Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Senate Question

It is becoming clear that there will be showdown over the senate. The NDP want the issue put to a referendum and Conservatives are going to make that a reality. Moreover, the choice will not between abolishing the senate and keeping as is but rather abolishing the senate and “reforming” it. In other words, implicit in the very wording of the question will the current senate’s illegitimacy. Politically, there will be nothing the hapless Liberals to do to overturn this binary logic.

Having established the illegitimacy of current senate in the form of the referendum question, Harper will thereafter argue that he is justified in going ahead with his plan to reform the senate in a piece meal fashion – senate reform being one of two acceptable options.

Just to recall, under the Conservative plan, new senators would be elected and would be limited to serving out an 8 year term. The problem is people already in the senate would be free to serve until the age of 75. The result the of such nonsense should such a bill reach the senate and pass would 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.

So the issue will stand heading into the referendum. The question will be Reform Harper's mess or cut bait and abolish the senate. The obvious reluctance of the provinces to do anything right now will not matter. If Harper wins the next election and there is no reason to believe the hapless Dion will be able to beat him, the Provinces will have no choice but tackle the issue of senate Reform. As Harper likes to say, God bless Canada. We will need all the help we can get.


Anonymous said...

"Moreover, the choice will not between abolishing the senate and keeping as is but rather abolishing the senate and “reforming” it."

Nah - it won't come to that. This is just posturing. Just watch.

The Grumpy Voter said...

I'm not entirely convinced this is posturing at all. Senate reform speaks to Harper's Reform Party roots and while he's pretty much abandoned all of his social conservative causes in an attempt to shift his party to the political center, this is one issue that I believe is near and dear to his heart. I suspect most Canadians would prefer a reformed Senate rather than total abolishment and I think it would be hard for existing Senators to stay until they're 75 when there's a strong public appetite for a total reformation of the upper chamber. Moreover, I think it would be hard for provinces (save Quebec) who don't support Senate reform (in other words, the maritimes) to dig their heels in if there's a strong mandate for change via referendum.

Koby said...

Harper has not abandoned social conservativism and he certainly has not moved to the center. Read Rediscovering the Right Agenda. http://www.ccicinc.org/politicalaffairs/060103.html There is not a single policy proposal laid out there that Harper has abandoned save his three year long losing battle with SSM. He is just playing the long game and the media is either to too blind or too lazy to recognize this. There was a reason why Mark Warner was not allowed to put that he attended the Aides conference.

Anyway, as for the senate I could not think of a worse idea then reforming the senate. I should also at that 4 of the 10 provinces want to see the senate abolished, BC, Sask., Man, and Ontario.

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.

Now, 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 Mississauga Brampton South has a population of 136,470 and obviously only 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 136,470 and 1 MP. Mississauga Brampton South 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.

Mark said...

I love watching progressive Canadians suddenly squeal with delight at the notion of forcing a binary option on the electorate.

Aside from being a great prelude to unnecessary constitutional fireworks, this could be a wonderful opportunity to challenge Canada's really dumb referendum law.

Anonymous said...

Koby - for cyrin' out loud. Mississauga gets transfers from the federal govt - via Queens Park. Give your head a shake.

Koby said...

Waiting on the trickle down. … Sure, Mississauga gets federal funds from Queens Park the same way that Rustico-Emerald gets federal funds from Charlottetown. However does the riding of Mississauga Brampton South (136,000) people receive Federal the way the province of PEI (135,000) does? Of course not and that was my point.

>>>> I love watching progressive Canadians suddenly squeal with delight at the notion of forcing a binary option on the electorate.

What the hell are talking about? If I was to choose a binary option it would certainly not be the one mentioned here. It would be "do you favor keeping the senate in its current form or abolishing it?" Anyway, it is Conservatives that pushing this on the public. After all a party with 29 votes can do anything by itself can it.