Tuesday, November 05, 2013

On Senate Reform

The notion of a referendum on Senate abolition has been percolating around more publicly again.  This isn't necessarily a bad idea in itself.  As I pointed out back here, it really doesn't matter if such a measure were passed in a public referendum.  Harper still ends up obliged to work within the framework of the General Amending Formula to make the changes required.

Where the Senate is concerned, I'm no fan of abolition.  While I am no fan of its current form - it has long ago become a tool of political patronage.  Although there are some excellent Senators in the chamber who truly do take their job to heart, the fact is that the current model of appointments renders their credibility on any issue suspect.

If we were to outright abolish the Senate, we would amplify the already apparent deficiencies in the existing House of Commons - in particular the problems that our First Past The Post voting system creates, as well as the inherent imbalances of the current representation by population model.  The Senate attempts to counter balance that by making Senators responsible for representing a region of Canada.

Allow me to make a proposition with respect to the future shape of our nation's Senate.

I still believe that there is a validity to having a body in Parliament whose job it is to act as a counterweight to the predations of the often highly partisan politics of the House of Commons.  Some may argue that we "don't need a parental body" overseeing the acts of the House of Commons.  In so far as the denizens of the House of Commons are ostensibly adults, that may be true.  However, if the last decade's shenanigans have shown us anything, it is that partisan politics can push any politician to make less than sound judgments which are not in the best interests of the country as a whole.

At its core, evaluating the legislative acts of the House of Commons from a different perspective is not a bad thing.  However, before delving fully into the powers that a revised Senate should have, let us address its composition and the selection of Senators.

First, the notion that the Senate's representation should be regional serves as an excellent counterbalance to the House of Commons more direct degree of representation.  I propose that we keep this aspect of the Senate as it stands today, with the minor adjustment of providing each province with an equal number of Senators.  The current allocation is somewhat lopsided reflecting the fact that in 1867 several of our current provinces were part of territories.

Instead of appointing Senators, let us use the opportunity to make it less partisan by shifting to a proportional representation model for each region.  We have talked about this numerous times with respect to the House of Commons, but for good reason it is a change which too few people are willing to risk in the house that they understand to be their primary point of representation in to our nation's government.

Should the Senate's legislative powers be amended?  I'm not entirely sure on this matter.  In some respects, moving to an elected Senate creates an expectation that the resulting body will have more direct power act to represent the electorate which selected it.  Whether this is a consequence of the legislative powers the Senate has today, or simply a matter of a lack of communication from the current Senate is a point of further discussion.  

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