Feb 142013
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An equal, elected and effective Parliament is possible.

by Tyler Sommers

The recent scandals involving senators offer more reasons to question the Senate's continued existence.

Senators currently control investigations into other senators' ethics, spending, attendance and actions overall, and enforcement of the rules. The rules are very weak without penalties for violations in most cases. This is a completely ineffective system, undermined by rampant conflicts of interest — and senators are not even talking about changing it.

Many senators are on the boards of big businesses and so are essentially inside-government lobbyists — again a system undermined by rampant conflicts of interest.

While there are many proposals to reform the Senate, they all leave or create more problems than they solve, and all require changes to the Constitution (as Prime Minister Harper will soon learn when the Supreme Court of Canada rules on his reference case) — so abolishing the Senate is no more difficult than any other option.

An elected Senate will result in gridlock with the House, as happens in the US, because both bodies will have the democratic legitimacy to reject each other's proposals. And term limits for senators will not solve any of the Senate's many other accountability problems.

The Senate supposedly exists to provide a "sober second thought" review of House bills, but many senators are on the boards of big businesses and so are essentially inside-government lobbyists — again a system undermined by rampant conflicts of interest.

As well, the Senate has never developed a new proposal that was not already being advocated by some think-tank or advocacy organization — so it is not needed to generate new policy ideas in any area.

Finally, the Senate is supposed to balance the representation of Canada's regions in the federal Parliament. This goal could easily be achieved by increasing the number of seats from some regions in the House of Commons.

This would go against the democratic principle of representation by population, but so does an elected Senate. In any case, in a federation like Canada, that principle is always ignored somewhat in order to fulfill the goal of ensuring all regions are well-represented.

For all these reasons, the most simple, least costly, and therefore best solution is to abolish the Senate and incorporate more regional representation into the House of Commons.

If Prime Minister Harper had initiated a broad consultation seven years ago to make these changes — instead of playing games by introducing so-called Senate reform bills again and again but doing nothing to move them through Parliament — we would be much closer to the goal of having an equal, elected and effective Parliament, which has always been the goal of Senate reform.

Tyler Sommers is the Coordinator of Democracy Watch.

About Democracy Watch

Democracy Watch is a national non-profit, non-partisan organization, and Canada’s leading citizen group advocating democratic reform, government accountability and corporate responsibility.

© Copyright 2013 Democracy Watch, All rights Reserved. Written For: StraightGoods.ca

  9 Responses to “Abolish the Senate already”

  1. Make the Senate proportionately representative with prospective Senators elected at the leadership conventions of their respective parties.

    All bill must pass both the House and the Senate.

    This gives us both a government with a mandate to govern and proportional representation.

  2. Sadly, a superficial commentary on a serious topic.

  3. The major problem with the US senate is that each state receives the same absolute representation, so the less populous states are overrepresented and the District of Columbia and the five inhabited territories are unrepresented.
    The senate is a layer of bureaucracy, costing $100 million/year and the governor general can still be the "sober second thought". If there should be more analysis of proposed bills, the House of Commons and committees should sit a larger number of days. The senate also effectively prevents the less populous provinces from losing absolute representation in the House of Commons due to the 1915 senatorial clause in the constitution.

    The senate space can be used for an enlarged House of Commons to more closely reflect the 1867 electoral quotient (less than 19,000 per MP compared to over 100,000 found today), increasing the contact between MPs and their constituents, reduce dependence on campaign financing, reduce the influence of lobbying, increase competition, increase voter turnout, and counterintuitively, decrease government spending.

    If a referendum asking if the senate should be abolished were held in conjunction with a general election, this will increase voter turnout.

  4. Of course I agree with your article, but I also wonder if you could tell me what you feel the odds would be that any changes will happen.
    I have become so cynical about foxes in the henhouse ever being able to change their behavior.

  5. No to the grid-lock that would ensue from an elected Senate.  There is already an elected chamber that is effective (for big business).  A worthy goal is PR for the House of Commons, along with abolition of the Senate and the monarchy.

  6. I think the Senate has a valid role.  However the role would be better discharged if the Senators were appointed from a less political group, perhaps the members of the Order of Canada.  One of the qualifications of the order of Canada should also be that they had never been elected to federal or provincial office.

  7. Also The Senators should be appointed by the provincial government of the province they live in.

  8. I say abolish the Senate. Along with corporatocracy. The most important takeaway here is the very evident disdain for people's democracy. The fact that you can get a layer of beaucracy in this system that includes representatives of big business who already have far too much political power tells me that the political 'class' is antidemocratic. The Senate is 'allowed' to exist. Let that sink in. And the hypocrisy is astounding, which tracks. No one has good intentions. We can be honest about all of this. (Or I can just speak for myself. Take your pick.) Don't expect members of the political class, who are very protected representatives of a system from which they benefit enormously but which would devour them if they turned on it, to be honest. Are you looking for something like this?: "Well folks. This is mafia capitalism. You're not going to get democracy. The big fish eat the little fish. And right now, the people, while numerous, are the little fish. The corporations are, collectively, Superman. End of discussion."

  9. […] television — the one their tax dollars are paying for despite its obviously partisan purposes. Abolish the Senate already » StraightGoods.ca Senators currently control investigations into other senators' ethics, spending, attendance and […]

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