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Monday, August 08, 2005

Beating up on the Senate, Again

Fine article by Norman Spector this morning on political appointments that gives me an opportunity to beat up an old hobby-horse again, our Senate. Part I here - where consummate Liberal Jason Cherniak even concedes in his comment that it should be either toothless or removed. This column is especially noteworthy given Spector's call for Conservatives to forget the Triple E and join the NDP in seeking to abolish the Senate. He's probably right.

Some excerpts, interspersed with commentary:
Fortunately, unlike the head of state, we have no need for the Senate. Acting as a brake on the House of Commons is no longer considered acceptable in a democracy. And its lack of legitimacy as an appointed body precludes the Senate from representing the regions.
Actually talked possible Senate reforms over beer this weekend [ah! more smashing pick-up line material -ed.] but kept coming back to a basic point: any proposed changes must be measured by how well they help a newly packaged Senate better achieve its ultimate purpose. What is that purpose? I agree wholeheartedly with Spector - I just don't see one. Its cost trumps any marginal usage. What's the point in keeping it around if it's to be toothless? In March I mused about the possibilities of an elected body, but wonder now if it is even worth the effort...
Ironically, the various reform proposals for the Red Chamber have become part of
the problem. Paying lip service to an elected senate allows some to accept the
kind of cushy appointment that most respectable people would otherwise be too
embarrassed to consider.

Ouch. Wonder how close Spector and Segal were in the Mulroney glory days... I'm filing this column away for the day Norman gets offered the post. Stranger things have happened.
Western Canadian conservatives should face reality: Thirty-five years of agitation have come to naught, and the odds of achieving a Triple-E senate are virtually nil. Those who are genuinely offended by the appointment process should unite forces with New Democrats and demand the immediate abolition of an institution that, with a few notable exceptions, is little more than a patronage slough.
No doubt the NDP has considerable aversion to joining forces with Conservatives on a host of issues. But some synergies do exist between those parties - especially in areas such as parliamentary reform - that the Liberals would not otherwise implement. Proportional Representation should be at the top of Layton's list as long as we are in minority territory, and the best chance to pass such a Bill down the road would be with CPC (not Liberal) support.

As for the near future, the Prime Minister really had an opportunity to do *something* different with so many vacancies to appoint. We are left with the entrenchment of a status quo - albeit with a willingness to appoint members to the Opposition caucus. Still, that failure of imagination has sadly set back any substantive changes to the Upper Chamber by a host of years. We can only hope the next person will take advantage when presented with such a chance for real "achievement".

4 Comments:

Blogger John Murney said...

Senate reform is desperately needed, that is for sure.
But, what is the answer? What is the alternative version of the Senate that we in Canada should adopt?

6:44 PM  
Blogger Mike McNair said...

The eternal question. And as with my own reform issue of choice (the monarchy) the problem always gets bogged down with the valid question...then what? Do enough people care that we fight for a 'then what'.

What are we proposing that Martin should have done instead of filling the Senate vacancies? Fill them with different people? Fair argument and I'm sure there could be all sorts of fascinating back and forth on who our all-time, most awesomest senator would be!!! ...not.

Or do we actually think that Martin should have called a first ministers meeting and opened up the fabled 'pandora's box' of the Constitution?

MacDuff raises an important issue. The Canada project is not yet complete and the longer we keep issues like the monarchy and the senate on the backburner, the more their inadequecy will diminish Canadians' affinity to their nation as a whole.

Unfortunately it seems that in Canada it is popular to do exactly that. Even more unfortunate is that without the premiers' consent there is a clear limit to how much imagination can be deployed.

7:55 AM  
Blogger James MacDuff said...

Ironically, I think Senate reform (and, when King Charles starts showing up on our pennies, a look at the monarchy) could be extremely popular if handled correctly.

As for what Martin should have done? I confess I do not know. But it just refers back to the point about arriving to the position of PM with the stated vision of tackling the democratic deficit. Not much to show for it thus far, I'm afraid.

Who will be the PM who voluntarily cedes some of the position's immense authority though? Unsure, but a fine legacy awaits him/her, I'd say.

9:18 AM  
Blogger Canadian Perasma said...

I agree..I think things should be reformed. Canadians need to remove as many of the tools the separtists use to vilify the country and the political processes. Plus we get the added bouns of potentially regaining our elector diaspora from Quebec and Alberta in the process.

2:10 PM  

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