Former prime minister Brian Mulroney took his turn Wednesday night to criticize the Senate, calling it dysfunctional and badly in need of reform — but he also offered solutions.
Mulroney is one of many present and past politicians to call for changes to the upper house of Parliament in light of the ongoing Senate expense scandal.
“We all know the Senate is badly in need of reform,” Mulroney said in a speech to the Quebec branch of the Canadian Bar Association on Wednesday night in Montreal. “It has become a dysfunctional chamber and has fallen in disrepute.”
The auditor general is set to release a report on the expenses of all Canada’s senators after revelations several of them made inappropriate claims for travel and other expenses.
One of those Senators is Mike Duffy, who was suspended pending the result of his trial, which is ongoing. He has pleaded not guilty to 31 charges of fraud, breach of trust and bribery.
Mulroney said he had two solutions to reform the Senate that would not need a constitutional amendment.
First, Parliament should create a commission consisting of “two prominent Canadians” such as a former auditor general and a former member of the Supreme Court, and give them six months to come up with a “code of conduct for the Senate.”
The code would include “clear, strict rules” on issues such as residency requirements and the allowable expenses that can be charged to taxpayers.
Mulroney added the prime minister should refrain from making any appointments to the Senate until after the code goes into effect.
Second, the prime minister should only be able to name senators from “ranked lists provided by the provinces.”
This measure would “diminish the centralization of power in the Prime Minister’s Office,” Mulroney said.
He added the ranked lists would also limit the “process of packing the Senate by the party in power,” referencing critics who charge that senators are sometimes chosen based on their party loyalty and fundraising ability rather than for their legislative acumen.
Mulroney’s speech wasn’t all about politics, though.
The former PM, who led the country between 1984 and 1993, spent the first ten minutes of his speech making self-deprecating jokes to the crowd of Canada’s elite, which included the chief justice of the Supreme Court, Beverley McLachlin.
He also discussed how Canada has a “seemingly endless process of environmental reviews” for oil and gas pipelines and other energy projects.
Mulroney said the country needs to address climate change but also requires a “strong national commitment” to bringing its natural resources to market “or else they’ll stay dead in the ground.”