Thursday, July 2, 2009

Problems in the Upper House

Source: CBC News: Raucous YouTube Videos Leave Senate Committee Embarassed
Source: Senators Behaving Badly
Source: Senators Behaving Badly, Pt. 2

Every election campaign eventually the talk rolls around to what a political party thinks about the Senate. The Conservatives want to reform it and make it elected, in the classic Albertan Triple-E proposal no doubt; the Liberals want to leave the Upper Chamber as it is; and the NDP calls for the Senate to be removed from Canadian Politics all together. As mentioned, I am a left-winger myself, but this has always been an issue where I am a free thinker for myself, but after watching these videos, I found myself finally agreeing with the NDP on the issue of Senate Reform.

Now, according to the CBC News article, there are a number of fingers being pointed as an excuse over why this 'bad behaviour' took place. There are a number of allegations from both sides of the government and opposition, allegations which are not mentioned during the two videos showcasing the confrontation between the committee and the chairman.

I'm not going to comment on these allegations, namely because there is no proof of them. If you are interested in what they are, then by all means read the CBC Article, but you will not see mention of them here. This is simply because, as stated, there is no proof brought forward from the Senator who made the accusation other than his word, and until more is brought forward, I will not treat it as fact or fiction. Furthermore, as illustrated by the videos, there is another allegation by a female Conservative Senator against the Chair that is not substantiated.

What I will talk about, and mention, is the childish behaviour shown by our representatives in this video. First and foremost, I cannot deny that the Chair of the Committee, Liberal Senator Colin Kenny, seems to show an arrogance within his position that leads him to believe that he can never be wrong or challenged on an issue.

However, on the other side, we have three Conservative Senators: David Tkachuk, Pamela Wallin, Fabian Manning; constantly interupting others, yelling, and generally causing problems for everyone else in the committee in a way that does not allow debate or anything of substance to come from it.

As I mentioned before, I've supported keeping the Upper House of Parliament, but today made me wonder for the first time whether or not I was on the right side of the issue. The debates in the House of Commons can sometimes make you shake you head and wonder why we elected these people in the first place, but this argument in a committee really makes you wonder about those appointed by those we've elected.

While I do support keeping the Senate, we need to do something to change it. We cannot afford to be ruled by a single level of government, other than dictatorships I struggle to think of any government that has just one level. So, what can we do to change it instead?

Allow me to present, my rather simple plan for Senate Reform. Political parties, take note.

First and foremost, we must change the way citizens become Senators. There has been talk of having a directly elected Senate, but this is a problem for a number of reasons. Due to the nature of the Senate for provincial representation, an elected Senate leads the possibility of electing a body which is comprised of solely provincial interests. As such, this leads to provincial parties dominating the Senate, and would establish a block of Senators who worked together to pass measures that would benefit their own provinces.

As such, given the current numbers of representation with the Senate per province, it is not hard to imagine a group of Senators from 3 or 4 provinces working together to pass legislation that helps their provinces, while leaving the others a few votes short to ever stop them. As such, the first measure of reform is to look at the nature of representation.

Should we have a set number of universal senators for each province, regardless of population? This is how the United States Senate works, by having two senators for each state. However, in Canada, dropping the number of Senators to two per province, and perhaps one per territory, would be disastrous due to the change it would drop from 105 senators at present to a measly 23.

So obviously, a number of two senators is too low. The only option would be to give each province 10 senators per province, and one per territory to raise the number to 103. But then the territories are being excluded, and quite unfairly to an extent, so the best option would be to raise the territories to 1/2 the number of representation as a province, to 5. As you can see, this is getting complicated. As such, a numerical system that is universal probably wouldn't work in Canada.

I say this because larger provinces would likely complain about having the same representation despite a larger population, while the territories would complain about fewer representation in general. And if the territories were given greater representation, there would cries of giving more power to a weaker area in the nation...Which just causes headaches for everyone involved.

So, let's keep the current system, which gives 24 seats to Ontario, Quebec, the Maritimes, and the West and 6 seats to Newfoundland and Labrador. Now that we have the determined number of seats, how are we going to determine who gets what? I'm glad you asked.

Instead of directly electing senators, which will only lead to problems, senators shall continued to be appointed but the method shall change. Currently, a Prime Minister can appoint whomever they like to a senate seat. (Technically, the Governor General appoints them under the recommendation of the PM, but we all know the initial choice rests solely with the PM.) Now, the PM generally can appoint whomever they like, which generally means people who share the same political stripes.

It's odd, but it does happen, when a PM will appoint someone to serve as a Senator outside of their own political party. These so called 'patronage' appointments are in turn which probably contribute heavily to the problems we see within the senate, so we need to fix this. The way in which we do this can be done using a type of proportional representation.

Using the West as an example; British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba all share 24 seats within the Senate, with each province getting six seats for themselves. Now, this is how the system will work:

During an election, provincial results are used to determine the make-up of the Senate. So, let's say the Conservatives take 45% of the provincial wide vote in Saskatchewan. That would give them 45% of the Senate seats for Saskatchewan, so rounding up, 3 seats out of 6. The remaining seats would be divided the same way.

Now wait, I hear you say, does this allow more parties to win seats then their are seats? Well, I'm ahead of you on that one. To prevent a conflict in seats, a simple quota of around 8 - 10% is set to require that a party must capture that much to be considered for a senate seat.

So, under this system, the Senate would be appointed but elected based on the electoral results on a per province basis. And instead of those Senators being appointed by the Prime Minister, party representative Senators would instead be passed along by Party Leaders to fill those roles. As such, the Liberal Leader would recommend Liberal Senators, and the Conservative Leader would recommend Conservative Senators, and so forth.

So, what we've done is made it that Senate appointments, based on party, are restricted by provincial vote totals, and divided patronage appointments by allowing all party leaders to be in charge of appointing their own senators. Sounds better already, doesn't it?

And now for the most important part of all; the term of the Senators. Since the proportionality of the Senate will change with each election, Senators only serve as long as their House of Commons compatriots, in four - five year terms. Even then, it is up to the party leader to determine whether or not to reappoint a senator back to the Senate after a new election.

So, let's see: We've addressed term limits, we've addressed patronage appointments, and we've even addressed the idea of electing Senators, and found a workable solution without major change to the way the Senate operates.

Who knows, it just might work.

No comments: