Following Stephen Harper’s appointment of several (more) failed Conservative candidates to the Senate, we’ve seen the usual outrage over the sheer contempt demonstrated by the moves. But for those who say Harper is trying to (semi) reform the upper chamber by bringing it into disrepute, some evidence is also emerging there may be some method to his madness.
Newfoundland and Labrador should elect its first senator this fall, the province's opposition leader said Wednesday. "All it would take to elect a senator would be an extra ballot for voters to mark when they vote in this fall's provincial election," Liberal leader Yvonne Jones said in a news release.
The province’s Conservative Premier, incidentally, isn’t a fan of the idea.
And closer to home in
I must say, I’m skeptical of this sudden interest in Senate elections by two provincial Liberal parties. Given that I don’t recall this being a topic of discussion in these circles before, I’d have to guess the fact the federal Liberals are in the wilderness and won’t be wielding the power of appointment any time soon may have something to do with it.
More so, though, this seems to me to be a knee-jerk reaction to Harper’s provocations with these latest appointments. Jones and McGuinty may see this as a chance to jump on a populist bandwagon by pushing for Senate elections, hoping a populist wave may raise their own boats at the polls this fall.
Whether their political calculus is accurate or not, it’s a short-sighted move that would be bad for public policy and regional representation at the federal level. And, I suspect, it would play into Harper’s hands. Even if a Liberal senator may get elected in one of these elections (small risk in Ontario, I’d say, but maybe not in Newfoundland) and he’d have to appoint them, I think Harper would see it as a small price to pay for moving toward an elected senate giving him a victory on his version of Senate reform.
As I’ve written many times, Harper’s piecemeal Senate reform plan is dangerous. Electing Senators gives them legitimacy and the mandate to exercise their power.
- We shouldn’t take that step until we consider just what we want Senators to do – how are they different from MPs and what should their legislative role be?
- The current Senate composition also severely under-represents
. We need to fix the regional balance of the Senate before giving it real power and the legitimacy of elected members; otherwise we’re entrenching the unfair treatment of the West. British Columbia
- A Senate with a mix of elected members exercising their constitutional powers and appointed members not exercising those powers would be a mess.
Meaningful Senate reform would require constitutional amendment, an option the Conservatives have shown no interest in entertaining. Their piecemeal reforms are designed to give the appearance of reform but major planks, such as term limits, are likely wouldn’t survive a court challenge. It’s all just for show.
If we want to debate Senate reform we should do it full-hog. Until then, I support maintaining the status quo. Which means Harper can appoint whomever he wants, and if we object we can vote against him in four years.
In the interim, I’d urge my provincial cousins not to put populist calculations and provincial electoral expediency ahead of the future of the red chamber; gaining a few points of support provincially isn’t worth saddling us with a dysfunctional and disfigured yet powerful Senate. They need to look at the big picture.Recommend this Post on Progressive Bloggers