Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Kill It

Apparently, if Harper's Senate reform package fails he is prepared to abolish the red chamber altogether. It remains to be seen is Harper is just posturing to apply pressure, or if he would take the dramatic step, but killing this persistent eyesore seems the best route.

Am I the only one that is sick and tired of the constant fixation with the Senate? Surely I'm not alone in realizing that Harper's reforms won't end the debate, in fact they further institutionalize inequalities, screwing the West, just as its influence is growing within the federation. Harper's proposal is almost nonsensical when you think about, it's window dressing that is more problematic than ultimate solution. The idea of electing Senators, another layer of legitimate political wrangling, in a country like Canada's regionalism, it's a recipe for more acrimony.

The idea of abolishing the Senate has fairly widespread support, key provinces are on board, amending the Constitution is doable and/or a referendum appropriate. Whenever you mention the Constitution in Canada people immediately go to Defcon 5, but if any adjustment is FOREVER out of bounds, one wonders if this is really a country anyways. Provinces can operate with a single chamber, surely Ottawa can survive without the Senate.

The idea of a need for "sober second thought" seems more a theoretical argument more than real world example. From my perspective, everytime the Senate asserts itself it's immediately trashed, forced to stand down and in the end the will of the House of Commons remains. Taken in totality, the Senate rarely changes things to the extent that justifies its role. Either the opposing party controls the Senate, which leads to conflict, eventual capitulation or the governing party controls the body, which leads to rubber stamp. Even in this latest instance, Senators are reminded of their loyalities, Harper is threatening to abolish, should they resist and show the slightest measure of independent will. It's all an expensive joke, apart from romantic attachment to tradition, behind the scenes work that rarely rises to practical resonance, it's hard to justify anymore. Add on the layer of continual distraction debating the institution, and getting rid of the Senate is more and more compelling.

Unless we are prepared to reform the Senate in a profound way, which fundamentally alters our entire federal government, it will fail to operate properly, representative, responsible and respected. Given that seismic change looks virtually impossible- instead we have window dressing bandaids like the Conservative reform- the logically conclusion seems to point to outright extinction. I'd rather have no Senate than some bastardized hodgepodge that fails to address core problems. I'd prefer one chamber, rather than another body which leads to gridlock and further conflicts, anything but sober second thought. If anything, the abolish side of the argument seems to be gathering momentum, so let's take this opportunity to kill this ongoing saga once and for all. Canada has already wasted far to much energy on a body which has caused nothing but acrimony, resentments and largely disgust amongst the population. Kill it.


Mark Dowling said...

"Whenever you mention the Constitution in Canada people immediately go to Defcon 5, but if any adjustment is FOREVER out of bounds, one wonders if this is really a country anyways"

The problem is the mechanism of change. Trudeau's formula meant that a few provinces lining up "well if they get this we want that - and if we don't get our thing the other thing can't pass" propositions mean these unworkable omnibus changes which an excuse will be found to vote down.

Ireland is likely to have three constitutional referenda in the latter part of the year coincident with the Presidential Election (concerning protection of whistleblowers, the power of Parliament to conduct inquiries which may make findings of fact, and changes to the prohibition of reduction of judges pay). People would be shocked if you told them that only one vote would be taken on these three.

To be honest the number of referenda in recent years has made Ireland's look more likely compulsive tinkering than deliberate change. But when the Canadian Senate proposal is made or some other constitutional fix, a bunch of different interest groups immediately say "any change must include our demanded change". It's madness.

Scott @ Prog Blog said...

The problem is though, that the smaller provinces will never agree to the abolition of the Senate, so Harper is in the same position he faces with his arguing that he can't do Senate reform by that method.

Steve V said...


I agree the mechanism is the problem.


I'm not sure we can say anything absolute so young in the process. If the pressure comes, can P.E.I stand in the way? I'm not so sure, once the discussion really evolves. As well, if we have a referendum, that changes everything and it garners a legitimacy that provinces will have to respect.

Shiner said...

I think you're wrong. The Opposition just waved away its duty to examine the budget and new crime bill. It looks like the only actual look that the Canadian people are going to get is going to come from the Senate. The Senate is the only institution where serious debate takes place anymore, the only institution where partisanship hasn't completely taken over. Getting rid of it would be disastrous, if only because it would further cement the Prime Minister's hold on power.

Tof KW said...

Scott nailed it. You need to re-open the constitution to abolish the senate. So unless Harper has the guts to go into constitutional talks with the provinces, which I highly doubt, then this is all bombast and bluff.

So yet again Harper will fail to deliver on what was once a key platform of his party, and again he will have others to blame for his own mediocrity.

Steve V said...


Yes "debate" that ultimately succumbs to the will of Parliament, so where is the practicality? So the Senate looks at the budget, big deal, I guarantee if moves forward as is with no changes. If the Senate does challenge HoC they ultimately backdown anyways. Again, a waste of energy.


I made mention of posturing in the first paragraph, I'm not saying Harper is actually prepared to go the Constitutional route, maybe more about leverage. However, that is a separate question from arguments supporting abolition.

Tof KW said...

Steve, PEI would not be enough to stop senate abolition, but Quebec would be. Charest isn't against tinkering with the senate provided proper protocols are followed (ie - talks with the first ministers) but he's not warm to the idea of abolition unlike Quebec gets more powers elsewhere to compensate for its loss.

So if Harper is seriously going down this route, he would be opening a can of worms just the same as if a proper 3-E senate was being debated. I'm pretty sure he knows this too.

Tof KW said...

sorry that should have read:

...but he's not warm to the idea of abolition unless Quebec gets more powers...

Shiner said...

Yes "debate" that ultimately succumbs to the will of Parliament, so where is the practicality?

You don't think public examination of legislation is an end in and of itself?

ricky said...

Electing the Senate will create a monster. Imagine a Senate that has the right to defeat HoC legislation!

A hybrid mix of elected and appointed Senators will create a big F-ing mess. Gridlock, Im beter than you say the elected to the non-elected.

Kill It!

Jeff said...

Scott is correct. Abolishing the Senate requires constitutional amendment, which involves an amending formula that requires a two-thirds majority of the provincial legislative assemblies representing at least 50% of the national population.

Now, would it be harder to get support for abolition or for reform? That's an interesting debate but nevertheless, neither is easy.

Let me just add, it's easy for Ontario to take the position "sure, abolish it, its useless." With Ontario's population it never has to worry about its presence in the rep by pop house. (And BC's recent position on this is a mistake and contrary to BC's interests, IMO)

At its core, one of the key roles of the senate is (supposed to be) providing a regional balance to the rep by pop of the HoC, as it is in any bicameral system. We've gotten away from that, but I'm not prepared to give up on that principle. I want the Senate reformed to something akin to a Double-E model (elected, effective) with a clearly defined role, and balanced regional representation.

It would be easy to hop on a populist bandwagon and cry abolish it. But it wouldn't lead to a better system of governance and representation; rather the opposite, in fact.

Jerry Prager said...

kill it
And our poor sucky baby PM can cry if he has to, take his bat and ball and gone home would be best.

Steve V said...

"You don't think public examination of legislation is an end in and of itself?"

Not if it doesn't make a difference to the final product, absolutely not. The Senate isn't supposed to be a think tank.


I understand the formula, as well as the challenges. However, this current situation is a neverending irritant, distraction, unfortunate existence, so unless people support a unrepresentative, unequal body, then it's that or serious reform/abolishing.

Let's move to the 21st century and if our Constitution can't handle updates, then this country isn't really functioning anyways.

Steve V said...

Then of course, the starving solution, which is appealing as well:

Shiner said...

Not if it doesn't make a difference to the final product, absolutely not. The Senate isn't supposed to be a think tank.

Well we might as well get rid of the Opposition while we're at it, toss in the Auditor General too...

Tof KW said...

"Let's move to the 21st century and if our Constitution can't handle updates, then this country isn't really functioning anyways."

Fully agree here. Yes Ontario, Nova Scotia and the federal NDP are all for scrapping the senate, but there is not enough agreement required to see this through.

However, Charest is willing to go into constitutional talks provided it is strictly to tinker with the senate, he's already stated this. This is a golden opportunity for some degree of real senate reform, and it will not exist if the PQ wins the next Quebec election, so this is a narrow window of opportunity.

However Harper is too big a chickenshit to attempt it properly. So in the end nothing will happen, and we're all just wasting a lot of pixels on nothing other his political posturing.

Steve V said...


You're probably right, I don't trust Harper's sincerity. Kenney was also threatening more extreme options, which I read as strong arming rather than commitment. There is renewed focus on doing something right now, so I'd like to see us capitalize on the opportunity, rather than just go on and on with a status quo that pisses pretty much everyone off.

Steve V said...


It looks to me like he just wants to do something on the Senate so he can say he did, rather than truly address the problems. Almost reeks of a legacy want.

DL said...

If Harper wanted to abolish the Senate - it shouldn't be that hard. Imagine the following scenario - The NDP with 103 seats has always wanted to abolish the Senate in the first place, add on 166 Tory MPs and you already have almost 90% of the House of Commons supporting abolition (and I suspect that the ragtag BQ MPs and Elizabeth may would be supportive as well - is the Liberal party going to start its "come back" by being the only party that wants to keep the unelected, unequal and ineffective Senate? I don't think so). Ergo, we start with a unanimous (or close to unanimous) vote in the House to abolish.

Then we go to the provinces: Ontario wants to abolish, Quebec wants to abolish, Manitoba and Nova Scotia wants to abolish, BC seems to want to abolish as well and Wall in Sask also sounds open to the idea - who exactly wants to keep the current senate??? PEI and New Brunswick? well sorry they are less than three provinces and they have wayyyy less than a third of the population.

Tof KW said...

DL, Quebec's conditions for scrapping the senate are enough to stall the entire process to glacial speeds, so you're really over-exaggerating the simplicity of it all. Well that and your typical orange-partisan commentary to somehow paint the 34 Grit MPs as the only ones off-side here. Rest assured there are many, many members of the CPC caucus who want a reformed senate vs scrapping the upper chamber.

That said, I do like Pat Martin's scheming on bleeding the red chamber dry, it should definitely be Plan-B if the senate continues to cling on the status quo.

Dame said...

Kill the bastard chamber... but we need a national referendum to do it .not just a voted on act.

I 100 % with you Steve it is a waste of energy and distraction .

Dale said...

The Senate should be kept and reformed.

-Eight senators from each province/territory.

-Four rural, four urban.

-Four male, four female.

-Four senior, four not senior.

-All elected in a free vote in their respective provincial/territorial legislature from a list of nominees unanimously agreed upon by all the leaders of the provincial political parties elected to the same provincial/territorial legislature. Where no political party system is used to determine the make-up of the legislature and the consensus model is used (e.g. Nunavut), the cabinet would generate the list of nominees.

-No term limits for Senators. They may be re-elected as many times as their provincial legislatures see fit.

-Each time there is a provincial/territorial election a new senatorial election must occur in the provincial/territorial legislature.

*Oh yeah and all MPs and Senators will cease to have their own pensions and will be switched over to the Canadian Forces pension scheme. ;)

Shiner said...

I like it Dale.

sharonapple88 said...

Who exactly wants to keep the current senate??? PEI and New Brunswick? well sorry they are less than three provinces and they have wayyyy less than a third of the population.

It would be interesting to hear about some other province being left out in the cold on Constitution talks. ;)

Gloria said...

The Constitution is a maze of utter confusion, which by and large is ignored by politicians.

Our Civil Rights and Liberties, have been taken away from us.

Democracy and Freedom is fast, slipping away.

Canada is a vast cesspool of corruption and greed. Therefore, the laws of this country, are bent out of shape, by corrupt politicians, who honor nothing.

Harper gave, banks, mines, large corporations, gas and oil company's, billions of our tax dollars. This is so, because, I saw that motion pass in the House of Commons, on their TV channel.

They are also given, huge tax reductions. Harper gave them another reduction, which comes off Canadians paychecks. Why is Harper giving our tax dollars to, the wealthiest corporations in the world?

Harper is giving our country away. In yesteryear, he would have been tried for treason, and hung.