Little Fish in a Giant pond

Thursday, June 07, 2007

More on Senate Reform

Well the battle lines have long since been drawn and both sides are ready for a fight! According to the Canadian Press, the Conservative government is accusing the Liberal Senate majority of provoking a constitutional crisis by shelving the act that would impose a term limit of eight years on Canadian senators until the Supreme Court has had the chance to decide whether or not the bill is constitutional.

True to form, the Tories are attacking "the unelected Liberal senate" and accusing senators of trying to preserve their privileges.

While Government House leader, Peter Van Loan is right to point out that the Senate has no authority to compel the government to seek the opinion of the Supreme Court, but of course he is forgetting that the Senate has the absolute power to veto any bill, even ones that have already been passed by the elected House of Commons (though unless I am mistaken, this particular bill originated in the Senate). And of course, like any other bill before parliament it can be delayed indeffinately. So what is so wrong an elected body setting aside a piece of legislation until it has been examined by the Supreme Court? Especially with a bill that is as constitutionally sensitive as this one.

And if these dreadful Liberal Senators are only concerned about losing their privileges, then why are the Conservative Senators not opposing it? Almost all of them were appointed under the PC government of old, and stand to lose just as much. They are not at all beholden unto the PM. Are we really to believe that Conservative Senators are any more moral than Liberal Senators? Does morality really run solely along political lines? And finally is it really so difficult to believe that the Liberal Senators may actually have legitimate concerns that a rapid, "piece-meal" reform of the Senate may be bad for Canadian democracy? I don't think so. And quite frankly, I find Mr. Van Loan's suggestion to be rather intellectually insulting.

As the above article states, 4 provinces have already voiced strong concerns about the way the Prime Minister is going about reforming the senate. Two of those provinces, happen to be the two most populous provinces in the country. Being the great champion of democracy that he claims to be, does the Prime Minister not realize that under the current method of selecting senators, a Prime Minister with two consecutive majority terms (approximately eight years) could actually name the entire senate?! Of course the idea behind the PM's actions is that it would force other parties to support an elected senate, so that they too could have representation there. Crafty, yes, but ultimately this is just another way of getting around having to discuss the matter with the provinces.

Then of course, there is Bill C-43, which aims to allow for an elected senate. What the Prime Minister seems to fail to realize is that there is a reason why the 1982 Constitution Act does not allow for the method of selection of senators to be altered without passing a rigid constitutional amendment formula. One of the purposes of the senate is to ensure a regional balance, and the provinces have good reason to fear that if senators were elected, the newly “legitimized” senators could diminish provincial powers.

Now an elected senate is not necessarily a bad idea, if it were done properly I'm sure there's a chance it could work. But as difficult as it will be, this cannot be done without consultation from the provinces nor can it be done without the approval of the appropriate amount of legislatures. And it is here where we Liberals are weak. The problem is not that we support an unelected senate; the problem is that we have no coherent alternative! Some of us favour an elected senate, others one that remains appointed, but by the provincial premiers, etc. Now this is unlikely to change with time, but the least we need to do is pick a position as a party, and move forward with a more intelligent alternative to what the Conservatives are offering, if we are really going to stick it to the Conservatives on this issue. I'm not saying it'll be easy, but it has to be done.


  • Stephen Harper remains delusional but determined that he need only pretend his power are presidential rather than those limited by a mere minority prime ministerial seat. His blitzkreig approach to matters constitutional is indicative of a mindset he and his fellow dopplegangers have assumed for themselves; rights based upon a constitution from elsewhere.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:16 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home