An excellent non-partisan, investigative look at the Canadian Government since 2006 under PM Harper is to be found in Michael Harris’ Party of One (2014, Viking). Harris may not be a household name like Peter Mansbridge, but his works include Unholy Orders, which revealed the systematic sexual abuse of children within Canada’s Catholic Church. Moving back to the topic at hand however, this was a well resourced, thought provoking look that brought to mind an issue that has been on the minds of Canadians since at least re-repatriation of the Constitution in 1982.
The Senate. The upper chamber of sober second thought. In the British system it is the House of Lords. Under our Constitution Senators are appointed for life (mandatory retirement at age 75 years old), and by the Government. It was never supposed to be a highly partisan institution, but because it was unelected was supposed to be able to give unbiased feed back on laws and policies to make life better for Canadians.
In practice however it became highly partisan as PM’s would use it to make political appointment’s under their party’s banner. Even taking it as far as making these Senators members of the party caucus so as to be able to “whip” their vote. PM Paul Martin with his last round of appointments tried to break this political appointment by naming senators to the Conservative, Liberal and NDP ranks (the NDP senator sits as an independent as the NDP does not hold to the senate, more on that later).
Now let’s be transparent, to fully renew and restructure the senate would take constitutional amendments. Any Canadians witha long memory remember PM Mulroney’s failed and divisive attempts with the Meech Lake and Charlottetown Accords (if not go to your local public library and read up, it is quite a unique piece of political history in attempting to get Quebec’s signature on the 1982 Constitution Act, and as to why it is not there, I refer you to dive in on that account as well).
But this brought forward ideas from all walks of life around the upper room, the most catchy came out of the Reform Party, which was the Triple E Senate: Equal, Elected and Effective. For the Senate is not equal representation from each province, for it is used to balance power from the representation by population formula, that allows for more seats to be allotted to different provinces within the Senate. Essentially under Triple E, the first step is each province has the same amount of seats, all senators would be elected and thus held accountable and removing the ability of political partisanship from the Prime Minister’s Office.
There are also other issues it could create, but that is up to you reader, and your community to discuss. Since the idea was floated, part of every Alberta Provincial Election has held a ballot for the Canadian Senate where usually Conservatives run and the winners names are put forward to the PM for appointment when an Alberta seat opens up. PM Harper is the first Prime Minister to acknowledge this would be his preferred method of senate reform, again though without the constitution being reopened it is not binding.
Third Party Leader, Justin Trudeau (Liberal Party of Canada) in the House of Commons took a drastic step to move forward with Senate Reform. Trudeau expelled all senators from the Party Caucus essentially making them independent of the party structure and not allowing them to be “whippable” by the party structure. Since the ex-Liberal Senators have come to their own cooperative agreement, but it was a healthy step that provided separation of the levels for better laws, as of now the Conservative Senators are still within the party caucus on Parliament Hill and answerable to their leader, Stephen Harper.
What created this new wave of senate reform talks? Simply the senate scandal with PM Harper’s appointments from everything from fraud to white collar crime to drug/abuse charges, and one Liberal Senator wrapped in fraud charges. Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin, Patrick Brazeau and Marc Harb have left a fowl taste in the average Canadians mouths and revealed the largess of this institution.
Now, what does Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition the New Democratic Party, and their Leader Thomas Mulcair believe should be taken as action? Simple, their stance harkens back to when the New Democratic Party was founded as the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation in 1933 (and the Labour party movements before), that the Senate should simply be abolished.
Before their is outcry of losing this institution, remember each provincial legislature/parliament/national assembly is also supposed to have a “Senate” that they have abolished with no ill-wind to the function of government so it is a legitimate solution.
As we move towards our vote in 2015, with this issue, ask your local candidate their thoughts, talk with your neighbours and friends. Let us raise the level of dialogue from the “attack ad” and the “response ad” to the… “This is our nation, our dream of a Just Society, and as such we are part of the conversation and for the Senate I/We believe…will you as our representative stand with us?”