Second Thots

Sometimes one has to step back, take pause, and have some "second thots"

Sunday, March 27, 2005


A question about Senate reform

Douglas Fisher raises the following point in his column today:

I now concede we are stuck with the Senate in perpetuity, largely because it is literally impossible, given our Constitution and the vast imbalance of our provinces (from Ontario to P.E.I.), to plot a successful process to either abolish the Senate or reform it into a second elected chamber.

This is in contrast to what Stephen Harper said recently in an interview with Don Newman on the CBC's Politics. To paraphrase, he said you at least begin the process of reforming the upper chamber by appointing members from provinces that elect them. Alberta would be first, of course. Other provinces would follow their lead.

Which raises something I have been speculating about and contradicts Fisher's view.

Wouldn't the appointment of elected senators eventually lead to some form of constitutional negotiations?

Follow me here.

The Prime Minister appoints some senators from Alberta. British Columbia decides to do the same. Let's throw in one more province. Say, New Brunswick.

All of a sudden, you have a number of senators who have a democratic mandate to take effective actions as part of their job. But you would also have a whole bunch of other senators, appointed, who would possess no such mandate. The power shifts to the elected senators. Then you would have all the provinces wanting to get in the game for the fear of being left out of the evolution of power in the Senate.

Which raises the next problem: regional representation. Specifically, the Atlantic provinces have claims to a greater number of seats than the western provinces.

So, if you have elected senators appointed to the Senate, without the accompanying regional balance needed for full democratic legitimacy, almost by necessity negotiations would have to start about how such legitimacy could be achieved.

Yes, it would be messy. Yes, it's hard to see how we get to that point. But wouldn't the appointment of elected senators at least get us to where serious negotiations would have to start in order to accommodate the reality of the democratization already in effect? In other words, necessity is the mother of invention, isn't it? Or, at least in this case, a changing reality could be the mother of some long overdue reforms to the way we govern ourselves in Canada. Appointing senators could be that changing reality.

Where have I gone wrong here?
and you can keep reading here....

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