When Opposition Leader, Yvonne Jones, asked the Premier to support the election of senators this week I thought the request reasonable enough – if you ignore the fact that the PM still has the power to appoint (or not) anyone “pushed” forward by the voters.
Confusion hit me hard however when Premier Dunderdale refused to even entertain the idea.
I immediately began to wonder why, when her new BFF – Best Falls Friend – has been promoting that approach for years. What’s going on, I asked of nobody in particular. Isn’t the Premier seated firmly on the PM’s bandwagon, at least until the bank clears our paperwork on the Lower Churchill loan?
When I’m confused like this (it happens a lot) I tend to explore the offending situation in an often futile attempt to understand the unfathomable.
This time every fiber of my being began screaming that it’s far better to choose a representative than have one foisted upon you, especially by someone who may not have your best interests at heart. (Just Google Fabian Manning) Unfortunately that pail doesn’t hold water since it’s based in large part on the concept that the Senate represents us when it actually doesn’t.
As things stand, the Senate is a well funded dumping ground for party hacks, fundraisers and failed MPs. It has no power and doesn’t provide even token representation to the people of Canada. To put it bluntly, it’s a taxpayer funded pig’s trough filled to capacity with honey golden slop. Oh yeah, and Senators sometimes comment on legislation even though they can’t do anything about it.
There are those who advocate abolishing the Senate entirely, tearing the Senate wing off the Parliament building and salting the earth so nothing ever grows there again. As exciting as that would be to watch on the evening news, or even on the pre-evening-evening news, I’ve decided not to back that horse.
I came to this decision when, in a mad grab to make sense of the situation, I asked myself, wouldn’t abolishing the Senate leave the House of Commons (those elected bottom feeders we send to Ottawa every so often) without the slightest official oversight, not even at a symbolic level?
The answer immediately came back to me as a tepid, “maybe”.
NO! I shouted rather loudly into my empty living room. The solution must be reform not abolition!
This epiphany was immediately followed by the embarrassing realization that I was alone and acting like an idiot. As I took some time to let my red cheeks cool, my mind drifted from the subject at hand for a fleeting moment. Then, as the trees cleared, I began to see the forest once again and sadly another thought came to me.
Reform will never happen.
For the uninitiated into the dark art of politics, let me explain why.
The three keys to senate reform are often referred to as triple E – Equal, Effective and Elected.
The elected part, at least the semblance of it, is what Ms. Jones was prattling on about this week. Unfortunately electing Senators at this time make no sense at all when you look at it with cold detachment.
You see true Senate reform would require those three E’s to happen in a clearly defined sequence. You can’t simply fling them into place by choosing the easy ones first.
If the Senate is to serve anyone, other than those lucky enough to sit there, certain steps need to be followed.
First comes equality, and by this I mean allotting an equal number of seats (or votes if that makes things simpler) to each Province or Territory.
The House of Commons is elected based on population with larger provinces sitting more MPs than smaller ones, representation by population as it were. A truly equal senate would serve to balance the Commons by providing regional representation. In an equal senate each province would have the same voice regardless of population. Sadly it’s a concept places like Ontario and Quebec, with massive political clout in Ottawa, will never accept (strike one).
Until true equality exists it would be catastrophic to smaller provinces if the Senate were to actually become effective.
Effectiveness is accomplished by providing the Senate with real power including the ability to modify or kill bills and perhaps even control aspects of legislative implementation.
Consider the anguish it would bring if “Effective” came before “Equal” leaving the majority of sitting senators coming from the same province’s already wielding the lion’s share of power in the Commons.
As you can see, timing is everything.
But fear not, to enact an effective Senate would require the House of Commons, or more specifically the sitting government, to give up some of its own power, like that’s ever going to happen (strike two).
…This is where I pause for a second and ask readers to use the word “fizzle” in their comments, should they feel the need to respond online. That way I can tell if you read the entire expanse of this article or just skimmed it and went off half cocked, in which case I won’t feel as bad about ignoring you by not responding.
Now back to the issues at hand…
Finally we place the cart back behind the horse with the elected piece of the puzzle.
The reason why this one is last on the list, not first, is because there’s no point in provincial taxpayers footing the bill for senate elections just so we can pick someone to spend our tax dollars while having no power other than to attend photo ops when an elected MP can’t be bothered to show up.
In addition, in order for any election to be truly valid (not just if the PM agrees to appoint someone the province supports) it would require setting term limits and creating legislated elections on the federal level. In other words the Senate and the governments who reward their faithful by sending them to the Red Chamber would have to be willing to stop the feeding frenzy for the sake of the greater good.
Ah…and it would also require opening the constitution and getting the Province’s to all agree. Good luck with that.
(Feel free to choose either of the last two points as your personal strike three).
So, the answer to Ms. Jones question, at least from my muddled perspective, is as follows:
There’s no point spending a fortune on fake elections in the hope the PM will appoint our chosen one, who will then be free to decide in a few years if he or she is willing to turn their back on a utopia where they have no responsibility and where money and perks flow faster than the mighty Churchill.
Get all that?
Hell, we’d be better off handing the price of a senate election over to some perk loving party hack (to be decided on by the perk giving government of the day) if he or she agrees to decline a senate seat and the PM will agree to leave that seat vacant.
At least empty seats don’t cost the taxpayers of Canada (of which we are also charter members) a king’s ransom.
In other words, after all my hand wringing and hair pulling I’ve come to the conclusion that we should not abolish the senate but instead reform it… but… since we can never actually reform it we should starve it to death.
A quick death is too good for that place. We need to make it suffer a long lingering demise.
Who knows, perhaps the same internal struggle was going on inside the Premier’s head when she refused to entertain the idea of senate elections this week. Then again, maybe her political instincts told her she simply couldn’t explain it well enough in the confines of a 20 second news clip, or maybe, just maybe, her name is already on some secret senate appointments list and she doesn’t want throw a monkey wrench into her retirement plans.
I don’t know and I don’t really care. Whatever the reasoning, the end result is the same. No elections.
Now my head hurts and I’m going to go lie down…is that burnt toast I smell?