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Monday, February 27, 2006

Upper House update

On the same day as Prime Minister Stephen Harper announces the official appointment of Michael Fortier to the Senate (the release has been e-mailed to journalists, and it should be up on the PM's website, here, soon), comes word that Harper has told Alberta Premier Ralph Klein to expect Senate elections this fall.

CP reports: "Harper also promised to give the next available Senate seat [presumably a seat from Alberta -- ed.] to Bert Brown, one of four senators-in-waiting chosen by Alberta voters in the 2004 provincial election, Klein said."

Still unclear, though, is whether the new senatorial election process will be a provincial or federal affair. As I noted last week, three of Alberta's four senators-in-waiting are pressing for the former.

Posted by Terry O'Neill on February 27, 2006 in Canadian Politics | Permalink


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Yes ... they are all waiting at the pearly gates.

The Canadian senate is only deal on earth where you can go to heaven without dying.

Posted by: Duke | 2006-02-27 5:49:40 PM

I had the chance to describe the workings of the Canadian Senate to so American collegues of mine who were equally torn between amusement ("where do I sign up?") and outrage ("why the hell do you tolerate this?"). It really is embarassing that in the modern era we've still got this throw-back to feudal Europe.

Posted by: Prometheus | 2006-02-27 6:00:57 PM

I think the elections should be provincial. Just as the US Senate elections are carried out by the State.

I heard today, more moaning that we are becoming 'just like the US'. What's their point? Are we actually saying that 'If we are not like the US, then, we are OK'. That doesn't seem like a rational or empirical basis for a decision.

Instead, it's the old binarism - We, in Canada, are 'whatever the US is not'. This means that we have no identity; we are simply NOT the US.

Posted by: ET | 2006-02-27 6:08:05 PM

Well so far I have to say I agree with every comment here... How sad is that...

Posted by: Daniel | 2006-02-27 6:15:41 PM

In US, the senate is where things are happening. In Canada, it's a honorific institution. Like a reward for deserving citizens.

This probably has its source in British tradition. We would need to invent an institution to provide some check and balance to the House of Commons.

But I think the main problem is the judicial institution. That is where we are in urgent need of reform.

Posted by: Rémi houle | 2006-02-27 6:43:57 PM

This would be a very small step in the right direction, but there remains the urgent need for the PM and his party to provide the country with what I call a vision for the country. Ex-PM M. Thatcher and the late R. Reagan were able to do so with great success. It is much more effective and much more likely to garner support of Canadians, at least most of us, than trying to proceed piece-mill. The piece-mill approach will be met and attacked every step of the way by the liberal media, whereas a vision of a strong and vibrant Canada with the government stating in clear terms what is required to get there and how it intends to reach the goal will put the same liberal media on the defensive.

As long as we insist on defining ourselves, as ET expressed, in opposition of the Americans, we have no identity and certainly no vision. This unfortunately has been our situation for far too many years, yet it was not always so.

Posted by: Alain | 2006-02-27 10:01:14 PM

ET has a particularly good point about the ridiculous binary argument that's always trotted out when comparing our institutions with their US counterparts. Focusing on this inance self-definition of being Canadian by virtue of not being American is ridiculous. The seperations of power in the US are brilliantly designed and hold the legislative, executive and judicial branches in check against one another. An elected Senate in Canada (in fact a Triple E Senate) is long overdue. I say let the drones in their now justify their existence by way of senatorial elections, if for no other reason than the sheer humour it will provide.

Posted by: Prometheus | 2006-02-27 10:43:58 PM

I think it was PM Lester Pearson who referred to the Canadian Senate as "proof of life after death" - abolishing the Senate has been discussed
in all political circles in Canada for decades, but survives because of the rewards which being
appointed provides. An elected Senate is not the answer; elections are based on issues, the most
significant issue related to the Senate of Canada
being, why should it exist? A referendum facused
on retaining or terminating the Senate would be
exciting. I think I know what the outcome would be. My grandmothers cousin in NS was a life long
Liberal, Irish Catholic lawyer, who was a major
source of funds for the Liberal party of the period, by his highly developed negotiating skills. He was appointed to the Senate by a Tory
government, to elminate his skills at fund raising. He said later that he could resolve any
problem with the more or less defection from the
Liberal party by going to confession on Friday
night and making amends for his "sin".

Posted by: Jack Macleod | 2006-02-28 4:23:09 AM

There is some thing realy realy worng when clearly proven imoral and incompetent persons, who faield in their election bids were next elected to the Senatare as a reward.

The twits E McCoy included, and R Ghitter as well.

TWIT - A mild English expletive used by some British children to describe someone who has done something rather silly or stupid. The term 'prize twit' is considered too insulting for children to use.twit n 1: someone who is regarded as contemptible [syn: twerp, twirp]

Even if they are Albertans they are still undeniably twits.

Posted by: Non Twit | 2006-02-28 5:11:21 AM

Jack, I think why a Senate should exist relates to geographical representation and the fact that most MPs come from mega-Cities and that trend will continue. I think we need a Senate to balance that off, unless you want your views to be ultimately represented by the BA’s in Gender Studies from the Toronto Annex, where they drive Volvo’s, park them on their brick lawns when they aren’t using their CBC corporate parking space 1 K away.. You get the picture.

Next, I think the Senate needs to be elected. I’ve sat before a Senate committee a few times, made my case, only to be told later (usually at the airport afterwards, which oddly enough is where some good discussion can take place) that the Senate Committee understands and agrees with my position, but because it’s appointed not elected it is powerless to do anything about what I was talking about. Then they say that they will talk to some MPs about it and see if they can persuade the elected MPs to do something. They don’t.

It’s bizarre, frustrating, and a waste of time.
I should add that I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the quality of mind of our Senators … particularly when they agree with me … ;>)

Posted by: nomdenet | 2006-02-28 5:55:42 AM

She who likes to be heard, says I think why a Senate should exist relatedly to geographical representation and the fact that most MPs come from mega-Cities and that trend will continue.

Do you realy buy the crap that the people in rural Alberta are better now than the people in the big cities. If so how were they so dumb to have elected an alcholic Albertan premier for a start who is a known abuser of others. Should be registered as such now too.

Posted by: Really | 2006-02-28 6:02:45 AM

Really? now that's an eye-opener!

Posted by: nomdenet | 2006-02-28 6:10:35 AM

I sat before a Senate Committee in 1986, focused on the critical subject of Canadian Forces Heavy Lift Air Transport. One of the Senators on their Committee, a Maritimer, had a little too much wine at lunch and feel asleep when the session resumed - no surprise to me. A well known high profile Senator again, a Maritimer was referred to by my late saintly mother, a life long Liberal as a "former pimp", which for a convent raised girl like my mother to express, gave my brother and I a big laugh (it was of course absolutely accurate). I cannot take the Senate of Canada seriously, at the age of 76 I guess I've been around Liberal politics too long.

Posted by: Jack Macleod | 2006-02-28 6:32:19 AM

Jack , at 76, having paid the price of Liberals , you are entitled to your opinions as well as your entitlements.

It’s like any business, we can re-engineer and re-org ‘till the cows come home; in the end , we’re as good as the people we put in slots to make decisions. So as the cartoon Pogo said “ I’ve seen the enemy and it’s us”.

Posted by: nomdenet | 2006-02-28 6:55:12 AM

Of course, the Liberal's will be back - they are
entitled to that. If they feel unwelcome they will consider that an entitlement until they redefine the concept. When you own a Canadian organization whose only function is to win elections, the process of nit picking, navel gazing, and similar activities is simply not
acceptable; one might loose one's entitlement
by too much inner thought and reflection.

Posted by: Jack Macleod | 2006-02-28 7:14:51 AM

The Senate is one of Canada's most enduring and shameful scandals. It's pure, unadulterated patronage with the taxpayers picking up the tab. In the real world rewards for outstanding obsequiousness are usually financed by the entity bestowing the reward, which, in the case of the Senate, would be the Liberal or Progressive Conservative parties.

If we insist on keeping the Senate, then the sooner it's democratized the better.

Posted by: potato | 2006-02-28 7:31:47 AM

I'd recommend abolishing the Senate unless we change it to provide it with a function. What is its function at the moment? The function doesn't seem to have anything to do with governance and duties to the taxpayer. Instead, it's personal; using taxpayer money to reward cronies-for-loyalty to questionable causes.

Our Senate, as others have pointed out, is pure patronage - and has nothing to do with merit and everything to do with corruption, cronyism etc.
Note that the position has no duties, is for life, is without accountability..etc.

The US three-tier system (House of Representatives, Senate, President) and the separate judiciary provides levels of responsibility and analysis - and checks and balances. All three levels are elected by the people. In all three levels, the positions have limited terms. Not 'for life'.

In Canada, only ONE level is elected by the people - the House of Commons. The Senate is appointed by the PM without accountability to the electorate. The PM is elected only by members of one political party...and not by the electorate.

In Australia, they have retained their Senate, but, the positions are elected and are limited term (six years, I think)..and..each region of Australia has a set number of senators.

Only in Canada - do we have a governmental body, paid for by the electorate, yet unaccountable to that electorate and chosen by an unelected individual, the PM. Quite an infrastructure.

To deal with the cronyism/corruption/patronage - one can move from their appointment by the PM, to their election. I think that the elections have to be from within each province.

And, we should also introduce limited terms!

And - either they have a functional role to play in gov't - or - abolish the senate entirely.

Posted by: ET | 2006-02-28 8:01:14 AM


"The sep[a]rations of power in the US are brilliantly designed and hold the legislative, executive and judicial branches in check against one another."

Fair enough; they are. But Westminster parliamentary government is also brilliantly designed (or maybe it's better to say "brilliantly evolved") to enforce the peoples' control over their government, better so than congressional systems can.

I don't subscribe, at all, to the binary thesis that the Canadian must be the Antiyank; the shared Common Law and English-speaking political traditions are there and often intersect. But there are American ideas that don't fit parliamentary government, and to have working parliamentary government is frankly more valuable.

In short, American congressional government is a very good democracy. Parliamentary government in the British tradition -- when it works as it's supposed to -- is just better.

ET, I think you have it right. The Senate has really never had a role, and on form, it doesn't greatly deserve one, notwithstanding the good work done by some Senate committees. The only "constitutional" thing I can see against abolishing it is that the Queen/GG can't enter the Commons, so how do you give the Throne Speech without having a Senate to give it to? Solve that and I think you've solved the last constitutional impediment to getting rid of the Senate.

If there is an argument for protecting regional interests, then an unequal Senate is the wrong vehicle to do it with. What about one with equal representation from all provinces, elected directly with the Commons, with each province divided into the same number of electoral districts? Maybe six each? Fine, one-sixth of Prince Edward Islanders are not the same number as one-sixth of Ontarians, but that isn't a problem if equal provincial representation, rather than one-man-one-vote, is the goal.

Couple it with amendments to make the distribution of Commons seats fair, and you've made a great deal of progress.

Election of Senators by district also kicks the stand out from under the Australian model of party lists for the Senate, which tends to strengthen the hand of parties over their "own" Senators.

So -- either no Senate, or a genuine, national, at-least-double-E Senate. Meanwhile, Bert Brown for the Senate. An Albertan Liberal should resign to make way for him.

Posted by: Jim Whyte | 2006-02-28 8:34:44 AM

Actually two levels are elected by "people" - the
political candidates, or political nominees are elected by people. The people are the Delegates to the nominating meeting which elects the candidates or nominees. In most cases today, the
Delegates are elected, having been nominated by
the people who attend the nomination meeting who
are bona fide members of the appropriate political party. Politics is a "people thing"

Posted by: Jack Macleod | 2006-02-28 8:38:05 AM

ET, you're incorrect on one point about the American system: there are no term limits on members of the House of Representatives or the Senate, and it is a serious shortfall in my opinion. Ted Kennedy's sat in the Senate since 1968, for instance. There's an overwhelming advantage for incumbents in election years, especially in the House, so you don't get anywhere near the turnover in representation that we do even here in Canada -- only one incumbent Senator who ran for reelection was defeated in 2004. Some of the electoral margins would make even Alberta Conservatives jealous. California's Nancy Pelosi, for example, has sat in the House since 1986, and won an astonishing 85% of the vote in her district in 2004. In fact, every single member of California's Congressional delegation who stood for reelection was reelected, all 51 of them, and even the two open seats created by retirements stayed with the parties who held them previously.

Needless to say, I strongly support putting term limits on our Senators if and when we start electing them.

Posted by: Ian in NS | 2006-02-28 10:19:47 AM

Ian in NS - Good point on the need for term limits in all US positions, a critical element I overlooked.

While we're at it, I'd also like to see the Governor General's office and Lt. Governor's offices replaced by elected officials, and the federal and provincial cabinets moved out of the legislative assemblies allowing the Gov. and Lt. Gov to chose cabinet positions by merit rather than party affiliation....

Posted by: Prometheus | 2006-02-28 9:19:00 PM

Somebody bind that thar Prometheus ;o)

Posted by: Jim Whyte | 2006-02-28 10:30:03 PM

The answer is to abolish the Senate of Canada. It in fact serves no useful purpose in Canada circa 2006. Appointment to the Senate of Canada is strictly political, choices made in the PMO usually by political flunkies, and signed off by the PM. At the moment I think that there is a vacancy for an appointment to the Senate from NB
-well Harper ain't going to appoint anybody from this point on, so I guess NB will just have to accept the fact that some bagman, flunkie, near-do-well political hangar on is going to have to survive on his CPP - how sad.

Posted by: Jack Macleod | 2006-03-01 4:16:18 AM

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