Thursday, October 25, 2007

Conservatives' perverse plan to Reform the Senate

The Reform people have always wanted to have cake and eat it too when it came to the senate. On the one hand they are argued the current senate is undemocratic. And on the other hand they have argued that the senate is “ineffective”. The problem is a body that adds nothing to the genuine "effective" democratic process can not take away anything either.

Still, that begs the question: would Canada be better off with two “effective” houses? The answer is of course not. As Benjamin Franklin put it, having two equally matched houses makes as much sense as tying two equally matched horses to either end of a buggy and having them both pull. This should be obvious. It certainly was obvious to the original supporters of the senate. The name of Britain’s two houses, the House of Lords and the House of Commons, is very telling in that regard. The purpose of having a House of Lords was to check the will of common people. One of the main purposes of the Canadian senate, which was modeled after the British system, was to do the same.

The class based nature of the senate has long since been forgotten though and we are left with a corpse destined to provide regional representation. Some believe that the regions need more say and an “effective” and “elected” senate is the best way of achieving such a balance between population centers in Eastern Canada and the rest of us. The problem is two fold. First such an argument rests on a false contrast; seats in the House of Commons are supposed to be assigned on a rep by pop basis, but in actuality that is not the case. For example, PEI has a population of 135,851 and has 4 MPs and people in the riding of Oak Ridges Markham has a population of 169, 642 obviously ony has 1 MP. The second reason is that comparing province to province is a perverse misnomer. It is comparing apples to oranges. What one should be comparing is the political resources of people in any two ridings. When one does this it is abundantly clear that people in Canada’s urban centers in particular are getting the short end of the stick and that people living in the less populous regions of the country already have far more clout on a per person basis by virtue of the fact that the provincial and territorial jurisdictions in which they are a member or far less populous. Indeed, PEI and its population of 135,851 and 4 MPs, as a province, has revenue streams available to it that are simply not available to Oak Ridges Markham and its population of 169, 642 and 1 MP. Oak Ridges Markham does not get Federal transfer payments for one. Empowering 4 PEI senators to represent the interests of 135,851 people while only empowering 24 Ontario Senators to represent the interests of 12.1 million Ontarians simply adds insult to injury. It is also grossly undemocratic.


I should have mentioned that even the means by which Harper hopes to “Reform” the senate is perverse. Being unable to “reform” the Senate in one fell swoop, Harper has proposed electing Senators piece meal. It is hard to image a dumber idea. Under the Conservative plan, new senators would elected and would be limited to serving out a 8 year term. The problem is that people already in the senate would be free to serve until the age of 75. As a result the effect of such nonsense could be either to transform an unelected political body with no power into a largely unelected political body with real political power or commit Canadians to the farcical and expensive act of electing people to office who hold no real power.


Sean Cummings said...

But why not reform the Senate or abolish it all together? Seriously, it has long been a patronage pig sty that offers absolutely no accountibility to voters and Hugh Segal has the right idea - bring on a referendum. I suspect those who support the status quo will have a hard time explaining to voters how we benefit from an unelected and unaccountible Senate. (Personally, we should get rid of it all together.)

annie said...

How many countries, that have any meaning, have no Senate ? That is a ridiculous idea. The government would ram-rod things through and instantly become law. Is that that people want? Soon a dictatorship.

Koby said...

"How many countries, that have any meaning, have no Senate ? That is a ridiculous idea. The government would ram-rod things through and instantly become law. Is that that people want? Soon a dictatorship."

Boy Annie I am glad you put so much thought into the above. Not only did you not address anything I said, you warn that if an "ineffective" senate is abolished then we would soon be on the road to "dictatorship". Good humour.

"But why not reform the Senate"

Why are you asking me this? I presume you read my post.

I am fine with abolishing it.