Idea alert -

Idea alert


Michael Ignatieff proposes senate reform.

Ignatieff proposed a 12-year term limit on Senate positions and an arms-length committee tasked with vetting candidates. “I’d even go as far as to limit the prime minister’s prerogative to appoint senators. That is, I’d pass (appointments) through a public service appointment commission, so we scrub it and get the best possible appointees.”


Idea alert

  1. shorter jarrid &c: Why doesn't Ignatieff support the troops?

    • Well you're sorta off topic, but I suppose it's a valid question. Why does Ignatieff accuse our soldiers of war crimes, when it was in fact his party that sent our troops into combat? Does he believe he can score political points on the backs of our soldiers? Does he believe our troops should stand trial accused of war crimes? He also accused Israel of committing war crimes, is this a patern we can expect from him in the future?

      • Nobody's accused our soldiers of war crimes. Get your facts straight.

        There's a question, however, whether our government may have committed war crimes when it did not put a stop to unmonitored detainee transfers after credible allegations of those transfers leading to the detainees being tortured arose.

  2. Mr Ignatieff is just showing his Reform Party roots.
    Don't worry, there's no way Mr Harper can support this kind of partisan trough-talk

  3. A non-partisan commision?

    Give me a break. Like every other gov't panel it'll shift leftward. We'll get a routine mix of eltiist types with an even more extreme celebrity or two thrown in.

    • No no, the problem won't be partisan drift, but bureacratic bloat.

      "The bureaucracy is expanding to meets the needs of the expanding bureaucracy."

    • We'll get a routine mix of eltiist types with an even more extreme celebrity or two thrown in.

      That, curiously, sounds a lot like our current Senate.

  4. This is much closer to what I would support:

    -doesn't create gridlock by having two legislative houses fighting for primacy in terms of legitimacy.
    -is actually different than having a second room full of elected populist buffoons.
    -reinforces the 'sober second thought' principle, rather than defenestrating it entirely
    -doesn't require constitutional amendment to be fair or reasonable. Any kind of elected Senate would have massive regional imbalances which are constitutionally impossible to repair.

  5. "public service appointment commission"

    Don't we already have something like this? When Harper/Cons first won election in '06 didn't they form a commission to vet people being appointed to government jobs and Harper threw a strop when his appointee to head the new body was rejected by Parliament.

    And of course the Libs are proposing bureaucrats appoint Senators – we all know what kind of 'scrubbing' will occur.

    • The PMO has taken the money that was supposed to be used for the public appointments commission, and instead bakrolled four partisan hacks who operate out of the 2nd floor of the PMO to appoint other partisan hacks. They actually spent over a million on an office that doesnt really exist.

  6. We already have an arms-length committee,
    it's called the Canadian taxpayers.

    Elect it or reject it.
    CTV unscientific poll

    Panels to vet appointees 6%
    Elections by province 50%
    Abolishment 35%
    Leave as is 9%

    • Put me down for abolition.

    • In an ideal world, maybe, but what if the poll options had been:

      1. Relatively simple reform that can be passed and executed by Parliament.
      2. More complex and sweeping reforms that can be passed by Parliament but may end up being deemed unconstitutional and moot.
      3. Full blown constitutional reform requiring involvement from the provinces and sure to take years to negotiate, end up opening all kinds of aspects of the constitution we'd rather leave closed, and which will probably fail just like every other time we tried.

      Of course, maybe I'm just a pessimist. Maybe this time, things will be different.

      • Thanks LKO.
        Just like the actual issue of prorogation itself, context is everything.
        Polls have simply become another tool for manufacturing consent.

    • Sure wilson. Great idea.

      If we have an elected senate we can have 30 liberals and NDP from the Maritimes, 24 liberals (with some conservatives thrown in) from Ontario, 24 Bloc senators from Quebec, and 24 conservative senators from all 4 western provinces (with a few liberal and NDP thrown in).

      Aside from the fact the west will be horribly under-represented in this democratically "legitimate" upper house, it sounds good to me!

      Or did you think an elected senate would somehow return a majority of conservative senators??? Not likely.

      • These are all good points, Gayle.

      • I belive under that scenario the most horribly under-represented province would be Ontario.

        Hence, I'm an abolitionist.

  7. One idea: get the premiers to recommend them. The ties between federal and provincial parties are always very loose, so you wouldn't get partisan hacks; the premiers have a good deal of democratic legitimacy, so you'd avoid Runciman Syndrome; they'd want somebody to really represent their province and liase with the provincial government, so you'd get Senators who were ready for real as opposed to notional regional representation. Overall the average quality of Senator would go up, though you might miss out on the idiosyncratic types and policy all-stars you sometimes get nowadays. The big bonus would be that you wouldn't have to change the constitution even a little bit.

    • This is somewhat appealing, except that the premiers alreay have a fair amount of power constitutionally as compared to the federal government, and they don't always behave (okay they almost never behave) in the interest of the whole country. Would be as politicized as now,. I can see the Bloc Quebecois and the Wild Rosebuds suddenly taking a big interest in Senate appointments for instance.

      • and they don't always behave (okay they almost never behave) in the interest of the whole country –

        And that is a very valuable insight. Ottawa discusses issues of a national nature. MPs are elected to represent their local community and to reflect their ideas on how the country should be run at the national level. From what I have read about the Senate, their regional role was to use that broader perspective (in relation to the very local perspective of MPs) and ensure that the more populous regions weren't overwhelming or steamrolling the less populous regions. Otherwise, the bills they consider are overwhelmingly not provincial or regional in nature.

        If we inject a heavy provincial perpsective, if that is the most significant outcome, will we be adding anything of value to the federal parliament?

        • In the interest of playing devil's advocate: a provincial interest is significantly bigger than a (typical) riding interest, is it not? Would we not then be broadening the considerations of Senators, if they were nominated by the provinces in the first place?

          If we want Senators to have a truly national perspective when considering bills, I'd argue they need to be persons who put their nationhood first, rather than their provincial or regional interests.

          • As you can tell, I agree with you that I like the idea of a broader or at least different perspective or orientation instead of duplicating the House of Commons. However, I also tried to argue that the process Jack suggests might over emphasise that perspective. In the end, I think it is vital that the two federal houses look at the issues before them primarily from a national view.

            In other words, to think about how they can link us all, not divide us. I fear that provincial premiers' selections will be too strongly influenced by that view and it is a view that has, for example, frustrated senate reform among many other issues.

    • Why wouldn't provincial premiers nominate their own partisan hacks? Politics exists at the provincial level too. Also, you would have the odd situation of the federal government negotiating agreements with the provincial governments, then needing to get the implementing legislation passed by provincial appointees. What would that do to the balance of powers in our confederation? Harper should welcome it since it seems likely to create an ever more decentralized, looser union.

  8. Why is it we are always hearing bright ideas from a guy who cannot even get his own party in order?
    I'm tired of this fool getting so much air time for nothing. It's just noise.

    • Shameful isn't it how Harper yaps a lot about stuff like accountability but never actually moves on it. Such bright ideas that never see the light of day. Just noise like you say.

  9. Are we seeing a new Liberal strategy? Between this and the sorta-kinda-not-really limiting of prorogation powers a few weeks ago, it looks like the Liberals are systematically coopting the other parties' ideas, watering them down to the point of unpracticality, and spitting them back out. If you don't delve into policy details, it looks like the Liberals are proposing limiting the PM's power to prorogue, and it looks like they're proposing Senate reform, but they're just really trying to muddle the public debate – the average person will just see the headline, which is something like "competing proposals on Senate reform".

    • "It looks like the Liberals are systematically coopting the other parties' ideas, watering them down to the point of unpracticality (sic), and spitting them back out".

      Considering this is exactly what Prime Minister Chretien's gover… sorry, Prime Minister Harper's government (I always get those two confused these days) has been doing for years, perhaps they simply thought it was a winning strategy.

  10. As Mr. Wells has alluded to earlier, the subtle changes ( for the better ) in Canadian institutions under the Harper Gov`t continues. Now it appears the Harper influence has extended to the insides of the Liberal Party.

    There is no way a Liberal would have gone on record to change the method of appointing Liberal Senators by Liberal gov`ts if they had not felt the pressure from Harper that Senate reform is coming.

    But change is good. Mind you, the 12 year term and Senate appointments by a committee Iggy suggested is not as good as Harper`s 8 year terms and elections but it`s a start.

    • ( for the better )

      funny how you try to may your editorial comment look like it was also Well's position.

      it may impress your fellow trolls but causes bemusement for most readers of blogs and has zero effect in the real world….
      even the don-martins of the world are more subtle than that

      • I would never be able to guess what Well`s bias is on any subject, but by calling me a troll on a blog he contributes to, it appears you have him pegged as an Iggy supporter.

        Also, how about you guys limit your responses to a substantial critique or praise of the subject ( Iggy`s proposal on Senate reform ) rather then the juvenile name-calling route.

        • no, I am calling you a troll cause of the comments you make and (for example here) the little misrepresentation you tried to pull off
          – not your misguided (imho) ideology

    • To be honest I rather they were staying there a little longer than 12. These guys get a full pension so why make them stay just 8 years ? 8 years seems a little short seeing they will get a lifetimes pension from it. What a bloody waste. Make them work for the pension or abolish the senate.The senate will become a revolving door handing out pension left and or right every 8 years. Maybe thats what Harper wants. A place to send cronies to get the ultimate reward, every 8 years. Imagine how many cronies you can pay off with tax payer paid pension every 8 years. This is worse than what we have now cost wise.

  11. This total hypocrisy of the Liberals and their leader.for years they have had control of the senate and fought tooth and nail against changes.The inequity of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick with 10 senators each and B.C. and Alberta with six each .when have we ever heard a Liberal point out the unfairness and ask for change

    • The constitution…you know that elephant in the room.

  12. Term Limits….good idea…12 versus 8, I guess he needed a difference, why not 10, why not 7…it doesnt really matter other than there is a limit

    A panel to vet….dumb, ridiculous…who appoints the councul, what are there term limits, how accountable are they. This is actually a less democratic idea because who do you hold accountable for the appointment? The PM appoints, the PM wears it. You dont like it, get it to either an elected senate or appointed by the Provincial Premiers (not a good idea either)

    • Why is it dumb? He suggested a committee initially. Presumably he means a parliamentary one, which is hardly unaccountable. didn't Harper suggest a public service appointments board, which the opposition blocked because they regarded the candidate to run it as unexceptible. Maybe they were wrong? I have n idea if Harper's candidate was too partisan a choice or not.

      • Because it is unaccountable. Who do you punish for a bad appointemnt? Fix the problem, this suggestion and others fixes only a symptom…it wont make the body any more legitimate in reality…it is more elite futzing about, just whose friends get to be appointed.

        As I said, who chooses the board, even if they are MP's who cares someone has to put them on the board. I couldnt care less if Harper proposed a similar idea its dumb because it is unaccountable. If you are going to fix it, fix it.


        1) Direct election
        2) Appointed by lists for each party based on PR 1 for each 10% the party gets. With each party appointing based on published lists.

        But there are a million proposals. The principle that must be there, which is why I prefer direct election, is that there is accountability to the electorate. In absence of that, all other proposals make no sense.

        • Your other ideas may be workable – although i dispute that mps are not accountable. As to an elected senate, on balance i oppose it. We don't need another house competing with the Hoc. It is a great pity we cannot put aside partisanship in this country to appoint qualified engaged Canadians of whatever political stripe to the upper chamber – in fact why not ban political parties in the senate?

          • The problem with MP's voting on Seante appointments are it is fraiught with conflict of interest, let alone the idea that the Bloc would be the swing vote on ANY appointment to the senate or the Supreme Court.

            As well, you end up with diffuse responsibility. Direct election or appointment based on proportion of vote in the last election. Comittees just push accountability to the people further away

        • I disagree that an election imposes accountability on legislators.

          What allows voters to hold legislators accountable is continued elections. You can't hold someone accountable in one election, where voters hold them to account is during subsequent elections.

          So in that regard, I think that both to say either Harper or Ignatieff's Senate reform proposals bring accountability to Senators, I'm not necessarily sure that's the case.

          If you want to truly hold elected Senators to account, they have to be subject to re-election.

          (Whether or not an elected and legitimate Senate in our constitutional framework is a good thing, that's a whole other question)

  13. Have a lottery where names from the Order of Canada list are submitted and drawn… You'd have retired scientists, rock stars, painters and community activists getting to guard our parliamentarian pursuits. I'd also submit that the salary of a senator would be halved, but their expenses would be increased to ensure that they do get around the country, meet citizens and engage with others.

  14. It's entirely possible that part of Harper's strategy is to peeve us all off with these Senate appointments to the point where we'll okay anything he wants to do to reform it.

  15. I thought the old, long-held postion of the LPC on Senate reform was more defensible, and suited the Party well–roughly it was that:

    "Senate reform can't be done in a piecemeal fashion, there has to be comprehensive reform … yadda yadda about changing the distribution of seats …yadda yadda about consulting the Premiers … yadda yadda about opening the Constitution".

    Iggy's proposals are a drastic departure from all that. They seem to be done on the back of a napkin, without much consulting from the caucus, and certainly not the grassroots LIberals. But hey, the new improved, decisive, policywonk Iggy is now in charge, so lets marvel at his leadership, and see how things unfold.

    • Sure, but the difference is what he is proposing can be done without a constitutional amendment. What Harper is proposing cannot.

  16. I've been thinking too, and to me this is starting to get a bit like banning cell phones while driving. Next we'll need a law banning the use of hair dryers while driving and one for reading detective novels.

    Why limit the prime minister's potential actions, starting with proroguing and moving on to Senate appointments, when the real problem is the imbalance between the prime minister and the assembly? Let's work to restore the oversight of parliament and the collective power of MP's vs. partisans in the PMO rather than a bunch of petty laws that weaken the government overall?

    • Hear hear. The road to Senate reform leads through the House.

      • One hopes that Iggy will make this part of a larger demo. ref. package.

  17. I liked it better when Iggy's position about creating new rules was "if we had a responsible PM, we wouldn't need new rules".

    My issues with the Senate stem almost entirely from the power of the PM to appoint whomever he wants to the federal body. If someone could honestly tell me, with a straight face, that these folks could put aside partisan bents, and were the best and brightest that our country had to offer, who worked hard, and who could reasonably serve as the institutional memory of our system of government, I'd have no compunction whatsoever to elect or limit the terms of Senators.

    • A lack of term limits is what allows the people who are chosen to be senators get to that point.

      Term limits of 12 years means we'll be shorting the generational memory of our government. Considering the almost ADD-like mindset of the house of commons, I still can't understand why on earth we want the senate to approach that standard.

      Yeah, some senators aren't that great. Always happens.. any company, any organization, is going to get it's share of lousy people involved. What differentiates great companies from the rest is that the great companies get rid of the underperformers.

      So no, we don't need term limits, we don't need fancy appointment procedures or anything else.

      All we need is one thing, the ability for citizens to fire a senator.

      So as a proposal, make every federal election a reverse election for senators. Each election, the senators are listed, Canadians get to choose which one they want gone. If any of them receive over 50% of the vote, they're out. PM has to appoint a new one.

      • Thwim, the idea of a recall is a good one. Kudos.

  18. Glorioski! Gwyn Morgan again!

    C'mon Mikey, even Allan MacEachen wanted to limit Senate appointments to nine years. And he knew a helluv'a lot more about patronage than you ever will.

  19. It strikes me that a great use for proportional representation would be to fill the senate – a requirement that the PM fill any available seat based on the overall vote split within the province in question starting with the least represented party first until representation is balanced against same.

  20. Finally Iggy has been allowed to be the ideas guy. We need good ideas in this country and badly. It's the best way to ensure success for the future.

  21. There are, I believe, Senate membership rules in the Constitution on minimum age & maximum age (as well as owning property in the province you purport to represent, maybe one or two others). Implied in those age limits is, obviously, a maximum term. Reducing that term by Parliamentary whim would likely not pass muster.

  22. Constitution of Canada:

    23. The Qualifications of a Senator shall be as follows:
    (1) He shall be of the full age of Thirty Years:
    (2) He shall be either a natural-born Subject of the Queen, or a Subject of the Queen naturalized by an Act of the Parliament of Great Britain, or of the Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, or of the Legislature of One of the Provinces of Upper Canada, Lower Canada, Canada, Nova Scotia, or New Brunswick, before the Union, or of the Parliament of Canada after the Union:
    (3) He shall be legally or equitably seised as of Freehold for his own Use and Benefit of Lands or Tenements held in Free and Common Socage, or seised or possessed for his own Use and Benefit of Lands or Tenements held in Franc-alleu or in Roture, within the Province for which he is appointed, of the Value of Four thousand Dollars, over and above all Rents, Dues, Debts, Charges, Mortgages, and Incumbrances due or payable out of or charged on or affecting the same:
    (4) His Real and Personal Property shall be together worth Four thousand Dollars over and above his Debts and Liabilities:
    (5) He shall be resident in the Province for which he is appointed:
    (6) In the Case of Quebec he shall have his Real Property Qualification in the Electoral Division for which he is appointed, or shall be resident in that Division.


    Tenure of Place in Senate

    29. (1) Subject to subsection (2), a Senator shall, subject to the provisions of this Act, hold his place in the Senate for life.

    Retirement upon attaining age of seventy-five years
    (2) A Senator who is summoned to the Senate after the coming into force of this subsection shall, subject to this Act, hold his place in the Senate until he attains the age of seventy-five years

  23. Constitution of Canada:

    Amendment by general procedure

    42. (1) An amendment to the Constitution of Canada in relation to the following matters may be made only in accordance with subsection 38(1):
    (a) the principle of proportionate representation of the provinces in the House of Commons prescribed by the Constitution of Canada;
    (b) the powers of the Senate and the method of selecting Senators;
    (c) the number of members by which a province is entitled to be represented in the Senate and the residence qualifications of Senators;

    (d) subject to paragraph 41(d), the Supreme Court of Canada;
    (e) the extension of existing provinces into the territories; and
    (f) notwithstanding any other law or practice, the establishment of new provinces.

    MYL sez: That brings us back up to 38(1)…

    38. (1) An amendment to the Constitution of Canada may be made by proclamation issued by the Governor General under the Great Seal of Canada where so authorized by
    (a) resolutions of the Senate and House of Commons; and
    (b) resolutions of the legislative assemblies of at least two-thirds of the provinces that have, in the aggregate, according to the then latest general census, at least fifty per cent of the population of all the provinces.

    MYL sez: I messed up above; it's seven provinces holding half the population, not 2/3. Oops. Sorry.

  24. And number 47 is an interesting little add-on:

    Amendments without Senate resolution

    47. (1) An amendment to the Constitution of Canada made by proclamation under section 38, 41, 42 or 43 may be made without a resolution of the Senate authorizing the issue of the proclamation if, within one hundred and eighty days after the adoption by the House of Commons of a resolution authorizing its issue, the Senate has not adopted such a resolution and if, at any time after the expiration of that period, the House of Commons again adopts the resolution.

    • Ha! Very interesting, MYL, and very relevant! Many thanks for looking it up.

      • I am your faithful humble servant.

  25. Then the road winds through seven provinces representing two-thirds of the population. Or is it all ten?

    • Wouldn't that depend on the scale of reform contemplated, either for the Senate or for the House?

      Dammit, where's my copy of the BNA Act . . .

      • I don't recall that the DEGREE of change made the difference. I thought it was more like "Articles 1, 3-9, 14, 17-21" follow one amending formula, and others follow the other.

        • But the written constitution hardly touches on the mechanics of selecting either MP's or Senators or defining, for example, how long they serve. I don't think you need a big constitutional conference to change the unwritten constitution, do you?

  26. Ignatieff should work on linking the number of years an MP is allowed to collect MP pension payments & Cadillac retire health benefits based on the number of years they actually paid Canadian taxes while working outside of Canada for 30 years plus.