none. Indeed, I think an elected senate would be more vocal and less valuable than what we have today. I would rather abolish the senate outright than devalue the House of Commons with an elected senate.

    An elected senate is an empowered senate. A senate that is elected must keep itself relevant. Its very background as a house of “sober second thought” is thrown out the window if the sobriety of not needing to seek re-election or a post-term employment position is lost.

    The senate is a house of sober second thought precisely because it is not elected, and its members need not seek employment when they are done. Indeed, if I could change anything about the senate, it would be to bar senators from having any other form of employment while sitting in the upper house.

    The real flaw in our senate is the same as the flaw in our lower house and would not be rectified by election. The introduction of partisanship over principle or independent thought has devalued both houses and largely rendered them obsolete, with the bulk of our country’s power in PMO, most of whose members are, I should point out, not elected. Any reform at any level has to be to return independent thought and decision-making to our representatives, where their opinions and consciences are more valuable than those of their parties, where debate is actually about influencing one another’s opinions, ideas, and decisions.

    If a senator must seek re-election, or seek employment at the end of their terms, their judgments are no longer “sober”. Their decisions become what is popular and not what is right. The senate becomes another elected body, redundant in the presence of the Commons, with a need to assert its own relevance and damage the value of the Commons .

    I am happy with the status quo for senate appointments, and I would also be happy if premiers were given the opportunity to appoint senators, breaking any single party’s majority in that senate, but electing senators would be a huge step back for this country and in no way improve anything but the optics of the house of once-sober second thought.

  49. You don’t see a connection between electing the upper house and a reduction in the PMO power you so detest?

  50. Padraic,

    Quite the contrary.

    An elected senate with term limits will be little more than an echo of the lower house, perhaps with some lag, with the same party discipline needed to get re-elected in our modern version of what was once a strong democracy.

  51. I have to say, having read all these posts, that I am seriously considering going to my boss and telling him to promise me a job for life, no matter what. How can I possibly do my job sober while trying not to get fired?

    And yes, David Graham, I would support abolition as well. My point is only that if it’s not an option, I’d rather have legislative gridlock caused by someone I can punish for it than by someone I can’t.

  52. Hey, I discovered my deep love for the Senate back when the Liberals were in power, and the Conservatives were in control of the Upper House. What clinched it for me was when the Senate – the Tories, plus a couple of Independents and at least one Liberal – voted down a bill that would have granted the government immunity from lawsuits over its cancellation of the Pearson Airport privatization contract.

    It wasn’t that the airport contract was particularly good – it wasn’t, if I recall correctly – but the senators – Liberal and Conservative alike – believed that it would be a dreadful precedent to allow a government to exempt itself from facing the consequences of a possible breach of contract. It was the principle – the rule of law — which, as it happens, was what another senator was defending last week, although this time, he was speaking out against a *Conservative* government.

    Huh. Suddenly, I’m starting to make a lot more sense to myself.

  53. So I’m reading what the Australian setup is like, and here it is:

    Under the Australian Constitution, the House of Representatives and the Senate generally have equal legislative powers (the only exception being that appropriation (money) bills must originate in the House of Representatives). This means that a government formed in the House of Representatives can be seriously frustrated by a Senate majority determined to reject its legislation.

    In these circumstances, Section 57 of the Constitution allows the governor-general to dissolve the House of Representatives and the entire Senate – this is called a “double dissolution” – and issue writs for an election in which every seat in the Parliament is contested.

    Section 57 provides:

    If the House of Representatives passes any proposed law, and the Senate rejects or fails to pass it, or passes it with amendments to which the House of Representatives will not agree, and if after an interval of three months the House of Representatives, in the same or the next session, again passes the proposed law with or without any amendments which have been made, suggested, or agreed to by the Senate, and the Senate rejects or fails to pass it, or passes it with amendments to which the House of Representatives will not agree, the Governor-General may dissolve the Senate and the House of Representatives simultaneously. But such dissolution shall not take place within six months before the date of the expiry of the House of Representatives by effluxion of time.

    Hmm.. Canadians don’t like elections, right? :) This type of a setup might not go over well.. but I do like the following part of the Act:

    Section 57 also provides that if, after a double dissolution, the Senate again rejects the bill or bills which were the subject of the dissolution, the governor-general may convene a Joint Sitting of the two houses to consider the bill or bills, and any amendments which have been previously proposed in either house. At a Joint Sitting, the members of both houses vote as one body upon bills and amendments; and if, at the Joint Sitting, a bill or an amendment is accepted by an absolute majority of the total membership of the House and Senate put together, it is treated as though it had been passed by both Houses, and is presented for Royal Assent.

    If that measure were enacted with an elected Senate and an elected House, I’m guessing that the Lower House (or the House of Commons in our case) would more often then not win out over the objections of the smaller elected Senate. I could support an elected Senate with this clause in there (as long as the election setup wasn’t a First Past the Post carbon copy that we have now in the House)

  54. Ryan,

    No doubt you support the election of supreme court justices and their peers right down to Justices of the Peace who, after all, in some way make public policy? Surely campaigning on convicting people will improve the quality of our democracy. Perhaps we should elect our police officers, too, while we are at it.

    And perhaps you’ve suggested to your boss that you’d like to vote him out of office because he didn’t give you that pay raise you needed because he needed to keep the company running?

    Our senators exist as a check on the House of Commons and the power of the Prime Minister’s Office, but only in its current form. That balance would be completely gone with an elected senate which would have to watch its own back rather than what it does now, which is to watch all the rest of our backs.

  55. Two questions should guide any discussion of the Senate of Canada.

    1.) In the 21st Century, do we need a Senate to oversee our parliament?

    2.) If we do indeed need a Senate, how should that body be formed or selected?

    On the first question, I agree with Kady. The Senate itself does a lot of good work and is often needed to provide a second look at re-tooling of legislation.

    On the second question, I think that in order to be a proper, effective body of such importance, the Senate should be elected and represent physical jurisdictions of Canada.

    It’s really that simple. The rest of the debate should be about how senators could be elected and what exact role they should play in the legislative and social framework of Canada.

  56. Riley,

    Your first question seems to suggest parliament is somehow better now than it used to be before the 21st century. On this point, I disagree wholeheartedly.

    Our parliament and our representatives to it are weaker than ever, with decisions being handed down by the leadership of all parties, not by the members themselves. A free vote is as rare today as a whipped vote was at confederation, and every check and balance we can get on that will only enhance our weakened parliament, and slow its descent toward irrelevance.

    Many voters don’t even pretend to vote for their representatives any more, going straight for the party. Solving that, not debating how to give any single party total control over both houses, should be the core of our debate.

    2) The way the senate is structured right now is the most valuable form possible for the senate. Electing it, as I and others here have argued, would eliminate the fundamental value of the senate as a house of “sober second thought”. Framing the argument about how to elect it rather than whether to elect it is, in my view, entirely flawed.

    How it is appointed is a topic which I would be willing to entertain, on the other hand. As I suggested before, it could be appointed by provincial premiers, which would ensure the break-up of any one party’s monopoly and regional representation.

  57. David, not sure how your boss analogy applies. It’s a private company that I’m not on the board of, not the government.

    As for judges, police officers etc. their job is to take the laws of the land and apply them. Changing the laws is the part we need to be included on.

    Kady, again you cite a time when the Senate made a decision you liked better than a decision of the House. In that particular case I agree but that does not change the principle here. The Chretien Liberals would be accountable for their decision, not only to us but to the courts if this was deemed unlawful.

  58. Riley, the debate we’re having is entirely over the second question, you can’t just handwave that away by saying “I think they should be elected, so the only debate is how we’re going to do that.”

    I found the arguments I agree with, (albeit presented far better than I would be able to) on this blog, and some notable concerns about adjusting the senate can be found here.

  59. David I liked you better when I mistakenly thought you favoured abolition. PLEASE, for the love of Coyne, do not get the premiers involved in this!!

  60. David,

    I am not comment on whether things are “better” or worse in the 21st century, I am strictly posing questions for the future.

    Forget about voter apathy, weak leadership and all that other jazz that gets so often discussed, my question revolves around whether or not a Senate is needed to adjudicate legislation produced from the House. I think that it is.

    Second, a Senate which is “appointed” by the Prime Minister strikes me as archane. Nevermind how one could explain it to someone else or whether other countries have similar functions or even if it “works”. I would argue that many dictatorships “work” well, but are they legitimate? I think we elect politicians to “run” our country, not to “rule” it. Therefore I do not like the idea of a Prime Minister with the power to appoint Senators.

    By the by, once I took a guided tour of parliament and as we went into the Senate chambers, the tourguide announced to the crowd that the Govenor General appoints Senators, “often chosing people who may otherwise not be able to, or not have the means with which to, run for office”. Implying that the GG appointed Senators who were poor or disadvantaged in society. I laughed out loud when the guide said this.

  61. It seems to me that the main concern regarding an elected senate is that senators would be forced to publicly campaign regularly, and thus would be more inclined to score cheap points than to get down to work (such as what we see daily in Question Period).

    How about this alternative: Every three years (the number three here is an arbitrary choice on my part) the provincial government elects one third of their province’s senators (so senators would sit for nine years total in this example). Note that I am referring specifically to the provincial government, not the people of the province. This would still provide some accountability (although admittedly indirect public accountability), the long term limits would attempt to minimize the amount of grandstanding, and it would allow provinces to have some sort of direct say in the direction the federal government is taking.

    Any thoughts?

  62. Term limits are an interesting idea Alan but why would the provincial government decide? The problem is not who does the appointing but that they are appointed at all.

  63. Hey Ryan. The reason I suggested the provincial government elect them (I imagine we could have quite a semantics debate over whether the word there should be elect or appoint) is to try and minimize the amount of public campaigning, as well as allow provincial governments some sort of direct say in the federal arena.

    Ultimately, the senators would be elected, since after nine years their term would be up and thus could be held ‘accountable’ via not being re-elected. My intention is that senators not be limited to one nine year term, but could in fact sit for multiple terms, as we have with our MPs.

  64. The consensus here seems to be that the Senate should serve as a house of ‘sober second thought’ to the House of Commons. And there also seems to be consensus that Commons, when it achieves anything, achieves only the passage of partisan legislation. Elections, it is said, would strip the Senate of its objectivity and make it little more than an extension of the partisan Commons.

    But this assumes that the Senate, as it currently exists, is non-partisan. I obviously defer to Kady and other Senate-watchers, but I’d suggest that the Senate is just as partisan as Commons, when you correct for 1) personality, 2) power (or perceptions of power), and 3) media scrutiny (*cough*).

    [Re: media scrutiny, a thought experiment: if the television cameras were removed from the House of Commons, would Question period be a) more rancorous and uncivil or b) less?]

    Right now, the composition of the supposedly non-partisan Senate is put entirely in the hands of the leader of the largest party in the hyper-partisan House of Commons. His appointees may not be as boorish in their partisanship, but they’re not likely to be any less beholden to the ideological assumptions underlying the appointing party’s platform. (Assuming there are any.)

    So I don’t think it in any way diminishes the hard work many senators do to say that, on balance, the current appointments process renders the upper house a rubber stamp. Put another way, note that Kady cites the Senate’s rejection of the Pearson Airport lawsuit bill as a pre-Harper example of effectiveness. If Senate rejection of House business is a sign of effectiveness, wouldn’t an increase in rejection be a sign of increased effectiveness? And yet Senate rejection of House legislation is less likely when the leader of the majority house party has absolute control on appointments to the Senate.

    If nothing else, direct election of senators would increase the likelihood of regular (rather than extraordinary) review of House business. Of course you could still have two houses dominated by members of a single party, in which case the upper house would act very much as a rubber stamp. But elections would increase the possibility of a split, which would in turn increase the likelihood that partisan legislation would be rejected.

    In fact, one could argue that elections would diminish partisanship in the lower house, since hyper-partisan Commons legislation would be unlikely to get by a hostile Senate, increasing the incentive for MPs to either tone down partisan legislation or even – heaven forbid – seek cross-partisan consensus. (On this point it would be interesting to compare rates of cross-partisan cooperation in the House of Commons and the House of Representatives; I bet it’s higher in the latter.)

    As a final thought, I’m struck by the pretty pronounced distaste for democracy evident in these comments. I think Fotis best expressed it when he said “Democracy is good and all but it does have its limits.”

    I wonder if Canadian democratic reformers have missed a step, having failed to re-state the case for democracy in the first place. As this discussion makes clear, a lot of folks clearly aren’t convinced that democracy, whether direct or indirect, should be a universal element of the legislative parts of our government. I think a lot reform proponents take for granted that it should be, and perhaps that assumption has made it harder for us to express why we believe in democracy in the first place.

  65. When’s the next election for Minister for Democratic Reform?

  66. I think abolition of the Senate is worth a shot.

    Consider that giving a equal number of seats to each province is unlikely to work, i.e. 7% of the Canadian population living in the four maritime provinces would have 40% of the votes, while Ontario and Quebec with over 60% of the Canadian population would have 20% of the votes. Even if you think that is a good idea I think you can see that Ontario and Quebec will not agree (nor should they). In other words it is a non-starter, and that aspect of tripe E is idiotic; popular sounding but not thought through.

    So if not equal then what? If it is rep by pop that essentially duplicates the House, something also not in the cards. Therefore we would end up with some compromise between the two, which… would probably approximate the current distribution. That under-represents Ontario, Quebec and BC. Over time as Alberta and BC grow more, and much more in proportion to the maritime province this will serve to disenfranchise the West – which directly undermines the ostensible raison d’etre of senate reform.

    It isn’t at all clear to me that we’ll get better laws and more constructive politics with another house. Effectively we’ve been unicameral throughout our existence and the wheels haven’t fallen off.

    The PM could at least ask the provinces to consider a simple amendment to get rid of the Senate. Maybe they will say no, but you don’t know if you don’t ask, and the politics might conspire to have them favour abolition.

    I actually like the Harper approach of let it starve until it dies a natural death. Good riddance.

  67. Once again, the language barrier appears to have allowed my words to be misconstrued. I was not ‘jumping to the defence of the house of lords’, rather, I was pointing out that many commonwealth nations have appointed senates. I don’t ‘long for an 18th century style of government’. Battle of the Plains of Abraham ring a bell? Yes, people in Lower Canada had a fantastic time with the British Aristocracy, naturally.

  68. Kady, I don’t think translation mistakes or the issue about the airport you mention are sufficient justification for the Senate’s existence. I have watched Senate committees in action and find the work to be mediocre or substandard, which is compounded by the fact it almost never leads to anything of substance.

    According to the Senate’s 2007 “Report on Activities” the total cost to run the Senate for the 2006-2007 fiscal year was $80,600,479. That report may be found here:
    For much much less than that figure more translation experts can be hired to proofread bills, if indeed that is a serious issue.

    As for debatable claim (it seems to me more dubious than debatable) that some good comes from the function of the Senate as is, I think it is greatly outweighed by the fundamental repugnance of an appointed body wielding a key lever of power in a democracy.

  69. Hank,

    With regards to the translation issue, Kady’s point is not about the quality of the translators. It is that the lower house can railroad bills through without taking the time to examine them for political expediency, while the upper house, by virtue of its current setup, is able to take its time and read through bills properly.

    The senate right now has this role and this power. As an elected body, it is just as susceptible to the railroading tendency as the lower house, and its inclination to take that timelimit-free closer look is removed. That’s where the practical side of the house of sober second thought comes in.

  70. Hank: You mean our judges? No, no, wait, you mean the Speaker of the House. No? Perhaps you meant Elections Canada?

    Fundamental repugnance is not rational — by definition. There are many “key levers of power”, very few of them are elected.

    And elections are no guarantee of suitability, merely a guarantee of popularity. Mussolini and Chavez serve as examples of this.

    The appointment process allows the Senate to be comprised of people who may not have sought power for themselves, even though their opinions and thought could be of significant benefit to Canada. It allows the Senate to avoid the grandstanding behavior that comes from campaigning, and to avoid the idea of senatorial candidates getting in on singular issues. It doesn’t necessarily eliminate any of these, but it at least allows the opportunity.

    The benefit of the Senate is to serve as a check on power to ensure that we the people, who go in for pet rocks, hula hoops, beanie-babies, and Kelly Clarkson, don’t send the country on a wild bender because we find a politician with the oratory of Barack Obama but the sense of Paul Hellyer. The Senate represents Canada as a whole, over the long term. There is current a preponderance of Liberals on the senate because there have been a preponderance of Liberal governments in recent history. This means that radical conservative ideas undergo a lot of scrutiny in the senate to ensure they’re good for Canadians. This serves Canadians as a whole if it turns out that our current Conservative government was a momentary reaction to some specific events rather than indicative of a fundamental shift in the will of the Canadian people.

    If, on the other hand, Mr. Harper’s election is indicative of a change in what Canadians as a whole want, then the senate will slowly come to meet that point of view. However the point of this is that it slows and smooths radical change — something that is almost never good for a country.

    This also explains why I do not favor the senate being regional in its representation. Regional issues are issues that change rapidly. The idea of a house of sober second thought is to be a house comprised to examine the issues in a larger context.

    It is the lower house that should be fully regional in its representation. Rapidly changing issues should be reflected in a more rapidly changing house of government.

    In many ways, I view the House of Commons as the place where change, new ideas, and the diverse opinions of individual Canadians are brought to our governance (which is why they’re the house that drafts the bills) and the Senate as the place where stability, the longer term, and the larger picture are taken into account (which is why they can really only hold up bills).

  71. Andrew Potter: ditto …also
    Go Kady!
    Go David!

    Several commentators: “Parliament” actually refers to both Houses not just the House of Commons; the Senate is part of Parliament too.

    Riley: “…the tourguide announced to the crowd that the Govenor General appoints Senators, “often chosing people who may otherwise not be able to, or not have the means with which to, run for office”. Implying that the GG appointed Senators who were poor or disadvantaged in society. I laughed out loud when the guide said this.”

    Your “implication” is not really so laughable. It is actually one of the reasons I quite like the appointed Senate, which to repeat is constitutionally mandated to represent regions and uphold minority rights, because it does provide the opportunity for representation of and from those who are otherwise disadvantaged or under-represented in our Parliamentary institutions, women and aboriginal Canadians being two such and significant examples. Most of those under-represented, are in fact so in some measure due to the lack of access to the financial resources required to succeed in electoral politics, so “often chosing people who may otherwise not be able to, or not have the means with which to, run for office” is actually exactly as intended. (viz. Person’s Case)

  72. T. Thwim,

    Ummm, the Speaker of the House actually is a elected – first as an MP and second by the House itself.

    In a democracy people should elect those who make laws. That is a fundamental principle.

    Though this is well tilled soil, judges, while powerful in a sense, interpret statues, they don’t draft them. They are bound by the laws parliament and the legislatures make.

    Dictators who get elected and then subvert the democratic process is a side issue and irrelevant to this discussion.

    I take your point that democracy can have flaws but if by “pet rocks, hula hoops, beanie-babies” you are trying to say “beer and popcorn” I think we’ve been down that road before. The assumption that some oligarchical elite is a better form of rule, even in its complimentary senate capacity, makes Stephen Colbert’s statical shtick, where he rails against the “elites”, sound reasonable.

  73. I fail to see where the “elected” senate in the US is any more constuctive than our own – in the end whichever political party wins the most senators would still have the most say. The US senate has just as many problems.

    I can’t see abolishing the senate – with some of the mistakes our current parliament has made – we need them.

    As I understand it, the current government of Australia are working on severing itself from Britain completely – wouldn’t this, if succeeded, make Australia a repulic?

    Silly thought – how about making it that a PM has to pick as evenly as possible, senators from all parties. No election cost, no going through campaign after campaign.

  74. Whoops – typo. I meant to say republic.

  75. The long terms enable the senate to be as non-partisan as possible, simply because one get a mix of senators appointed by different governments. Not only do we get representation by race, religion, sex and region, there is a large enough blend of senators appointed by different Prime Ministers and political parties to enable a fairly non-partisan, functioning senate. /

  76. Switching to an elected Senate will close the door on the possibility of occassionally landing someone smart enough to do the job AND smart enough not to campaign for it.

    so don’t count Mike Duffy out just yet.

  77. Back in 1867, a lot of people still had doubts that democracy was the only credible road to legitimacy; hence the appointed Senate. But it didn’t take long for the generation that doubted democracy to fade away, at which point it was generally agreed that the Senate wouldn’t overrule the democratically legitimate House. And so it has been ever since.

    We effectively have a *unicameral* Parliament already. What advocates of Senate reform are really asking is that we move from a unicameral model to a bicameral model.

    As to the Senate being ineffective, all I can say is that it’s a heck of a lot more effective (in, for example, committee work) than the House is. Which may not be saying much, of course.

    Take a good, long, hard look at the calibre of people who sit in the House before sacrificing our traditions in the name of democracy. There are a dozen outstanding Parliamentarians in the Senate; there are four or five in the House. In the House they’re in it for ego or for the pension; in the Senate, when they are effective, it’s from a sense of *duty*.

  78. I can not imagine a worse idea.

    Being unable to “reform” the Senate in one fell swoop, Harper has proposed electing effective Senators piece meal. Under the Conservative plan, new senators would be elected and would be limited to serving out an 8 year term. The problem is that people already in the senate would be free to serve until the age of 75. On the face of it the result of such nonsense would be either to transform an unelected political body with no power into a largely unelected political body with real political power, or commit Canadians to the farcical and expensive act of electing people to office who hold no real power.

    That is not the only way in which an “effective” senate is an affront to democracy.

    Some believe that the regions need more say and an “equal” “effective” and “elected” senate is the best way of achieving a balance between population centers in Eastern Canada and the rest of us. The problem is two fold. First such an argument rests on a false contrast; seats in the House of Commons are supposed to be assigned on basis of population, but in actuality that is not the case. For example, PEI has a population of 135,851 and has 4 MPs and people in the riding of Oak Ridges Markham has a population of 169, 642 obviously only has 1 MP. In other words, a vote in Oak Ridges Markham has less the 5th the value of a vote cast in Charlottetown. Assuming that no government would ever dare take away seats from a particular province or region, the government would have to add a ton more seats to make it have way equal. There is only one seat in the smallest 6 provinces that is over 90,000 and even then just barely. The population of Selkirk – Interlake is 90,807. By way of contrast, average number of people per BC riding is 116,000. If the government would commit to an MP for every 70,000 people, the average in the smallest 6, the new numbers would break down as follows. Ontario would gain 67 seats, Quebec 32, BC 23, Alberta 19, and Manitoba, Nova Scotia 2 each. All total, a 145 seats should be added, most of those in urban areas. Even then there would still be outliers. PEI, and the territories would still be over represented. The second reason is that comparing province to province is a perverse misnomer. It is comparing apples to oranges. The people living in Canada’s less populated provinces (hello again PEI) have a mechanism to assure that regional concerns are addressed; it is called province jurisdiction and provincial representation. By the very nature of living in a province with a small population, the 135,851 people in PEI have plenty of ways of addressing regional concerns that are not available to, for example, the 169, 642 residents of Oak Ridges Markham. A province is no more or less than the people that make up that province. Giving the 135,851 in PEI the power to determine everything under provincial jurisdiction, provincial representation and 4 MPs well all the while given 169, 642 Oak Ridges Markham one MP is bad enough as it is. Giving the 135,851 people in PEI the same number of “effective” senators, as per the American Triple E Senate model, as 12.1 million Ontarians is beyond stupid and grossly undemocratic.

    Needless to say, if push comes to shove, abolishing the senate is far more preferable to senate Reform. No province has a second chamber, most abolished them, and they are doing just fine. Furthermore there are numerous examples of unicameral nation states. New Zealand, Denmark, Finland, Israel, Sweden, Iceland, Liechtenstein, South Korea and Portugal are all unicameral.

  79. Has anyone considered that going through an election only appeals to a certain kind of person? Do we really want more of the same? Although bad-faith appointments of party hacks is no way to fill a Senate, not all Senators are hacks. If you are interested in the public sphere there is a high chance you will one day find yourself a member of a political party, this does not automatically taint you as a political operative. It is worth remembering that political parties are in fact based on differing ideas about how best to run a country. They are not ‘teams’ in a sporting event. Just because the media prefers shallow process stories and discussions of ‘campaign momentum’ doesn’t mean the depth isn’t there in our political parties. Perhaps more attention paid to the people who get appointed rather than the mechanics of Senate membership might be appropriate? I can think of a few Senators who were good-faith appointments of public-minded citizens. I don’t want to waste air on the nebulous notion of how ‘legitimate’ the path into the Senate. What kind of Canadian do we want doing the sober-second-thinking and how do we get them in?

  80. What a great debate. Thanks for this Paul. I’m with Kady on this issue. The Senate is fine the way it is…maybe with a term limit of some kind. It’s tough to have senate reform, when nobody can agree with the type of reform we should have. I guess we should ponder it a little more…like another 141 years or so.

    Anywho, it should be fun watching PM Harper as his government begins to wind down. What a pickle. Should he be a hypocrite and start appointing Conservatives like there’s no tomorrow? He can’t leave them vacant. The big bad Liberals are sure to fill them quickly.

    If he fills them with appointees, it’s hard to campaign for an elected senate. My guess is he appoints some people. A lot of people.

    Thanks again Paul.

  81. N.S. Sen. Frank Moore was interviewed by La Presse (see Joël-Denis Bellavance in today’s edition) on his bill that would force the PM to appoint Senate vacancies within six months. There are quotes from three experts who have recently appeared at a Sen. Committee studying the bill: Queen’s Ned Franks, Dalhousie’s Jennifer Smith and U of O’s Errol Mendes. Their conclusion: the Prime Minister’s negligence to fulfill his duty to appoint could be contrary to the Constitution.

    «Si les vacances ne sont pas comblées, on étouffera graduellement le Sénat non seulement par une négligence irresponsable des devoirs constitutionnels fondamentaux, mais par un comportement qui pourrait bien devenir contraire à la Constitution», croit Errol Mendes, professeur à la faculté de droit de l’Université d’Ottawa….

    I have red all the threads, and I agree with Kady, and particularly with Kenneth. I feel that we need a different type of individuals in the Upper Chamber than those in the HoC. We need people who have years of experience, in-depth knowledge and understanding of the working of the machinery of the state. These people are not necessarily the kind who win popularity contests. A better way to select them? In my opinion, a permanent committee of the Senate should be struck to continuously evaluate the needs of the Senate, i.e., we need more knowledgeable and competent persons in international law, or medicine, etc., to make recommendations to the Prime Minister who would then be able to make the most judicious appointments.

  82. We have enough charismatic ‘visionaries’ in the lower house. Charisma and ‘vision’ win elections, but they may not be the most important qualities someone making the laws of our country should have. These people tend to get wrapped up in the beauty or excitement of new ideas- which is exactly why we need our staid, uncharismatic senators. The qualities that serve a person well to be elected are not the same ones we need in the people who’s job is ‘sober second thought’

  83. I am blown away by the near unanimity here that democracy is something to be wary of, if not resisted. It’s not just that virtually everyone wants an appointed senate, but the nature of the arguments here suggest that most people would prefer an appointed council of elders to govern us than a House of Commons if given the chance. When did we lose faith in our collective ability to make educated decisions?
    I am positive that I have spent as much time unhappy with the results of elections in this country as anyone arguing against democracy here. And I am certain that the democratic reforms I champion would mean even more frustration for me. But it has never occured to me that everyone else was the problem, and that a perpetual body of people who think like me should be around to safeguard me from their stupidity.

  84. Ryan,

    I don’t believe anyone here is arguing against democracy in any way. Nobody is saying we should give the Senate more power than the House of Commons, nor is anyone suggesting we abolish the House of Commons.

    What the Senate in its current form provides is a form of checks and balances, while an elected Senate would be little more than an echo chamber for the House of Commons.

    I believe in having checks and balances, don’t you?

  85. “When did we lose faith in our collective ability to make educated decisions?”

    We didn’t.

    However, we are rapidly losing faith in our collective ability to trust elected officials to resist indulging their lust for the gutter.

    Given that new information, we are exercising our collective ability to challenge proponents of change to explain how said proposed changes will elevate political discourse and not simply lead to a proliferation of Soldiers in Canadian Cities and McGuinty Sex Change Programs.

  86. Wow. As hypocritical as this may seem, can we avoid needlessly attacking decisions made 30 years ago? Who is this ‘we’ you speak of? Personally, I am of the opinion that if we ‘can’t trust our officials to resist indulging their lust for the gutter’, we should throw them out. Or at least not re-elect them. And to me,it’s because democracy is so powerful, and such a great system, that we need safeguards, to make sure that our elected officials don’t lose sight of the bigger picture. I stress that it is human nature to want to win; and if our senators also had to win elections, they,too, might lose sight of the bigger picture.

  87. To throw our would be senators to the electorate, just sounds cruel. I’ve heard that the electorate is equivolent to a bunch of 11 year olds, overall. What kind of statesman or stateswoman would mount a campaign where electability depends on finances and how well you can demonize your opponents. If elected would they go to the Senate with a mandate from the electorate, because of the campaign? As a few posters have suggested, any good candidates would never go to the electorate, because of the nature of politics. What I like about appointed Senators, is that the sitting PM could, by relying on counsel from many sources over time, instal better people to the Senate. Even highly partisan appointees would be okay with me, because, as it appears to me, the upper house has a way of tempering its members. I think another poster said that the upper house is a reflection of where the electorate stands across time, it will swing from left to right, depending on where the voters take the lower house, but at a slower pulse.

  88. Not, by the way, that I’m necessarily against democratizing the senate.

    But seriously, there are so many other obvious perversions in our democratic institutions (e.g. the Bloc having infinity plus a million times as many seats as the Greens despite roughly comparable levels of support nationwide, or a vote from PEI being worth more than a vote from Calgary/Toronto/Vancouver) that merit examination, and yet here we are expending energy reforms that may (or may not) be nice but that won’t address any of these problems, directly or otherwise.

    And by the way, why is it elitist or anti-democratic to want a higher calibre of political dialogue?

  89. Ryan, there’s a difference between accepting democracy as the only stamp of legitimacy and making it your religion.

    And *obviously* there is something seriously wrong with the practical running of our democracy at present, whatever your diagnosis may be. Anyone who thinks otherwise is either incredibly cynical or 10 years old. The fact is obscured often enough by our smugness about democracy in the abstract. Reform the House first, I say.

  90. I don’t resist democracy, Ryan. In fact, I vote in federal, provincial, municipal and school board elections. I sign petitions. I participate in debates and public assemblies. I keep in touch occasionally with my MPs, MPPs, Senators and others. When I vote I give people the responsibility to make decisions on my behalf. One of those responsibilities I give them is the duty to appoint. Appointments by democratically-elected persons is not a diminishment of democracy but a normal expression of it. The Senators are democratically-appointed persons.

  91. Put the PM’s name on a ballot and I will gladly vote for senators. You do realize we don’t get to pick out PM just a party that then appoints them, similar to appointing a senator.

    Is our PM illegitimate too? I can agree with that.

    Strange all the focus is JUST on the senate when we have a lot of appointments and few elections for anything other than an MP. Seems obvious there is an ulterior motive than making it legitimate. Maybe the cons have a in and out scheme planned for those elections as well.

  92. David, the problem is that the Senate is an echo chamber when controlled by the party in power, which it usually is because the party in power appoints them all. Turnover in government is one of those times when it isn’t, which means it’s thwarting the will of the people’s elected representatives. Either way, it needs to change if not outright disappear.

    Andy, it isn’t elitist to want a higher calibre of debate. It is elitist to claim, as many here have directly and indirectly, that the electoral process can’t possibly produce a higher standard and that’s why an appointed legislative body is necessary to prevent the idiot masses from getting what they voted for. I agree with you on the need for other reforms also.

    I’m not here to defend the current state of public debate. But I will defend the idea that we have the responsibility to improve it, not shrug and cede it to a small group of unaccountable partisan appointments.

  93. “To throw our would be senators to the electorate, just sounds cruel. I’ve heard that the electorate is equivolent to a bunch of 11 year olds, overall. What kind of statesman or stateswoman would mount a campaign where electability depends on finances and how well you can demonize your opponents. If elected would they go to the Senate with a mandate from the electorate, because of the campaign? As a few posters have suggested, any good candidates would never go to the electorate, because of the nature of politics. What I like about appointed Senators, is that the sitting PM could, by relying on counsel from many sources over time, instal better people to the Senate.”

    The first two sentences of this is a more direct version of the argument I’ve heard from most of the pro-appointee crowd. It’s exactly what I’ve been thinking of when I ask when we lost our faith in each other.

    Also, the “we need good people outside of politics” argument that is so popular doesn’t square with the fact that how many Senators are people who have run for/held office before? I won’t count but I can name Art Eggleton, Hugh Segal, David Smith, Larry Campbell, and Michael Fortier off the top of my head. And there are easy ways to bring a talented person into government even if they are too frail to actually face the people they want to rule. Find them a safe seat! If you don’t have the stomach to be a Tory candidate in Red Deer or a Liberal in Toronto Centre you don’t belong in a legislature. Other than that, ask their advice, have them chair a panel that will present advice for elected, accountable decision makers to decide on. There are a lot of ways to involve people who don’t want to run without giving them power they are unaccountable for.

    And can we make up our minds on whether an elected Senate is bad because it would have a mandate to oppose the House, causing the dreaded legislative gridlock, or whether an appointed Senate is good because the Commons can’t be trusted and we need SOMEONE who can cause legislative gridlock?

  94. “And can we make up our minds on whether an elected Senate is bad because it would have a mandate to oppose the House, causing the dreaded legislative gridlock, or whether an appointed Senate is good because the Commons can’t be trusted and we need SOMEONE who can cause legislative gridlock?”

    When did an appointed Senate ever break the legislative gridlock?

    And, yes, clearly we would have gridlock in Parliament with an elected Senate.

    Heck, we have it already.

  95. It’s hard to say when I lost faith in the House of Commons. It was almost certainly during this parliament. Or was the question rhetorical, implying that one never can or should lose faith? I’m afraid optimism has been overtaken by events. This parliament has even seen the opposition parties passing legislation which the Government announces it has no intention of enforcing (eg. Kyoto). With that, accountable government ceased (temporarily, I hope) to exist. And no one really noticed, because no one really cares about the constitution. Of course there’s the daily embarrassment of MPs’ personal conduct (slurs, fake questions, non-answers, catcalls, bullshit), which I believe has never been this bad (though it’s been bad for a while). There’s the ongoing insult to cabinet government of overcentralisation of power in the PMO. Etc. etc. etc. May I say that it’s not very patriotic to *approve* of this situation?

  96. I think everyone so far would agree that an elected senate, in theory, would be worthwhile reform to our government. But the pro side seems to discount the practical consequences. Personally, I would say the burden of proof lies with the reformers to show that the particular reforms proposed will in practice improve our government.

    As it is, the Senate performs a *crucial* function of reviewing HoC-approved bills, and fixing blatant mistakes — significant errors in law, technical errors in language and English/French co-ordination, etc. Someone has to do this. Our elected HoC could, in theory, but doesn’t, in practice. I suspect an elected Senate won’t do so either. In fact, if the HoC was capable of sober second thought, the Senate wouldn’t be necessary. So who do the reformers expect to do this work?

    Basically, the reforms have to recognise that an elected senate is a completely different beast from the current appointed (or indirectly-elected, ie appointed by a person having the confidence of the HoC to do so) Senate, and explain to the rest of us how it would be better, *in practice*, and how the reform package will deal with the inevitable new shortcoming of the new system.

  97. Sheila Frazer at a Committee of the House a few years ago explained that when appearing in front of MPs she mainly spends her time explaining the processes of her department. However, when she appears in front of the Senators, that is when she is asked the tough questions on the contents and intricacies of the reports.

    Only Senators who have been reading governement budgets, reports, legislations year after year after year after year can develop that kind of knowledge and experience. They also have very valuable resources offered to them. Take for example the Accountability Act. I can’t recall if there some 40, maybe it was 50, drafting errors that were corrected by the Senate. Drafting errors that without the experience of Senators would have become law of the land. Drafting errors would certainly be profitable for lawyers but very costly to us as citizens.

  98. I won’t play the patriotism card if you don’t.

    We may yet someday look back on this period of Canadian political history and laugh. Less happily, we’ll likely also look back at the current Parliament as evidence that proportional representation reform, by itself, is no panacea.

    And, to be fair, the current state of affairs in the House doesn’t make Senate reform a better or worse idea than it was in 1993. It does, I would argue, make Senate Reform less urgent. And we have the luxury of asking, collectively, if this is necessarily the best way to go, and to expend our energies.

  99. Andy wins the steak knives! He had the 100th comment in this thread.

  100. Couldn’t agree more, Andy. Except that the people looking back and laughing will be the feisty, public-spirited generation of 2050, and we’ll be mouldering. Oh well, hopefully the 22nd century will belong to Canada.

  101. A few of the above commenters have alluded to what, in my opinion, this discussion should really be about; the process of proceeding to amend Canada’s constitution (qua make up of the country) in a piecemeal, unilateral fashion.

    Although choosing to be “advised” by electors in certain provinces may be legal, in that no one can stop the Prime Minister, it is not, in my opinion constitutional (qua convention, and acting in line with how the country is supposed to work). Not everything that technically slips through the constitutions written framework is the right thing to do.

    The well-mannered debate that has gone on above is exactly what Prime Minister Harper is refusing to engage in. He’s attempting to change the make up of the Senate through the back door. In the Patriation Reference the Supreme Court established that although Pierre Trudeau could patriate the constitution without obtaining the consent of the province, but that it would be contrary to constitutional convention to do so. Changing the Senate in this fashion, which will, as some have noted above, hurt certain provinces disproportionately (provinces that sign on to the elections format will be rewarded with representation, provinces who are opposed will not) is wrong.

    The reasonable disagreements above demonstrate that it will be difficult to agree, but that does not justify simply imposing the will of one level of government on the others.

  102. “I think everyone so far would agree that an elected senate, in theory, would be worthwhile reform to our government.”

    Not saying I can’t be but I’m not sold on it at all. Idealistic rhetoric and speculative causality aside, why should I be?

    I stopped believing public opinion was the path to the promised land when VHS beat Beta.

    Representitive Democracy may be the best we’ve come up with, but its an uncomfortable truth that democracy, unless as such narrowly defined, is NOT about counting noses. Life throws enough false gods at us as it is. No need to toss the ballot box onto the pile.

  103. In a utopia I would approve of senate reform. Indeed, in a utopia we wouldn’t need a senate at all. But we live in the real world, and, as such, human nature and public opinion must be taken into account. Senate reform looks lovely on paper- But the things that look best on paper are the ones sure to backfire in the real world.

  104. “But the things that look best on paper are the ones sure to backfire in the real world.”

    True, but best to be mindful this one’s not even on paper yet unless a handful of napkins can be called a plan.