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Tuesday, May 30, 2006

A Senate that's a "House of the Provinces?" Or . . .

In the comments at Burkean Canuck, Dennis Laurie asked what I suggest, if not a "triple-'E' Senate," nor any elected Senate.  This is my reply, followed by a transcript of an interview excerpt with the Prime Minister on the topic of Senate reform.

I'm of the view that a Senate which serves as a "Chamber of the Provinces" or "Chamber of the Regions" MIGHT (and I'll get to this qualification futher down) serve to strengthen the Canadian federal union for the longer term. The Canada West Foundation figured prominently in formulating the widely discussed "tripe-'E' Senate" model.

As early as 1991, I maintained that a triple-'E' Senate would have a centralizing effect on the Canadian federation. I used to think that centralizing feature might be a good thing, lending a certain decisiveness and strength to the Canadian federal union along the lines of the American federal union, that could counter a separatist Government of Quebec. I no longer hold that view.

In several respects, mostly because of how the BNA Act (now, the "Constitution Act, 1867") divvies up powers in Sections 91 and 92, the Canadian federation is relatively decentralized compared to, say, the American or German federations. or centralized compared to the Swiss, Belgian, and South African (I think) federations. I would like to see a tightening of the federal union on such jurisdictions as inter-provincial trade and immigration, including the settlement and integration of immigrants. Going the other direction, I'd also like to see closer, in-the-loop consultation with provincial governments in respect of sectors of trade that are of particular importance to provincial economies.

Strengthening the Canadian Senate as a "House of the Provinces" MIGHT be a good thing. As well as its giving the provinces a voice in the federal Parliament, it could set in place a "bi-directional check" on both federal and provincial power. The challenges in formulating this are:

PROBLEM: How to avoid biasing the Parliament of Canada any further in favour of provinces with small populations. As it is, now, the Atlantic provinces, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba have more MPs in the House of Commons than a rep-by-pop model would warrant. Figure in the number of Senators those provinces send to Ottawa, and the ratio to population is even further skewed in their favour.

POSSIBLE SOLUTION: Allocate Senators on the basis of five regions: twenty Senators each to the Atlantic provinces, to Quebec, to Ontario, to Manitoba/ Saskatchewan/Alberta, to British Columbia, and one each to Nunavut, NWT, and Yukon. In Ontario and Quebec, the Senators would represent sub-sets of those provinces. In the multi-provincial regions, a certain number of Senators would be assigned each province congruent with its population relative the others. For example, Manitoba and Saskatchewan would have four each and Alberta would have twelve Senators.

PROBLEM:  How to select Senators so they are representative of the provinces.

POSSIBLE SOLUTION: My preference would be election of Senators by legislatures. However, I could "live with" each province's deciding how to select its Senators, but with this proviso: a right of legislative recall. However selected, each Senator could be recalled. Therefore, if there were a general election in a province, the new legislature could recall its Senators and select new ones in their places. It might be that Senators would automatically cease serving in the event of a dissolution of the legislature and a provincial, general election.

Or . . .

That said, I'd like to suggest, as you might guess, another, "Burkean" (you might say, "conservative") point of view: Do nothing . . . leave the Senate of Canada, "as is." This is the view, as I understand it, espoused by Janet Ajzenstat, a political philosopher at McMaster University, Hamilton. Dr. Ajzenstat pointed out several years ago that there's a certain genius to a Senate that is appointed by the Prime Minister of one political moment, who stay in their places through successive Parliaments and government mandates. That is, while Senators appointed by a sitting Prime Minister may owe their positions to that Prime Minister and may feel bound to support that Prime Minister, they will not owe the same debt to successive Prime Ministers. This could serve as an effective check on a government with majority support in the House of Commons -- if the Senators could find some backbone to exercise their constitutional powers. Further, no one currently looks upon the Senate as having a greater right to speak for a province than a premier. But the Premiers' meetings and federal-provincial conferences are effective fora for provincial concerns and for federal leadership. And, if the Prime Minister were to make Senate appointments with a view to creating a body representative of various segments and institutions of society -- business and finance, academia, labour unions, farmers and fishermen, health care, the urban-rural split, churches and other faith communities, et al. -- this could be quite a good thing.

(For the remainder of this post,  the interview transcript with the Prime Minister, go to Burkean Canuck).

Posted by Russ Kuykendall on May 30, 2006 in Canadian Politics | Permalink


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I wrote this link on the ''Takes One to Know One thread.


I don't believe anyone clicked the link(or ever clicks my links) and listened to the short 3 1/2 minute clip.

It is about the Mulroney regime stacking the senate to ram through the GST.

As things stand, it could be done again and again and again until we have who knows how many unelected senators.

This incident alone is enough reason to create an elected senate.

Give it a click and listen.

Posted by: Speller | 2006-05-30 11:06:45 PM


Yeah, I remember it well and I remember the sense of betrayal I felt at the slimy way the GST was rammed through.

As far as electing senators, it's pretty easy and does not require constitutional amendment.

Run a Senate election the same time as a provincial election and have senators-waiting which are then placed in the august chamber according to need.

It's been a solution in waiting in Alberta since the last election. We actually have three duly elected senators awaiting their turn.

I like the eight-year term limit idea, so that somebody who's elected at age 35 will not have a 40-year-job until mandatory retirement at 75.

Posted by: Set you free | 2006-05-31 12:11:59 AM

I remember that sooo well Speller. What a disgrace that was...and of course that disgrace was enhanced ten fold by the Liberanos. The triple e senate might have some problems but it would always be better than the patronage trough we have right now. Senators should have a flat rate of pay and that pay should be low; then we would get people who were truly interested in serving the country. Eight years would be long enough for anyone in their right mind to live in Ottawa if these people were not living high on the hog via taxpayers, they too would think eight years is enough. The Dipper/Liberano types would not be drawn to this job if there was not big , free 'money for nothing' involved. It could be a good thing.
If we don't try it we will never know. I am totally onside with PMSH's plan to liberate the provinces from 'mama Ottawa'. They will all feel a lot better knowing that their fate lies in their own hands - sink or swim. It will give people some self respect for themselves and their province - or not. Your idea for the number of senate reps from larger and smaller provinces is way off Russ - EQUAL representation for each province regardless of pop. is the only way to counter-balance the House of Commons rep. by pop. Elected (for eight years so no one gets too comfortable), equal (all regions have the same number so the smaller are not swamped by the overweight.) and effective (they have to show up for work and do something useful or they are sent home without any 'entitlements' - like $$$) PMSH has cracked the egg and I like that very much - it is up to the Canadian people to make sure we get these elections rolling.

Posted by: jema54j | 2006-05-31 12:30:14 AM

Yes, Set you free, I agree with term limits for all elected offices.

If there had been reasonable term limits, we wouldn't have had 40 years of Jean Chretien, the little Liar from Shawinagan.

Posted by: Speller | 2006-05-31 12:35:24 AM

Nunavut not Iqaluit.

The senate has done nothing much since the gst and with 13 years of the liberals, it will not be stacked against them if the get in during the next election. Maximum terms could at least help with this.

Besides, while the senators may be from different regions, the feds should not be involved in regional concerns. While it won't happen easily without set terms, political idealogy seems like a more useful measure than where the are from. Since the 60's and Pearson, the left has been in power much more than the right. Many of the things Mulroney did, like raising taxes sky high, seem to me to be ideas from the left. How many of his appointments, including those chosen due to their support of the gst, were not from the political right? I don't care where the are from. This centralization of power or provincial oversight is a sham if all the senators have the same political bent for national issues.

John M Reynolds

Posted by: jmrSudbury | 2006-05-31 5:31:27 AM

"The senate has done nothing much since the gst and with 13 years of the liberals,". . .

That is just a ridiculous statement. It is always amazing to me that people want to change the Senate, despite the fact that it does such good work. It's almost as if some of these people have never looked to see what the Senate is actually up to. Nothing since GST? How about:

The Kirby report on Health Care.

The Kenny reports on National Security and Defense

The Stollery report on Free Trade
The Meighen report on Veterans Affairs
Fairbain on Bill C-36


All done during the Liberal reign of terror; but none of which were even remotely liberal in their conclusions.

Posted by: Wilson | 2006-05-31 7:54:50 AM

"This centralization of power or provincial oversight is a sham if all the senators have the same political bent for national issues."
John M Reynolds

Exactly so, JMR.

Mulroney was in power for six years and never gave a thought to the Liberal stacked unelected senate. Until they blocked his GST legislation. The Liberals opposed to a new tax measure? Imagine that!

With Leftist pals like Robert Cliche and Lucien Bouchard, and Leftist legislation like the Young Offenders Act, Prime Minister Mulroney never imagined the 'rubber stamp' senate would refuse to pass his legislation.

This same blockage could occur tomorrow or the next day.

PM Mulroney's solution was to have his appointed Governor General permit him to appoint any arbitrary number of new senate seats to overcome the Liberal blockage.

This same thing could happen tomorrow.

Posted by: Speller | 2006-05-31 8:01:23 AM

An effective senate. Oh boy. Another bunch of power mad politicos passing even more legislation. I can hardly wait.

Abolish it.

Posted by: Fred Z | 2006-05-31 8:18:21 AM

Yes, Fred Z. Abolish the senate. And Canada along with it.

Hello, Alberta Nation.

Posted by: Speller | 2006-05-31 8:24:32 AM

Committee reports. Is that the best you have? The first one on defense states:

"The Department of National Defence’s 2004 budget was approximately $13.28 billion according to the Government’s Main Estimates for 2004-2005. That budget is approximately $1.45 billion more than the Department’s budget when the Committee made its first recommendation on the subject.[2] However, that is not to say that the Goverment is almost half way to meeting the Committee’s recommendation of a $4 billion increase.

The Budget 2004 number is slightly misleading because it reflects additional funds committed to the Department for deployed operations (Afghanistan and Haiti) and does not take into account the $144 million taken away from the Department as part of the government-wide reallocation initiative."

How effective was that committee really? They can issue as many reports as they want. As long as the reports are ignored and they do little else, the senate is useless.

John M Reynolds

Posted by: jmrSudbury | 2006-05-31 8:43:36 AM

Wilson, I think you mean that none were even remotely socialist (instead of liberal) in their conclusions. Kirby’s was in fact quite liberal in the classic sense, which is to say conservative, that’s one reason why his thoughts on Health haven’t gone anywhere.

I’ve sat before Senate committees where I’ve made my case and been told later, sometimes on the flight back to Toronto with a Senator, that they agree with my case but because they aren’t elected they are unichs. Admitedly the Senator could also be patronizing me, but I actually I don’t think so.

This may surprise some. I’ve found our Senators to be about 10x’s more competent than the average MP. I attribute this conclusion to this cynical thought:

A great many MP’s are failures at whatever their “normal” occupation was – usually a failed lawyer. Senators on the other hand usually have a long list of accomplishments in the real world.

Russ I find the observations by Dr. Ajzenstat of the so-called "genius of the Senate" setup is pretty much offset by the Senate’s lack of power. Besides Dr Ajzenstat could easily have her point by virtue of having Senators elected in offsetting cycles as soon as we put in fixed terms.

Posted by: nomdenet | 2006-05-31 9:00:44 AM

"Harper will get clear sailing in Senate as long as Liberals are still reeling from their defeat. At this stage of the game it looks like Harper and Conservatives are trying to “protect” Liberals from the wrath of electorate."

"Food for thought."
Posted by: karol karolak

On the contrary, KK,

Blocking CPC legislation in the senate is an effective way to halt Prime Minister Harper's agenda WITHOUT triggering an election.

If PM Harper were to stack the senate, a la Brian Mulroney, he would again be breaking his elected senate promise and create a scandal which would cost the CPC popularity.

Otherwise, with his legislation blocked in the senate, Prime Minister Harper would have to ask the GG to disolve parliament and call an election himself.

How popular would that be?

Posted by: Speller | 2006-05-31 9:20:30 AM

KK, that’s an interesting thought that Iggy could have been appointed to the Senate. Apart from the fact that Iggy not being a unich and not wanting to be powerless, there may be another reason.

I can’t prove this but I think we live in a banana republic where the Desmarais' and the Stronachs' of rich family businesses hold far too much sway, like in Mexico. I’m convinced Desmarais, purposely made Paul Martin rich with a very generous buy-out of CSL. Martin could dress well but that’s about it. CSL has always been run by professional managers. But Desmarais had other goals in mind for the now rich Martin. The game plan was to put him in as a puppet PM.

When it became clear that the taxpayers balanced the budget not Martin and moreover that Martin was a mental midget (Chrétien knew that) then Desmarais needed another plan.

Ergo Iggy. Iggy will be like Trudeau though. He won’t be a puppet. But Desmarais is not a bad Canadian he’s just a zealous “Power” broker. He knew he had to get Martin out of there and have Canada rejoin North America in the global fight against Islamofascism before we turn into France. Notice that Iggy literally stood up on the Afghanistan vote.

Bottom line: the Liberal Party is not finished. Like the CPC, it is reinventing itself. Volpe will make it clear that Iggy is the only choice. Even died in the wool Liberals will come to the conclusion that Iggy is “The Lesser of Evils”.

Posted by: nomdenet | 2006-05-31 9:51:25 AM

Stooges, stogies, he who CALLS the election wears the responsibility.

What I am saying is that IF at any time the Liberals want to block CPC legislation, they can. Without triggering an election.

That would leave PM Harper in a very awkward place. He would either have to add more unelected senators of call an election himself.

And NO, the Liberals could not have used Afghanistan as an election platform. The Liberals sent the troops to Afghanistan in the first place.

Posted by: Speller | 2006-05-31 9:56:15 AM

The senate majority can simply refuse to vote, KK.

If you click my link above and listen to the CBC clip you will hear bells ringing in the background.

Those bells were ringing in 1990 because the senate was being called to vote. Those bells rang for several days but it could have been months.

As a foreigner your understanding is as poor as your English.

Posted by: Speller | 2006-05-31 10:29:02 AM

We elected Kings? So you're of royal blood then, KK?

Third Republic? Does that mean the other two were failures? How does the EU fit in to that third Republic?

I think you're a funny guy, KK. You are a guy aren't you, Karol?

Posted by: Speller | 2006-05-31 11:43:08 AM

Not likely at all, if it's your view of things, KK.

Posted by: Speller | 2006-05-31 11:46:24 AM

Layton was a City Councillor, still is, always will be. Buzz heads up an archaic organization that only has members from the dieing Big 3 automotive and from government workers – soon to be outsourced, I hope.

The Liberal party ruled one of the largest economies in the world for a century. Until Jan 2006 it was the most successful party in the world.

Anyone is naïve who thinks there are not a lot more Apotex banana republic influencers out there. Rich family owned corporations dependant upon government largess for their success. Bombardier and others will want to get the un-corruptible Harper out and their Liberal puppets back in. Why would a capitalist like George Soros back the insanity of the Democrats? Influence. There’s a lot of money at stake here, follow the money.

That’s why the PPG story is so important. We can blab away on blogs, but the public reacts to Kyoto type emotion, not the facts if they can even be found. Without an investigative MSM that wants to go after the truth, we could have Liberals again.

But as a conservative, I’ve been down so long it looks like up to me.

Posted by: nomdenet | 2006-05-31 12:14:44 PM

Sounds like the House of Pain.

Special K touches on an interesting point in his election of kings. Ever heard of Good King Wenceslas? Yep, an elected king in the much-maligned autocratic system of government.

The word autocracy's roots, according to Wikipedia, is self-rule, yet has a much different connotation today ... lumped in with negatives such as dictatorship and its ilk (first use of my favourite word today).

Yet, I get the sense that most of us would be quite willing to grasp the idea of self-rule. Following its historical path in the separation of church and state is quite interesting, since it started in times when states were not even formulated.

It's somewhat idealistic but then what isn't?

The building-blocks of autocratic theory starts with the smallest unit, the family and is concerned with the concept of nation-building through common understanding.

The ultimate, of course, would be to choose the wisest among us to be the leader. Like any other system, vigilance of guarding its original intent is important.

Democracy attacks human organization from a somewhat different viewpoint. At first, its priviledges were extended to only a chosen few. Only in recent times did democracy become available to all, yet in the recent example of the Liberal party, it is effected by an entrenched ruling elite.

Autocracy, on the other hand, build from the basic family unit and through common understanding of a universal moral code, installed a leader whose responsibility it was to place the well-being of his populace first.

The concept became corrupted through the Divine Right of Kings dictum and hereditary monarchy. Those corruptions had nothing to do with the theoretical plane of autocracy, whose underpinning moral code gave authority from another, unseen power.

Along comes human secularism and its rejection of the reality of natural order. This blind spot to understanding the rhythms of nature and willful ignorance of its lessons.

Instead, each individual is deemed to be his own god, with the ability to create his own reality. The end result is subjugation through the power of the gun, or the sword, or whatever physical means it takes.

Communism is the best system ever to be delivered at the end of a gun and its fledgling cousin, secular humanism, attempts to take smaller steps to reach the ultimate goal of subjugation of its citizenry.

Have a look at the environmental record of the Soviet Union and it's not hard to see that People's Republics have no interest other than enriching the ruling elites.

Gotta go. It's lunch time.

Posted by: Set you free | 2006-05-31 12:21:59 PM


KK , tell that to Liberals and Dippers and Democrats. You're preaching to the converted with me.

Posted by: nomdenet | 2006-05-31 12:49:49 PM

Sooooo, KK? How 'bout that senate?

(and you were saying something about me smoking $h1+)

Posted by: Speller | 2006-05-31 4:56:46 PM

Nope, KK. Not interested.

Posted by: Speller | 2006-05-31 5:03:48 PM


"I remember from my mathematics days" that dividing by zero gives you a peculiar difficulty. That about describes Ch'Iraq and his Euro.

Meanwhile, what about those
Senators in the Chamber of Regions?
It has a nice ring to it.

Posted by: nomdenet | 2006-05-31 7:01:16 PM

Why do so many Senate suggestions keep coming up with 100+ Senators? The United States, with 50 states, and 300 million people, gets by with 100 Senators. Why the heck does Canada, with only 10 provinces, 3 territories, and 30 million people, need 100 more federal representatives? Isn't 300+ MPs already pushing it? Don't we as conservatives want smaller, more effective government, not bigger, more bloated?

I like 50 better -- 6 each for the top two provinces in population, 5 each for the next three, and 4 each for the remainder, with 1 per territory (or alternately, 1 for all three territories, which cuts the Senate down to 48). Stay away from allocating by amorphous and constitutionally meaningless "regions". Then you run into problems if, 30 years hence, Alberta's population catches up to BC's or even Quebec's. By assigning them strictly by rank, a population shift is automatically accounted for. (I don't like triple-E here because of the huge population disparities amongst the smaller number of provinces compared to the States).

Just as important, a clear legislative role has to be defined for the Senate before we get all gung-ho about electing the joint. Can it introduce bills, or only amend them? Can it kill bills? Can it cause a government to fall? Can the House override Senate amendments/vetos? Who gets final authority over spending bills? I honestly don't know the answers to these questions today, but it doesn't much matter because the Senate has no democratic legitimacy and dares not stick its nose out very far. Start electing them, and they'll have to earn their keep.

Ask the Aussies; they seem to have this worked out.

Posted by: Ian in NS | 2006-05-31 7:18:43 PM

This whole Senate issue fails the AHT, big-time. The list of problems above are not examples of actual harm being committed by anyone connected to the Senate - the problems and the proposed solutions sound more like a way for political wonks to amuse themselves, constructing shining constitutional palaces in their minds, but not going beyond these fantasies into questions of what it is exactly that they wish that a federal government could do for them (or what it should stop doing to them).

I don't consider the goals of "avoiding bias" or "representing the provinces" to be anything worth losing sleep over. I don't even know what those terms mean.

I think that the actual harm being done to Canadians by their federal government are many and varied, and none of them have as their root cause the organization and selection process by which their legislatures are constructed. The root cause is that people think that the government is their Daddy, and that there is an infinite amount of wealth in Canada. They think that this infinite amount of wealth only needs to be taxed away from people "fairly" and spent "transparently", or "accountably", or "without bias", or "representing the provinces" - whatever all that mumbo-jumbo means. When you get right down to it, the whole scam is about wealth redistribution, from owners and workers to non-owners and non-workers. Karl Marx wrote everything you need to know about how the Government of Canada works (and all of the provincial and territorial governments too).

The fiscal pie is being stolen right out from under the noses of Canadians, and it's being gobbled up by politicians, bureaucrats, and by a number of citizens who've learned that gaming the democratic system beats working, by a long shot. No amount of consitutional tinkering will change that fact. The only thing that will cause this to change is when enough people get fed up and make their views known to whoever claims to be stealing their money from them "for their own good". The only question is, how low will Canada sink before people figure out what's really going on? Will they force their elected MPs and unelected Senators to dismantle the welfare state peacefully, or will it go down in a blaze of bankruptcy, currency devaluation, confiscation, riots and civil war? I think that the longer we spend daydreaming about tweaking this part of government, or reforming that part, the greater the chance that the latter road will be taken.

Actually I do have one small reform which I would make to the Senate: abolish their salaries, benefits and expense accounts. Make them change sides from tax-robbers to tax-payers.

Posted by: Justzumgai | 2006-05-31 10:55:46 PM

Failed Vancouver mayor. Another former paule martin lacky. Free drugs for everybody 'people's mayor'. What a dumpling he is - cutsy pie Larry!

Posted by: jema54j | 2006-06-01 1:59:34 PM

I think that the senate should maintain its role as a place where legislation is given a sober second examination by experienced individuals. To that end, I beleive that perhaps the best way to acheive these two goals is to reform the senate so that it consists of 115 members. Ten from each of the provinces and five from each of the territories elected for eight year terms. Electors would be presented with a list of all candidates and select ten and the ten with the largest share of the vote being eleceted. Senators would not be allowed to run as candidates from a particular party in order to make the senate a non-partisan house and avoide some of the partisan bickering that plagues the House of Commons. Finally, to ensure that the senate is a place of intelligent debate by wise law makers, an minimum age for senators of 40 should be put in place with no upper limit, except that set by the voters. I beleive that a fixed senate representation regardless of provincial or regional population is an American concept that will work well in Canada and ensure that no province will be over or under represented in the new senate.

Posted by: Andrew | 2006-06-01 6:28:54 PM

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