Monday, December 12, 2011

On Senate Reform or Step Away from the Red Chamber Stephen

As I was browsing through the channels the other day I happened across Jinny Sims speaking in the House of Commons about the “Senate Reform Act”.

Now Jinny Sims (pictured) is a New Democrat and I am not (I am not a card carrying member of any party) and we do not see eye to eye on the Senate. The NDP would like it abolished, I believe the Senate is an important part of our democratic system but that it is open to abuse and the Stephen Harper Party is abusing the Senate power more than any time I can remember.

Many years ago, when the Fathers of Confederation sat down and created Canada, they had a number of Democratic Models to choose from and they chose a Parliamentary System, the Westminster System.

Under this system, we have an elected House of Commons, the Parliament and an appointed Senate, appointed by the Governor General on the recommendation of the Prime Minister.

In our Canadian system, Senators are appointed for life or age 75 and must meet certain criteria to be eligible to sit as a Senator. These Senators represent their respective regions of Canada and are charged with evaluating legislation based on whether or not it is good for their region as well as the country as a whole. By appointing these Senators, they are not accountable to anyone but themselves, they cannot be recalled by voters or called to task by sitting Prime Ministers or anyone else. This is supposed to be a strength of the Senate. When the Senate looks at legislation, the members are free to discuss the legislation without fear of reprisal for supporting an unpopular view or voting against party doctrine.

When the Fathers of Confederation considered the Senate, they chose to balance the numbers and the power evenly over the 4 regions of Canada so that no one or two regions could dominate the Senate.

When a Prime Minister recommends someone for the Senate, he or she will often base part (or all) of their recommendation on the politics of the person they are suggesting, but that is where it is supposed to end. Each and every Senator’s responsibility is to the Country and to the people of the region they represent and not blind obeisance to the party that put him there.

At this point I quote Jinny Sims from Hansards:

It is a very telling comment when a senator can write a letter to other senators stating:

Those of us who came to the red chamber were there to get a majority vote for reform. Those in the Senate before [the Prime Minister came to power] need to realize that, had he not made appointments, the Conservatives appointed by Mulroney would now be a very small group struggling to do anything! Every senator in this caucus needs to decide where their loyalty should be and must be. The answer is simple:--

As a taxpayer this would actually give me sleepless nights. It continues:

--our loyalty is to the man who brought us here, the man who has wanted Senate reform since he entered politics, the Rt. Hon. [Prime Minister].

Jinny is quoting Senator Bert Brown. I choose to not in “Honourable” as part of Bert’s title as I feel that any Senator who feels this way does a disservice to every Senator who does try to represent their constituents, their region, their Country.

The Senate is often referred to as a place of “sober second thought” where proposed laws receive their final evaluation before being sent on to the Governor General for Royal Assent or back to the House of Commons with amendments if the law is found wanting. The Senate is also often referred to a “rubber stamp” and it appears that is what Bert wants it to be.

Don Cherry likes to say “Dance with the one that brought you” which is fine for choosing your Goalie, but Stephen Harper doesn’t pay your salary Bert, the people of Canada do. If you want to dance with Stephen Harper, do it at the Senate Christmas Ball, not in the Red Chamber which incidentally is also paid for by the Canadian people.

I don’t care if the members of the Senate are members of political parties, I don’t care if they sit in those parties’ caucuses, I do have issue with Senators blindly following the dictates of Lord Stephen or whoever is the leader of the governing party of the day.

Here I quote Sir Clifford Sifton’s The New Era in Canada: (you'll need to scroll to section 3 for this part)

No nation should be under unchecked, single-chamber government ... It must also be remembered that, under our system, the power of the Cabinet tends to grow at the expense of the House of Commons ... The Senate is not so much a check on the House of Commons as it is upon the Cabinet, and there can be no doubt that its influence in this respect is salutary.

(words in bold my choice)

I would also quote a famous Canadian:

"... in the Upper House, - the controlling and regulating, but not the initiating, branch - ... in the House which has the sober second-thought in legislation, it is provided that each of those great sections shall be represented equally"

- Sir John A. Macdonald

I wouldn’t dream of contradicting Sir John A. but apparently Stephen and Bert have no qualms about it.

Now I hear that the Stephen Harper Party is considering closure for debate in the Senate, much as they have done in the House of Commons. The Senate needs to stand up to the House of Commons and say “No” or risk becoming what they are accused of, a rubber stamp not worth saving, a second act of “Marionette Theatre” with Lord Stephen pulling the strings.

The Stephen Harper Party wants to reform the Senate, they can’t stand the fact that they might be second guessed by “the controlling and regulating…branch” of government’s “sober second thought”. Again I refer to Sir John A. Macdonald.

The Senate has served us for over 140 years, offering amendments to laws that needed them, sitting on “special committees” looking into poverty in Canada, the needs of our youth, the needs of our elderly. They have been able to do this in part because they do not have to worry about rushing to please anyone but only to making sure things are done right. As for the committee work, they have the luxury of time to fully study an issue and fully understand the issue before moving forward on that issue. There is no 4 year window to try and jam things through.

If we need to reform the Senate, we need to take the power of selection of these Senators in waiting from the PMO and take the power over the Senate away from the government.

If Stephen Harper and his marionettes manage to distort the Senate into the image that they feel is the “right” one then I’ll seriously have to reconsider the NDP stance on the Senate.

It will just be a rubber stamp with folks like Bert in it. We might just as well shut the doors and fire the lot of them. No severance pay, no pension, just hit the bricks people, you don’t work here anymore.

Or perhaps the Senators will decide to use their power of sober second thought.

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