Wednesday, June 22, 2011

In Defence of the Senate

Seems everyone is fed up with the Senate.

With Harper having a steel grip on power in Ottawa and doing all he can to circumvent scrutiny over the purse strings, it seems like a heck of a time to get rid of the only actual House on the Hill that does anything. Don't tell me that this committee work is unimportant. Don't claim that the Senate no longer functions as a place for sober second thought.

We have one of the saddest excuses for a Parliament in the western world and now we want to make sure they're the be all and end all for governance in Canada? There's no way this improves politics in this country, we're entering dangerous waters here.

8 comments:

  1. Comment removed for going full Godwin

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  2. I am totally with you on this. I also support the PM being able to appoint Senators. If you want the ability to promote your own to the Upper Chamber, then win a federal election.

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  3. Most average Canadians know very little about how the work of the Senate impacts their daily lives. Most legislation on the Hill would go through with millions of holes and problems in it, if it weren't for the committee work and research work of Senators and Senate offices.

    Saying we need to remove the Senate is like removing the safety catch on the "nuke" launch system of a nuclear sub. You don't know the problems you might have - until it's too late.

    This issue appears a lot like Meech Lake to me... All the sell-out politicians jumping on board (from all parties)... then someone actually starts thinking about the results.

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  4. WesternGrit, if you think someone is going to start thinking then you're far more optimistic than I. The two largest parties in the House are focused on keeping their populist cred. It's a populist BS arms race.

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  5. So far I am cautiously optimistic of Harper's reform proposal, in particular, I am happy that there is a limit that elected senators *cannot* run again. This will address much of the concerns of people who worry that the elected Senate will turn into the Australian Senate that constantly thwarts the will of the lower chamber.

    There are two main problems with senate reform proposals.

    With abolition, there is a concern that the stupidities of party politics will allow for really bad legislation to form.

    With a Triple E, there is a concern of creating a contentious bicameral system similar to the United States that will further the status quo, and frankly, hurt the ability of progressives to effect change.

    The best aspect of our current Senate is the high levels of deference to the lower chamber in addition to the ability to refine and study legislation well.

    The worst aspects of our current Senate is screwed up regional representation and appointment of party hacks (as Harper has done recently).

    Once you get elections going, I think you will find agreement from enough provinces to move forward with a constitutional amendment to equalize representation (because the pressure to do so will be overwhelming once the body is more elected)--you already have places like Nova Scotia under Darrell Dexter supporting abolition (which is not in NS interests strictly, but is a fair position to hold).

    Overall I still have to say I favour abolition though--elections for Senators in big provinces will be insane, and only the most well connected and backed party brokers could have any shot of winning these affairs. Not exposing them to reelection will reduce the problem of this though, as Senators will very likely have a strong incentive to stop touting strict party lines once they get in.

    Given where we are now though (with Harpers appointments), it is better for us to move forward on *something* to change the Senate because we can no longer realistically ignore the problem.

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  6. it is better for us to move forward on *something* to change the Senate because we can no longer realistically ignore the problem.

    If you accept that there is a problem. I don't, at least not to the degree that most do. For the most part the Senate works how it's supposed to work.

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  7. I am beginning to think that I am in the minority in wanting to preserve the institutional memory that the Upper House holds. In fact, I still think that having them elected is a bad idea as the features of the Upper House would become indistinguishable from the dynamics of the Lower House. My friend pointed out that most of the political dynamics and discourse is fully rooted in the liberal democrat and neoliberal thinking , so it is very difficult to conceive outside of that scope. Thus, cautioning against electing everything and the flaws of approximating direct democracy is seen foreign.

    Institutional memory is vital to a healthy Parliamentary system, yet it is considered an annoyance. I suppose we can take solace that just as long as jimmy can finally take his violin lessons, Parliament can convene at the local Hooters for all that it matters.

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  8. jkg, the latest incarnation of the House of Lords in the UK is an interesting concept. No pay but a small stipend. No expectation of you actually taking your seat in the House. Instead it's a broad cross-section of expertise and people contribute to bills when they have something to offer. It's an interesting idea, perhaps make it a duty of senior public servants when they retire, or simply put members of the Privy Council there once they're done.

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