Jackie Yaffa / The Silhouette
It’s time for someone to fix the Senate. The public knows it, and the Prime Minister himself knows it. So why hasn’t it been done yet?
The idea of Senate reform is not new, and Canada finally has a prime minister willing to do something about the problem. However, what Stephen Harper plans to do is not to fix the problem, but to add changes that further his own agenda.
During the Mike Duffy and Patrick Brazeau controversies, the public – not the Prime Minister himself – has pinpointed the problem. The problem is the senators, not the Senate.
The Senate is an inherently logical institution. The Chamber of Sober Second Thought exists to curb the power of the sitting government. The prime minister, the person who’s supposed to make our country’s decisions, picks the senators. The senators themselves must be well-established citizens who are at least 30 years of age and may serve until they reach age 75. The basic premise of the Senate is both logical and beneficial for the country.
The problem occurs when the prime minister is incapable of choosing competent senators. And no, it is not only Stephen Harper who can’t seem to handle this task.
Prime ministers don’t seem to like the idea of limitations on the government’s power. To them, the Senate is just another democratic roadblock on the way to absolute control of Canadian policy.
So what did the prime ministers do? They took advantage of an obvious loophole and changed the Senate from the Chamber of Sober Second Thought to the upper house of Partisan Politics.
The Conservatives currently hold a majority in the Senate and in Parliament. This means that the Tories can pass almost any policy they desire. Although some may argue that this is not true for reasons such as a lack of party discipline in the Senate, it is a statement that stands true in practice. How else would Canada end up with senators like Duffy and Brazeau – both Conservative, both appointed under the recommendation of Stephen Harper?
So what does Harper plan for reform? Well, he came up with the most beneficial solution of course – or at least the most beneficial for himself. He proposes to limit the term that Senators are allowed to serve, allowing himself even more chances to appoint members to the Senate.
There are many theories about how to improve the Senate (with Harper’s being the worst of them all). Some people call for legitimate provincial representation, similar to the Upper House in the United States. This would limit the immense power of Quebec and Ontario. However, it wouldn’t promise the competency of senators.
A better suggestion is the Triple E Model for the senate: Equal, Effective and Elected. This model incorporates equal provincial representation, but more importantly it gives the electorate a vote towards senate appointments. Alberta currently elects nominees for appointment to the Senate. Unfortunately, the vote does not guarantee that the winner of the election is appointed to the Senate. The only way this could happen would be if the constitution were to be changed. However, Harper has already announced that he will not change the constitution in the name of Senate reform, despite his advocacy for improving the Senate.
Getting appointed to the Senate is like winning the Cash for Life Lottery. A Senator’s immense salary and pension, like it or not, come from tax dollars. One might expect that a Canadian government, specifically a Conservative government like Harper’s, would be more careful about how they use (or abuse) the taxpayers’ money.
It’s not time for Senate reform, it’s time for a change in senators.