The Commons: What if we all just refused to be appointed to the Senate? - Macleans.ca

The Commons: What if we all just refused to be appointed to the Senate?

Somewhere a mariachi band plays a plaintive tune

by

And so, inevitably, we reach the point in our grand democratic experiment at which the deputy leader of the government in the Senate feels compelled to take to Twitter to clarify that another senator is no longer in a romantic relationship with an employee—this much being an issue that had come to the fore shortly after questions were asked about the senator’s decision to claim housing expenses despite no longer living in the Sherbrooke condo where his estranged wife currently resides. All of which became an issue because Mike Duffy’s residency was found to be something of an existential riddle.

The senator now in question, Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu, would seem to have both an impressive resume and a heartfelt cause, but here we apparently are.

Meanwhile, in no-less-silly but potentially more consequential news, the Senate is still thinking seriously about the possibility of challenging the Parliamentary Budget Officer’s actions and authority. Which would not only put senators in the odd position of questioning someone else’s mandate, but might also raise questions about the separation of powers between the legislative and judicial branches.

The Senate is best which is noticed least. It is most easily appreciated when it is merely being ponderous and double-checking bills and otherwise only existing. Presumably it will eventually get back to being so unremarkable. If only because it seems likely to be here for awhile yet.

“Mr. Speaker, why will the Conservatives, the direct descendants of Preston Manning’s Reform Party, not finally agree to actually do something about the Senate?” Thomas Mulcair wondered aloud this afternoon, smiling a bit. “They are in the eighth year in power yet their moribund, weak-kneed legislation on reform has not even been called in over a year. Meanwhile, the avarice and sense of entitlement of their Conservative bagmen and party hacks has never been more obvious for all to see.”

Somewhere a mariachi band plays a plaintive tune.

“Why not start the process of abolition now by voting for our motion?” the NDP leader begged. “What excuse do the Conservatives have now for defending that vestige of the past?”

Unsurprisingly, the Prime Minister did not stand here to announce himself convinced of the NDP’s position.

“Mr. Speaker, this government has made very clear that we favour reforming the Senate, including having elected senators,” Mr. Harper explained. “That is something I have named whenever I have had the opportunity.”

Except, of course, that the Prime Minister can’t quite bring himself to move forward with the legislation that is supposed to advance his preferred reforms.

“It is interesting to see that the NDP leader’s position is that the provinces should abolish the Senate,” the Prime Minister continued, “except he knows full well the provinces are not going to abolish the Senate.”

Except, of course, that the provinces don’t all agree with the Prime Minister’s reforms either.

“I do not know why he would not be honest with the Canadian people,” Mr. Harper ventured. “If the Senate is going to exist, which it is, why would he not take the position of the NDP Premier of Manitoba who said, ‘If there is going to be a Senate of Canada, I agree that future senators should be chosen through an election process.’ ”

“If! If! If!” the New Democrats happily jeered.

“Mr. Speaker, that is if there is going to be a Senate,” Mr. Mulcair shot back.

The New Democrats applauded.

“For 50 years we have said it is a scandal in a modern democracy to have unelected people sitting in appeal of the decisions of the elected people of the House of Commons,” Mr. Mulcair clarified, presumably for the benefit of those New Democrat MPs whose memories can’t possibly reach back that far. “In a democracy, it is a shame that a band of unelected officials can overturn the decisions of elected officials. Will the Prime Minister have the decency to admit that the real reason he did not join us to begin the process of abolishing the Senate is that, contrary to everything he always claimed, he likes to reward his friends?”

The Prime Minister stood and appealed to the precedent of rubber v. glue and the principle that whatever you say, bounces off of me and sticks to you.

“Once again, the leader of the NDP knows full well the provinces are not going to abolish the Senate. They are on the record on that,” Mr. Harper reported, now chopping his right hand in the official opposition’s direction. “He knows the Senate will exist, so why will he not agree to elected senators? It is because we know, as the New Democrats tried in ’08-’09, they want to name their own senators.”

It was actually precisely that possibility—that a Liberal-NDP coalition might appoint senators—that moved Mr. Harper to appoint his own senators.

Mr. Mulcair seemed to find reason in the Prime Minister’s response to celebrate.

“Mr. Speaker,” he quipped, “this row is very thankful for the solicitude of the Prime Minister when he admits that the NDP will form the next government.”

The New Democrats stood to cheer.

It is the NDP leader’s insistence that, as this future prime minister, he would not appoint senators. Fair enough. But then if abolishing the chamber should prove difficult or if a Conservative-dominated Senate should prove willing to obstruct an NDP government’s initiatives, Mr. Mulcair might find himself having to say the sorts of things Mr. Harper found himself saying in October 2008. At best, we would seem to have to accept that the Senate will exist for a few years yet.

Alternatively, this spasm of silliness might make it so that a seat in the Senate simply isn’t worth the luxury of a housing allowance. Perhaps the most conceivable solution is something like a nationwide refusal to accept appointment.