Thursday, January 07, 2010

Senate Reform or Busted

Stephen Harper must act to restore faith in Senate reform

With Prime Minister Stephen Harper set to appoint five new Conservative Senators before the beginning of March -- thus finally attaining his much-sought-after Senate majority -- many Canadians are very justifiably beginning to wonder if he's serious about Senate reform at all.

Among those who seem to be beginning to doubt Harper's commitment to Senate reform is Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall.

After passing the Senate Nominee Election Act, which would allow for the nomination of Senators-in-waiting during provincial or federal elections. But now Wall is beginning to doubt whether Saskatchewan electing Senators will make a difference.

"We can elect all of the senators from Alberta and Saskatchewan that we wanted, but if we're the only ones and Senate reform is never going to happen ... where are we?" Wall asked.

Wall seemed to closely share Harper's previously-voiced conviction that if the Senate can't be reformed due to fierce opposition, perhaps it should be abolished.

"Are we pushing a rope uphill here in Saskatchewan?" he asked. "Maybe the time has come for everyone to realize, if [the Senate] can't be fixed, is it useful?"

It would be unfortunate for Wall to be dissuaded from electing a slate of Senators-in-waiting. Considering that an elected Senate -- even if not necessarily along the lines of the Triple-E (Elected, Equal, Effective) format -- seems to be part of Harper's favoured agenda, this would be quite a loss for Harper.

If Harper doesn't want to have to face up to this loss, there's only one thing he can do: act decisively on Senate reform as soon as he has his Senate majority.

Harper has promised to act promptly on Senate reform, and expressed frustration at the blocking of his to-date efforts. “I thought we'd get at least something,” Harper said in a recent interview. “We're not there yet. What the Senate is blocking isn't just government crime legislation, it's blocking Senate reform legislation.”

Marjory LeBreton, the leader of the government in Senate, has publicly promised that Senate reform will be among the government's plans once it has its vaunted majority.

“Senate reform will definitely be back as part of the government agenda,” she insisted.

Unfortunately, the extent of reform won't be uniform across all of Canada's provinces. While BC still has a Senate election act on the books, it has yet to elect any Senators. Moreover, Ontario Conservative MPP Bob Runciman has had his efforts to institute such legislation there thwarted on what are actually rather inexplicable terms.

With Pamela Wallin ready to stand for election as a Senator in Saskatchewan, it would be a shame if the Senate Reform agenda came off the rails as a result of Stephen Harper's inaction.

Prime Minister Harper will need to act decisively on Senate reform at his next opportunity. If he doesn't, Canadians will know for certain that he was never serious in the first place.


  1. Patrick,

    A salient and timely post. One of the few planks of the Tory agenda that I agreed with in 2006 was Senate Reform. Here in Manitoba our new Premier should be pushed to back such a move. There is no reason on buddha's green orb why our slated Civic elections cannot also include a vote for elected Senators. A rotating schedule across the nation that tied Senate elections to provincially mandated civic election schedules is needed. One that is coordinated so that in any given two period only 50% of Senators are up for re-election every 2 year cycle for a 4 year term (i.e. one cycle could be NS, ONT, MB, BC, the other cycle NL, NB, PEI, PQ, SK, Alta). There is no reason (save Quebec's irrational demands) that this could not happen. As an added bonus, it would significantly improve the turn out numbers for all municipal elections across this country. If Harper is serious, he should advocate for this approach now... course, we all know that, once Harpo finally has control of the Senate he would never endanger his majority by actually letting people have a voice/vote in subverting it!

  2. The problem being of course, that the NDP favorus the abolition of the Senate. As I recall, Gary Doer said that the Senate's amendment of the 2-for-1 credit legislation was another reason why the Senate should be abolished.

    The ball will be firmly in Harper's court once he has that majority. It'll be put up or shut up time for him at that point.


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