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Senate is beyond hope of any reform and should be abolished
Last week I sat waiting in the office of the Oliver Chronicle to meet with one of Canada’s newest senators, who wanted to discuss reforming the institution to which he had just been named.
Unlike most senators, Conservative senator Scott Tannas was elected in Alberta through a process the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper would like to see adopted throughout the country.
The senator never showed up for our meeting, even though it was his office that requested it.
I had driven up from Osoyoos, researched the issue and spent 45 minutes waiting, so I’ll be darned if I don’t at least get a column out of this.
What I most wanted to ask the senator was why he and his government are talking about trying to reform an institution that most Canadians just want to see abolished.
Senators from both the Conservative and Liberal sides – though mainly Harper’s own appointees – have utterly shamed that institution with their trough slurping, sense of entitlement and possible criminal activity.
Do you really think it can be fixed with a few tweaks?
Let’s be realistic. Tweaking is all that the Harper government can do without reopening the constitution. And nobody who lived through the nation-splitting fiascos of Meech Lake and the Charlottetown Accord wants to reopen that smelly can of worms.
The government currently has a bill to formalize the process of electing senators, who would be appointed to fixed terms. But these would not be real elections.
Rather, as has been done in Alberta, a list of senators in waiting could be chosen by a vote, but the Prime Minister would still choose which of them to appoint.
Even the government admits in a document filed with the Supreme Court that: “the Alberta Senate nominee process has not produced senators whose professional and life experience varies significantly from (appointed) senators.”
Elected or not, they are still whipped to follow the party line.
As for setting a nine-year term limit, most provinces argue this would require reopening the constitution. And the average senator only sits about 10 years anyway.
The original idea of the senate was to be a chamber of “sober second thought” and to balance the interests of the provinces against the popularly-elected House of Commons.
But anyone who has seen Senator Mike Duffy and his buddies in action would have to agree that “sobriety” is a bit of a stretch.
And Senate representation of provinces is horribly skewed with British Columbia coming out the worst.
This province has just six senators, with a population per senator of more than 775,000. Sparsely populated New Brunswick has 10 senators at a population per senator of barely 75,000. This inequality can never be fixed without opening a constitutional battle that would almost certainly divide the country.
So the chance of meaningful repair to the senate is virtually zero and the senate completely fails in its original purpose.
There are a few individual senators who do good work, but most are a pretty mediocre bunch simply inflated with their own sense of importance and entitlement.
Some are downright dishonest.
The only solution is abolition, a position now taken by parties and organizations at both ends of the political spectrum – ranging from the federal and Manitoba NDP on the left to the Saskatchewan government of Brad Wall and the Canadian Taxpayers Federation on the right.
Of course abolishing the Senate would also certainly require a constitutional amendment. Provinces and the federal government disagree on whether all provinces or just a majority would need to agree to it.
There is a way around this though.
If abolition were put to Canadians in a national referendum, it would not be binding, but it would be pretty hard for provincial legislatures to stand against a clear vote by the Canadian people.
Canadians are disgusted enough with the antics of senators Duffy and Pamela Wallin and others that if a vote were held on abolition today, I have no doubt it would succeed in most if not all provinces.
Perhaps it’s just as well that Senator Tannas stood me up last week.
He would have had a pretty hard time justifying keeping this useless and wasteful institution.
Richard McGuire is a reporter/photographer with the Osoyoos Times. He worked on Parliament Hill for 14 years.