Senate reform

The Globe & Mail has an interesting story today on Harper’s plans to try and get senate reform back on the docket.  Apparently, Atl. Canadians are outraged.  Premier Dexter will fight the good fight.

In Atlantic Canada, where the provinces enjoy clout in the Senate disproportionate to their population, a leading political scientist warned against “imposed” changes.

I can’t believe that anyone in Atlantic Canada thinks the current Senate with our ‘clout’ has somehow been good for this region.  There is an inverse relationship between ‘clout’ in the Senate and economic performance since Confederation.  The only thing that defenders could argue is that it would have been worse without the Senate.  Cold comfort.  What are we fighting to defend?

Instead of whining, maybe some sober thought from Atlantic Canada should be put into what the Senate should look like.

I prefer a U.S. style Senate where each state gets two senators and that chamber acts as a counterbalance to the House.  If you want to hold a large, diverse country together over generations you need, IMO, some structure at the federal level to ensure that certain regions can’t act as bullies. 

I realize there are problems with the U.S. model as well and I haven’t done enough research to be set in my view on this but I am convinced that the current model has not worked for Atlantic Canada and there were warnings that it wouldn’t from the start. 

If the next 140 years of Canada plays out like the last 140, Atlantic Canada is destined to become an outpost – servicing what’s left of the natural resources.  If you don’t believe me just take the population trending since Confederation and extend it out 140 years.  Then overlay the increasing dependence of the region (less NL) on federal transfers.  Then factor in that until now the majority of decision makers and influencers in Ottawa had some affinity to Atl. Canada (either they or their parents were from here or some other connect).  The next wave of leaders up there will have never even been to Atl. Canada.   The millions of immigrants that have settled in Canada over the past 20-30 years Montreal and further west have never been here and have no intention of ever coming.

Maybe it’s time to rethink the Senate after all.

11 thoughts on “Senate reform

  1. I’m not surprised that you would want an American system. But I think it would be wiser to look at it in more detail before making such a recommendation.

    If we adopted an American system, each province would get two seats. This might appear good for New Brunswick, but you can be very certain Ontario would not be happy to have its representation equal that of Prince Edward Island.

    OK, you may say, lets change the numbers a bit, to continue to emphasize regional diversity, but to at least recognize in part the much greater populations of some parts of the country. Fine! But that’s what we have now!

    The major issue, then, isn’t the composition of the Senate, but rather, the question of whether it should be elected. But this isn’t an issue that has had anything to do with whether Atlantic Canada has been prosperous.

    (p.s. if we really want to control our own immigration, we can – just as Quebec does.)

  2. This is a red herring from the PM to try to get people to stop talking about their complicity in torture and closing down parliament.

    The big mistake here is assuming that Senators represent ‘provinces’. That’s just crazy. How is that even possible? But imagine have two senators for 500,000 people in PEI and two senators for 10 million ontarians-yeah, THAT will fly.

    Senators are chosen mainly by party affiliation, if anything they represent a party, not a province or region. Just having an elected Senate would be a step up, or again, in Switzerland they have NO Senate because the PEOPLE act as a Senate. And if you think Switzerland is anarchic with people making decisions without “sober second thought” then you don’t know much about Switzerland.

    Senate reform is one of those topics that pops up as an armchair distraction from real problems. There is little evidence that ANY different Senate make up would have any economic effect whatsoever. About the only real use I’ve seen for the Senate as been the occasion public committee. They were instrumental in keeping BST out of Canada’s milk supply system, unfortunately, they couldn’t save the jobs of the whistleblowers. IF the Senate ever really acted like an opposition then that would be one thing, but I read a few books on the Senate years ago and the play on the phrase “thankless tasks” which was used was “taskless thanks” and “a good job if you can get it”. Nobody took Parliament seriously back over a hundred years ago when leaders were hand picked, and certainly nobody will have any respect for a current senate made up of nominees that don’t even have to go through the bipartisan screening process that nominee’s have to go through in the states.

    Wasn’t one of Harpers first moves to nominate senators-something he used to say he’d never do.

  3. Harper is after more here than deflecting attention from the torture allegations. He wants to provide his neocon minority with a veto over any major legislative initiatives and believes that he can use provinces with a strong rural base to achieve that end. This has worked in the US and he has the same goal. Its a long-term strategy that has worked briliantly in the US, to the point where any real positive change has become nearly impossible.

    Its my view that the Senate is best left as is. Many say it is a waste of money, but elected Senators will have one main goal – to get re-elected, and the time-honored way to do that is by spending money. An elected Senate means much more pressure to spend, and that is not good. Currently, the Senate is where party hacks go for their reward. Since they have to be rewarded, the Senate is one of the least-harmful ways of doing so.

    Canada is already highly decentralized. The one place where too much power is located is the PMO. Reducing the power of the PMO and increasing the power of individual MPs would be more helpful to democratization than changing the Senate. A system of prop representation would also help.

    NB would not be aided by an elected Senate; NBs problem is really NBs problem to fix. Ottawa won’t help until we provide a realistic long-term strategy.

  4. Little Sackville [NB], at one point, had two senators with a total population of around 5,500. Not bad, eh!

  5. I tend to agree that “NB’s problem is really NB’s problem to fix” but the federal government has a lot of influence. Maybe I have read too much Donald Savoie but I certainly believe that while NB has to take responsibility for its destiny, it would help to have a federal government that was supportive.

  6. Verily I say unto you, My words may disappear but their implications will survive for all eternity.

  7. We had the opportunity to have an elected Senate, with equal representation of all provinces, in the 1992 Charlottetown Accord. That opportunity passed when the changes were defeated in a national referendum, although they were approved by Ontario and New Brunswick voters. In the accord, there were opportunities to find resolution to a number of long-standing challenges, and that led governments to be able to agree to an overall package, including Senate reform. Until we are again in a situation where there are a variety of objectives to be achieved, and hence the possiblity of trade-offs, we cannot achieve Senate reform. It requires constitutional amendmends, hence approval by a sufficient number of provincial legislatures. Until the smaller provinces can get the kind of counterbalance in the upper chamber to the power of large provinces, as is found in most federations,it would be irresponsible for New Brunswick and the other smaller provinces to give up the leverage they currently hold.

  8. Polls consisently show that Canadians are dissatisfied with the Senate-up to 80%. The CA was too much of a hodge podge, its absurd to have a referendum which basically asked all canadians to vote ‘for’ dozens of different issues.

    IF Harper really wanted to change the Senate he could call a referendum. That’s the real tragedy, ever since day one the country could vote on ONE constitutional change each year or each election (which is usually the same thing lately).

    Polls have shown that actually MOST of the individual items within the CA canadians agreed with, however, again, there were enough ‘big ticket items’ they disagreed with that they couldn’t vote for it. Many canadians thought it ‘gave too much to quebec’, but interestingly enough in quebec the no vote was higher than in most english provinces. Right after the vote a series of polls was taken and canadians especially wanted to see native self government (this was right around the Oka crisis as well). However, again, all that falls to the wayside.

  9. If anyone wants to change the Senate or any other part of the Constitution, they have to have a vote.

Comments are closed.