Thursday, November 25, 2010

Rethinking the Senate

Well, one of the more interesting pieces of news coming out of Ottawa this month, is the news that the Senate has killed a major piece of climate change legislation. Of course, the Conservatives have blamed the Liberals for the defeat of the bill; while the Liberals have blamed the Conservatives. I have talked about the Senate before on this blog, so I think it might be time to re-examine some of the issues I brought up from that last post, as it has been awhile.

Now, I've made no denial of my own political identification; I'm a proud New Democrat, however, abolishing the Senate is an issue where the NDP and I don't exactly see eye to eye. It is true, that in it's current form, the Senate is a breeding den of patronage and wasteful spending, but there are benefits to keeping the Second Chamber alive and well in Canada.

For starters, the idea of the Senate was originally founded to ensure that the provinces would have a strong voice in the federal government. That idea has fallen to the way side, as Senators identify more with their political party than with the province they are supposedly representing. This is also a problem in the House of Commons, but we don't quite have the time to deal with that as well in this post...Though, I have talked about it before as well.

In addition, the Senate is strange in it's permitting of absences for Senators. Effectively, a Senator can attend Senate committees and sitting at their own discretion, provided that they don't miss a certain consecutive number in a row. It's pretty much a recipe for absenteeism.

It is this lax policy on attendance that some are blaming for the climate change bill defeat; as when the vote was called, many Liberal Senators were missing from the Senate.

The other problem, which has been reported, is that some Senators moved for the bill to be pushed ahead and called for a vote immediately, as opposed to allowing debate on the bill to take place. This, combined with the small number of Liberal Senators present, more or less spelled doom for the bill.

So, the question becomes, what is to be done with the Senate?

An elected senate, while a popular idea, is not the route to go. I believe, quite strongly, that the Senate would become too partisan if Senators were directly elected. Furthermore, we would see a breakdown of the traditional party system and see a rise of provincial parties running for the Senate.

For example, think of the Bloc Quebecois or the Saskatchewan Party. Imagine them running as candidates for Senate, as opposed to candidates for the House of Commons or the Legislative Assembly.

If provincial parties became the norm for Senate election, the process of the Senate would become compromised, as these provincial parties would become bullheaded entities that would refuse to pass legislation that did not have a benefit for their province; after all, that would be the only way to get re-elected in the next election.

As mentioned before, this would result in a 'voting-bloc' within the Senate; where provinces like Alberta, Ontario, and the Maritimes could agree to support legislation together as they alone would have more votes than the other provinces combined within the Senate. As such, these provinces would benefit and be able to block bills which they considered disadvantageous to their provinces, which could in turn increase the amount of unfavourable legislation that impacts the rest of Canada.

As such, the idea of an elected Senate (if based on either a party system or a series of independents) just doesn't bode well for co-operation.

So, if we don't want to elect Senators, what should be done?

My solution, is found below.

1.) Put term limits in place on Senators; as opposed to serving until the age of 75, Senators should be replaced at the same time as a national election; as such, Senators would be replaced or reappointed after a Federal Election.

2.) Remove the appointment process from the Prime Minister, and instead, grant all party leaders who won seats in Parliament to appoint Senators.

3.) Senators should be appointed based on a provincial vote total; for example, let's say the Conservatives win 45% of the vote in Saskatchewan. As such, they would be allowed to appoint 45% of Saskatchewan's 6 senators. So, 3 seats rounding up. The remaining seats would be divided amongst those parties which received votes in that province, but again, could only be awarded seats if their party leader or a member of their party were elected anywhere nationally.

4.) Change the attendance system in the Senate, which would effectively replace the consecutive absences rule with a total absences rule; as opposed to Senators being removed after missing 6 or so sessions in a row, Senators would be allowed a total yearly allowed amount of missed sittings, which if they go over (without extenuating circumstances), would see them removed from the Senate.

I think that's more or less the best way to fix the Senate. Who knows, it just might work.

No comments: