Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Abolish the Senate

Reformers held that the regions needed more say and an "equal" “effective” and “elected” senate was the best way of achieving a balance between population centers in Eastern Canada and the rest of us. However, such a conception, and for that matter an "effective" version of the current senate, does not stand up to scrutiny. The problem is fivefold.

First such an argument rests on a false contrast; seats in the House of Commons are supposed to be assigned on basis of population, but that is not the case. Consider the 905. There are currently 4 plus million living in the 905 and there are currently 32 seats for an average of just over 127,000 people per riding. There are 6 ridings with over a 140,000 people in the 905, Bramalea - Gore - Malton (152,698) Brampton West (170,422) Halton (151,943), Mississauga - Erindale (143,361) Oak Ridges - Markham (169,642) and Vaughan (154,206). By contrast there are 4.5 million people in Sask, Man, NWT, Nuv, Yuk, PEI, NS, NFLD, and NB and there are 62 seats for an average of 72,000 people per riding. Moreover, there is but one riding in the 9, Selkirk Interlake (90,807), with over 90,000 people.

Second, the people living in Canada’s less populated provinces have a mechanism to assure that regional concerns are addressed; it is called provincial jurisdiction and provincial representation. By the very nature of living in a province with a small population, the 135,851 people in PEI have plenty of ways of addressing regional concerns that are not available to, for example, the 136 470 people living in Mississauga - Brampton South.

The third reason is a province is no more or less than the people that make up that province. Giving the 135,851 in PEI the power to determine everything under provincial jurisdiction, provincial representation and 4 MPs well all the while giving the 170, 422 residents of Brampton West one MP is bad enough as it is. Having one "effective" Senator for every 72,997 New Brunswick residents (10 senators in total) versus one Senator for every 685, 581 BC residents (6 senators in total) is just piling on.

Four, 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. Having two houses is a recipe for political gridlock and pork barrel politics.

Five, leaving aside the fact that no province has a second chamber, most having abolished them long ago, and that there are numerous examples of unicameral nation states (e.g., New Zealand, Denmark, Finland, Israel, Sweden, Iceland, Liechtenstein, South Korea and Portugal), we already have a de facto unicameral state as it is -- just ask the supporters of a Triple E senate. After all, one can not argue on the one hand that the current senate is undemocratic and so contributes to the "democratic deficit" and on the other hand argue that the senate is “ineffective”. A body that adds nothing to the genuinely "effective" process can not take away anything either.


Frunger said...

I have to chuckle when Liberal will hoot and holler at the Federal Conservatives for even considering changing the Senate and then fawn over the Provincial Liberals when they suggest making the most drastic, permanent change possible.

PS. Abolishing the Senate has been an NDP position forever.

PPS. I'm a Conservative supporter and think McGuinty has this one right.

thescottross.blogspot.com said...

Points in response to your five:

1. Senate Seats were never meant to be assigned based on population.

2. You appear to not understand the difference between intergovernmental and intragovernmental.

3. Your third point seems to be similar to your first.

4. Analogies don't make arguments, especially this one. The Senate has not been a source of gridlock nor pork barrel politics. Our Senate is nothing like our House of Commons, to suggest they are "equally matched" is false.

5. The Senate offers unparalleled report capabilities and could easily, far more easily than your constitutional amendmending idea, be improved through a better appointment process, greater powers, etc.

Your claim Canada is a de facto unicameral nation is also false.

Koby said...

"Senate Seats were never meant to be assigned based on population."

I know. It was designed to represent regional interests. A rational that I reject. It was also designed to check the will of the commoners and I reject that rational too.

"The Senate has not been a source of gridlock nor pork barrel politics."

No shit; it has no real power and so can not be the source of gridlock. However, if it had power it could be the source of political gridlock and it would take a good deal of pork to grease the wheels necessary to get things moving again. The US is great case in point.

"Your claim Canada is a de facto unicameral nation is also false."

Constitutionally senators have all kinds of power and every once in a blue moon the Senate has stalled major pieces of legislation (e.g., free trade and the GST). However the aforementioned instances of stalling are so rare they are the exceptions that prove just how "ineffective" the senate truly is.

"You appear to not understand the difference between intergovernmental and intragovernmental."

Really you do not seem to understand that having seat on the national stage gives one clout and that is the point. When Danny Williams barked federal government listened. The major of London Ontario could bitch and no one would give a shit.

Koby said...

I have long called for the Senate to be abolished and have blasted the Liberals for not having a opinion on the matter. "Always content to play the Tin Man and Lion to Conservatives scarecrow, the Liberals remain largely mum on the subject."