Wednesday, April 25, 2007

A CONVERSATION ON SENATE REFORM

I ran into Stephen Taylor at a Queen's grad student function we were both attending this past Friday. We met up in the dessert line, which Stephen commented was Soviet-esque, to which I agreed; however, the rest of the evening was pleasently bourgeois, so it was not to be minded.

When I asked Stephen how things were with "the Party" he noted that he had spoken with the Prime Minister earlier in the week and congratulated him on his movements towardSenate Reform.

I noted my wariness of the PM's Sentate plan, and elected Senators generally, to which Stephen assumed that I wanted the Senate abolished. On the contrary, I do not want to abolish the Senate for I think a bicameral legislature is an important aspect of our Westminster-style federal Parliament. Stephen then commented, somewhat provocatively, "so you think we should be governed by our superiors?" which was of course a rhetorical device intended to move me toward a basic agreement with his and the PM's position on appointing "elected" Senators. I countered this with concerns about the Sentate gaining a stature superior to that of the Commons.

Upon conisderation however, what I should have said was, "yes, yes I do." Not that I believe there are people in our society who are inherently "better" than others; not that there are social superiors who deserve to govern on a basis hereditary right, or "good breeding," or refinement, or even good education and wealth.

However, I do think that there are people who have gained a certain amount of experience in government and that the Senate could be a chamber for elder statesmen (and women) to advise the Commmons, while remaining a step or two removed from the partisan thuggery required of democratic electoral politics.

I have been thinking about a Senate that would include only members who have already served at least two terms in some other elected office, either the House of Commons, a provincial legislature, or as mayor of a city. The Senators would continue to be appointed by the G.G (on the advice of the PM) however they would be nominated by the provincial legislature of the province they would represent. Where I agree with the PM is that Senators' terms should be limited, probably to eight years.

So, for example, if a seat opened up for an Alberta Senator, the Alberta legislature would nominate three candidates to be appointed to the Senate. The legislature could use whatever process they desired to compile their list of nominees. The G.G, on advice of the PM, would then appoint one of the three people nominated. This scenario would mean that even if the Liberals held a 200 seat majority in the Commons, a Conservative could still be appointed to the Senate if Alberta nominated three Conservatives.

The plan, as I see it, balances federal and provincial powers, limits the current powers of the PM, maintains the tradition of our Westminster system, and would require Senators to be experienced senior government representatives, not just party hacks. The Senate, hopefully, would have greater legitimacy as a chamber of sober second thought, yet not overshadow the elected Commons. Finally, I don't believe my plan would require formally amending the Constitution, though I may be wrong.

I still suspect that Stephen and Stephen would disagree with me.

Posted by Matthew @ 10:53 AM

Read or Post a Comment

At first blush, I like it!

I've been troubled by the notion of electing senators directly, for then what distinguishes the Senate from the House of Commons? This neatly removes that issue, at the very least by limiting the candidates available (it excludes angry Ottawa hating farmers).

What are your feelings about Senate seat representation? I'm more in favour of equalizing across the regions evenly, to reduce regional domination of both the House of C and the Senate. Combine that with your notion, and I find it very palatable.

Course, since we are both from Ontario we are wrong by default....

Posted by Blogger Closet Liberal @ April 25, 2007 11:04 AM #
 

The distribution of seats in the Senate is certainly a problem. That's one of the reasons I'm opposed to Harper's ad hoc appointement of "elected" Senators.

People have criticised the plan arguing that making the Senate more democratically accountable actually hurts the west because they have proportionately fewer Senate seats. So why would the PM create more legitimacy to a body that favours New Brunswick and Quebec in representation?

Changing the proportion of Senate seats right now is too hard, because it requires Constitutional amendment. So, I think, Harper is going for ad hoc democratic reform that might hurt the West somewhat in the medium term. However, as the Senate gains more legitimacy and everyone realizes how unfair the seating apportionment is, the issue will be forced and change will be required - and the West and the Conservatives wont have to fight as hard for it because the ground will be laid.

At least, I think that is what Harper's very long term plan is.

Posted by Blogger Matthew @ April 26, 2007 10:11 AM #
 
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