Thursday, February 7, 2013

Harper’s Senate Reforms? A Joke.

Want to read something funny?

Stephen Harper has Senator Bert Brown out trying to convince the provinces that their proposals for Senate Reform are Democratic.

Yep, the current system needs to be replaced with the vision that Steve and Bert put together one night at a road house eating steaks.

Now Steve’s proposal was that the Senate should be elected to 9 year terms.  But that a Senator could only sit for one term.  Elections=Democracy right?

They had elections in the USSR didn’t they?  Why weren’t they democratic?

Look, when we vote for our Mayors or Council Members or our MPs they tell us the wonderful things they will do for us.  Then the winners go and do whatever they do.  Now some of us pay attention and if the folks we elect don’t do what they said, or do a bad job, we don’t vote for them again.  That is electoral accountability.  If we elect a person to be Senator and they are an absolute disgrace, we can’t vote them out because they’re done anyways.  If we elect the best Senator to ever grace the Red Chamber and is an absolute joy to have, we can’t re-elect him. 

Where is the motivation to do your job well?  Where is the motivation to do anything more than show up often enough to collect your cheque?  There isn’t any.

Zero, zip, zilch, there’s no accountability whatsoever.

Did I mention that the elected Senators might not even get used?  The decision to recommend Senators will still rest with the PM, who only considers the elected Senators, no guarantee they’ll get the job.

Democratic Reform?  Whatever.

The second part is the doozie though.

Steve doesn’t want the now elected Senate to be able to stop a Bill put through the House of Commons.

So Steve asks Bert, how can we do this? 

Well Bert takes a long sip on his beverage and smiles.  “Remember Brian Mulroney?” he asks, “Remember how he got hosed on the Meech Lake Deal? Well we set the Senate up like the Constitution.  Darn near impossible to do anything with that.”

Basically what it boils down to is making it so difficult for the Senate to block a Bill, they might just as well pass it anyways.

Here we go.  The House passes a Bill, the vote is 154 to 153.  That is 50%+1, a simple majority.

Now the Senate looks at the Bill and they think, it’s not so good… we need to send it back.  So, within 12 sitting days or 30 calendar days the Senate has to vote to send it back… but there is no simple majority here, no sirree.

To send it back we need a majority of Senators from at least 7 provinces whose combined population represents 50% of the population of Canada.

Got that?

Scary bit is that every Senator from every province can vote to send it back, but if 13 Senators from Ontario and 13 from Quebec vote against it, well these two provinces hold more than 50% of the population and because the majority of these two provinces’ Senators went against… Well 26 Senators could oppose the will of the other 79.  Not very Democratic is it?

Obviously this is over the top, but the fact is it would be almost impossible to get a majority in 7 provinces and for those 7 to contain 50% of the population.  Ask Brian Mulroney.  He had 7 Premiers backing the Meech Lake Accord, those 7 contained the required 50%, and Meech died on a filibuster.

Look, the creaky old Senate has worked Okay for 145+ years.  The number of Bills that have been “killed” in the Senate or sent back to the House of Commons with amendments attached is surprisingly small.  Generally the Senate passes most things through.  The only time we notice the Senate is when they throw the brakes on a Bill or when a member or two behaves badly.

One of the good things of the appointed Senate is that they don’t have to hurry.  Senate committees can sit for years and make informed decisions, the House on the other hand only has a window of 4 years to ram through as much policy as they can.  In the rush, mistakes happen.  We see additions to Omnibus Bills to correct boners they pulled in previous Omnibus Bills.

Retired Senator Lowell Murray was incensed when he realized that a Harper Omnibus Bill changed the rules over the Finance Minister’s ability to borrow money in our name.  Senator Murray was upset because the Senate had missed it, and when he went to the Harper Party Caucus to get this “fixed” they blew him off.  Senator Murray was initially named to the Senate as a PC, he migrated to the Harper Party later on, and finished his career as an Independent Senator.

The Harper/Brown plan is a dog’s breakfast. With 8 or 9 year Senators, we will be paying more in Senate pensions than we pay for sitting Senators before the fourth Senatorial Election.  The cost of holding these elections will further inflate these costs.  And to top it off, the Senate’s hands will be collectively tied to the point where the Senate IS pointless.

And as I pointed out earlier, they won’t even be guaranteed a job.  They will only be considered, Steve can name someone else on a whim.

This is not Democratic Reform, it is a joke.

I don’t pretend that the Senate is perfect, it is far from it.  Churchill was wrestling with the Senate in the UK at the end of the Nineteenth Century, or rather the House of Lords.

Is there room for improvement?  Certainly, maybe we do need to rethink the Senate, but it is far too important a question to let the politicians play politics with it.

Harper’s Folly with his 8 year Senators is going to come home to roost in the coming years.  Each of these 8 year wonders will be eligible for over $30,000.00 in pensions and you know who will be paying for that. 

The bottom line, with all its warts, the Senate works Okay.  The fact that Harper has a vendetta against it speaks volumes in its favour.  IF we decide to look at revamping the Senate or possibly removing it, this needs to be considered by outsiders, people without a vested interest in the outcome of the study.

Do such people exist?  I imagine so, but whether or not they’d be willing to open this hornets’ nest is another story altogether.

Cheers, BC


  1. Yeah. Sounds about right. Good job, BC.


  2. Ironically, I have just ordered a 22 page iBook from Apple for each of the Liberal leadership candidates ... Operating from similar premises as you, I suggested Senate Reform:
    - six year terms with Parliamentary Committee review prior to appointment and after three years,
    - options for two three year term renewals for exemplary service, subject to Parliamentary Committee review.
    - pensions coming into effect only for those completing a six year term.