Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Abolish The Senate? You've Got To Be Kidding.

Mike Duffy's speech yesterday should have reminded all Canadians why we have a Senate. Mitchell Anderson  writes in The Tyee:

Harper's response to Mike Duffy's disloyalty has been thermonuclear: essentially to set a precedent where the PMO can unseat the same senators recently appointed at a whim and without due process -- relying on a legal anachronism dating back to 1300.

As Duffy told his colleagues yesterday, the Senate is the last brake on an imperial prime minister:

If successful, Harper would succeed in further advancing his incremental coup d'état of the PMO on our government institutions. The motion being rammed through the upper chamber would remove about the only good thing you can say about the job-for-life jackpot enjoyed by senators: tenured job security that could in theory counterbalance the ballooning power of the PMO.
Not surprisingly, when senators actually wanted to debate this motion, the government invoked closure -- perhaps worried their upper chamber caucus members are awaking from their stupor as obedient "Harper seals." 

What appears to be an old folks home for retired bagmen and women actually performs an important function. The Senate may need reform. But it should not be abolished:

The prime minister may also have inadvertently instigated Senate reform. Imagine if senators seized the opportunity to prove to the Canadian people that they actually have a vital role to play in our democracy. The job-for-life privilege Canadians find so egregious should be the very trait of the upper chamber that would allow its members to stand up to the unbridled power of the PMO. Canadians would cheer them on.  

Everything depends on what the Conservative majority does with the motions to expel Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau. They could simply suspend the resolutions pending the result of the RCMP investigation -- which would be standard operating procedure.

Of course, by that time, all of Mike Duffy's evidence will be made public -- and Stephen Harper will be looking for the exit.


CK said...

Not so fast.

Why is Duffy getting so much sympathy these days? As Dan Cook on the radio explained this morning, he's essentially a whistle blower on himself. He knew that all he was doing in the senate, and with whom was wrong and yet, he went along with all of it until he became inconvenient.

As for Brazeau, he's a horse of another colour. He appears to have problems with the bottle and with dope, along with beating and sexually assaulting women; this is looking more and more like he's a serial offender in that department. Have to believe it's all true.

As for Pammy Wallen turning things into a middle to old age version of that Lindsay Lohan movie, "Mean Girls".

Seriously, this is not an either or thing. They're criminals going against the crime boss. In the mafia, crime bosses dispense of their underlings when they are no longer needed or inconvenient. This is the exact same thing.

BobbyB said...

I agree that the Senate should not be abolished but reformed.

There has been mention that reform of the Senate needs Constitutional changes but that is not really true.

PM Harper has said he would reform the Senate but his idea is for it to be an elected body which I am sure would require a Constitutional change and that may take a long time to get full agreement to and to actually have the changes come to fruition.

An elected Senate while a good sound bite puts a huge weight on the Provinces and Territories regarding the cost to hold such elections and the timing. Such questions as how often would elections be held, how soon could an elected Senator be appointed to the Senate, when is there an opening, how long is the appointment term, can you impeach an appointed Senator, etc etc etc. all come into play.

Needless to say I am not in favour of the push for an elected Senate given the other potential issues that could and probably would be raised.

BobbyB said...

I do feel there are two immediate and non-constitutional changes that may be made now, if the PM, sitting Senators, and the Canadian electorate is really serious about Senate reforms.

The Senate was created to have representatives of the Provinces and Territories provided with representation within the Federal sphere in Ottawa as they joined into the Canadian federation. That is why the requirements for being a Senator was that the person had to have property and be a resident of the Province or Territory. The last point, declaring the Province or Territory as their principle residence before being recommended for the Senate is often being ignored (ref: Mike Duffy owns a cottage in PEI).

Since the Senate is an independent body not owned by the Federal side of the government and established to be comprised of individuals representing the Provinces and Territories then I do not see why the PM has the purview to make the recommendations to the GG for Senate appointment from the PM originated list of name(s) he would want in the Senate.

Every PM does it. It is not a Liberal or Conservative issue but has, over time, been established as the routine process used to fill Senate seats, that the PM makes the recommendation to the GG from their originated list of name(s). This approach ends up skewing what should be an impartial Senate staffed by representatives from the Provinces and Territories.

Harper complained that the Senate was being stacked by Liberals. He then comes into power and says he will not appoint Senators and that he wants Senate reform but then becomes the PM that has appointed a huge number of Senators and has in effect stacked the Senate to be Conservative and no longer Liberal leaning. By allowing the PM to make the Senate recommendations to the GG from their own list of candidates simply reinforces this Senate stacking. Liberally stacked during one government tenure only to be Conservative stacked when the government changes to potentially never having an NDP Senator if that party never forms the government and on and on we go.

BobbyB said...

The change I would make to the Senate to reform it is to remove the PM from using their own list of name(s) when filling Senate seats. The Provinces and Territories should submit their list of say 4 names of people they have vetted and they have asked and whom live in their specific Province or Territory. This list goes to the PM/PMO and that is the list that is used for the PM to pick a name from the list and make that recommendation to the GG. The constitutionality is maintained because the PM is still making the recommendation to the GG and the GG is still making the formal appointment on the advice of the PM.

The Senate is then manned by people that the Provinces and Territories want in their Senate. The PM does not have to defend or (in the case of Mike Duffy) try and throw a Senator under the bus if they fall out of favour. The Senate would not get stacked by the Federal Government in power at the time of Senate appointments. The Provinces or Territories can chose their method for how they arrive at their list of potential Senators. They can hold formal elections, plebiscites, conferences with their Legislative Assemblies to arrive at candidates. The candidates would have been vetted to meet the requirements of the position. They would be the people the Provinces or Territories wanted to represent them in the Senate They can update their list of names as they wish and re-submit it to the PM/PMO so they have a current accurate list to pick from. The people they had approached may no longer want to be on a Senator appointment list or as life situations and changes happen may not be available etc etc. The point is the PM recommends what the Provinces and Territories want and does not get the opportunity to recommend a partisan party contender and this avoids any stacking of the Senate. Since there are NDP governments as well as Liberal and Conservative and Green leaning Legislative Assemblies this means that regardless of the Federal political landscape in Ottawa there is an opportunity for each and every political stripe to become members of the Senate and the Senate would reflect what the Provinces and Territories want vs what the Federal Government wants wrt Senate direction/ideology/compliance.

The other item I would change and which would not require any constitutional change would be to have reviews of Senator expenses which involve the Senator's Province or Territory in the review. Since Senators are to represent the Provinces oand Territories why then do they not have some say in whether the work being expensed is in line with what they want their representative to be putting time and effort in to. A Province may want a focus on women's rights and for their Senator to travel and attend and champion women's issues and hence would have no problem is saying that that expense is something they are in favour of being accepted for reimbursement. Similarly time spent on the campaign trail to have Federal people elected may be something they have no interest in their Senate representative being involved in or expensing their time and travel costs for. They could reject that expense and then it is up to the internal Senate team to decide whether the expense does go through or should be pulled. I could never understand why the sitting Senators review and approve their own expenses. Whenever there is an issue they call in an external auditor and that additional expense is incurred when in fact if the responsible thing to do would be for the Province or Territory that has these people as their representatives should be involved with the approval process.

Owen Gray said...

In a perverse sort of way, Bobby, the lifetime appointment of senators works for stability in the Senate.

What at issue now is the integrity of the place.

Owen Gray said...

Harper's position on the Senate is pure hypocrisy, Bobby.

Now he is reaping what he has sown.

Owen Gray said...

It would be interesting to float these suggestions to the provinces, Bobby.

I suspect seven out of ten would agree to the changes.

Owen Gray said...

The mafia analogy is interesting, CK. But it breaks down when you remember that the mafia operates outside the law.

The law is supposed to be the bedrock of democracy. Harper is in trouble because of his total contempt for democracy.

Rural said...

I agree with both you Owen and 'BobbyB', we cannot give king harper (or any other prime minister) sole control over legislation without SOME check upon the proposed legislation and a non (or less) partisan Senate is the only answer. I have previously suggest something very similar to Bobbys proposals which does not need Constitutional change but merely a change in how the PM handles such matters.
I believe that harper and a number of his trained seals would LOVE to see the Senate abolished and that this 'crisis' may well have been a result of that objective!
Bobby, may I use your text in a post at Democracy Under Fire, it bears repeating? Contact me via that blog.

Owen Gray said...

Your observation, Rural, is spot on. It is absolutely in Harper's interest to sabotage the Senate.

If -- as Bobby suggests -- the provinces are given a say in who sits there, that change will act as a counterweight to future Stephen Harpers.

Anonymous said...

The senate performs no important function, just as the governor general, the queen, the pope and the Conservative Party perform no important functions. They are relics of past centuries and must be thrown into the dustbin of history.

Owen Gray said...

If you get rid of them, Anon, you get rid of parliamentary democracy -- which seems to be what Mr. Harper is attempting to do.