Liberal vs. Conservative in the Senate: Just like Survivor — sort of

Time for the Senate to fight back — Scott Feschuk has some ideas

Abolish the Senate? Ingrates!

Photo illustration by Taylor Shute

The whole Mike Duffy thing has brought to light a shocking truth. People of Canada, there’s a second house of Parliament.

Apparently it’s called the Senate and all along it’s been right down the hall from the House of Commons. Mostly there are old people in there every afternoon—so naturally, many of us assumed it was a Swiss Chalet or possibly a matinee screening of that movie where Meryl Streep forces Tommy Lee Jones to go to sex counselling. But no: legislative body the whole time!

Having existed for more than a century, the Senate has produced a number of memorable achievements, such as having existed for more than a century. Also, there was one day that a plucky young upstart openly defied the two-nap minimum. He was subjected to a thorough harrumphing.

Being a senator sounds like a pretty sweet gig. You get an office, a staff and an annual salary of $132,000. You are also entitled to collect up to $22,000 a year in living expenses if a) your primary residence is more than 100 km from Parliament Hill, or b) you feel like it.

Are there any downsides? Not a ton. Sure, you become: a drain on the federal treasury; an object of national mockery, stereotype and derision; and a feckless member of a legislative chamber that Liberal and Conservative prime ministers alike have sullied and undermined over decades by treating it as a repository for cronies, bagmen and talentless, self-promoting partisans.

But on the other hand: Taco Tuesdays!

Alas, now that Canadians have been made aware of the existence of the Senate, a lot of them want to abolish it—simply because it’s a wasteful appendage that costs hundreds of millions of dollars a year and provides no tangible or intangible benefits to any human.

The time has come for the Senate to fight back. The time has come for the chamber’s most highly regarded and least arrested members to come forward and convince Canadians of the fundamental importance of what they do.

But since that’s impossible, instead, here are five ways for senators to make their chamber just interesting enough that we’ll continue to pay for it anyway.

1. Bring in the cameras. The deliberations of the House of Commons are televised—but the same isn’t true of the Senate. It’s time for the upper chamber to enter the 20th century (by permitting TV cameras) and then also enter the 21st century (by having those cameras film a reality show). Liberal vs. Conservative: it’ll be just like Survivor, but with more political machinations and body fat. Like any of you could resist the temptation of seeing Hugh Segal in a Speedo.

2. Forced honesty. Senators are appointed to represent their home provinces, which leads to a lot of yammering in the chamber about “the great province of Saskatchewan” and “the many wonders of New Brunswick” and so forth. A lie detector will help keep the hyperbole entertainingly in check. “Mr. Speaker, as a proud representative of the seasonably tolerable province of Prince Edward Island . . . ”

3. Put on a big talent show to save their place of work from being closed. Worked for the Muppets.

4. Ask and receive. Did you know the Senate has its own question period? You will after the rules are changed to: “Ask a question, drink a shot.” Nothing wins people over quite like displays of public drunkenness. Just ask the Irish or the Hasselhoff.

5. Life lessons. A closer look at the Senate would afford young Canadians a better understanding of how the world really works, and impart a number of crucial lessons too mercenary for parents to teach. For instance, no institution is better suited to demonstrate the life-changing benefits of ass-kissing—and the transactional truth that if you suck up to the right person, you’re likely to get ahead in life. Politics is a “you scratch my back, I’ll oblige the taxpayers of Canada to scratch yours for the next 25 years” kind of world. Doubters are encouraged to take the informative walking tour of Mike Duffy.

The bottom line is that even though our senators are beleaguered, they have the opportunity to be viewed by Canadians with a more sympathetic eye—if only they can draw attention away from every aspect of their job, everything they do and all that their institution has come to represent.

Follow Scott Feschuk on Twitter @scottfeschuk