Senate Reform is not the democratic exercise it appears

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Sean in Ottawa
Senate Reform is not the democratic exercise it appears

In looking at the headlines related to senate reform I got a glimpse of the implications of this: it will further centralize power in the PMO.

Political winds come and go. Usually the Senate represents the previous government as we all know there is a lag in appointments for a government to regain the majority in the Senate and often when they do they lose it in the House. The Senate being out of step with political winds of change. This is in part what allows that chamber to provide the "sober second thought" as they do not represent the government. The Seneate is the closest thing we in Canada have to the French "cohabitation" where the executive and legislative branches in that country frequently are of different parties or the US where mid term elections rarely allow a party to control both houses for long.

Harper's proposals to limit terms to 8 years will increase the turnover in the Senate such that it will take much less time for a new government to take over that chamber. The fact that elections would be required is not relevant as the chamber would be subject to the same winds as the House. At the core of the Senate reform is an opportunity for each government to clean out the older government faster and have complete control in the PMO.

I say the PMO rather than the House because of course we have seen how little power resides in the House even in a minority situation. The governing party is totally controlled by the PMO, the opposition is captured by the political reality that they are not the most popular party and therefore cannot afford an election at every disagreement. This is what happens when you have an uncooperative government that turns everything in to a challenge. The only thing this does to weaken the PM is that while he is a virtual dictator as long as the public has him first in the polls, if he ever falls to second he will be out at the first opportunity the house has. There are of course many machinations that can be employed to manipulate public opinion and secrecy and deception are essential components but this is what we have: no more checks and balances on a PM-- the most popular party in the land (even without a majority) will have its leader a virtual dictator until the public changes its mind and chooses another dictator. That is how badly our political so-called democracy has fallen. We have now lost all checks on the PM: the senate, the House and the GG are all meaningless only public opinion in the polls will matter because nobody else will challenge it.

I understand that this can be seen as an argument to ban polls from our system since we are effectively maintaining government of dictators by opinion poll.

Boom Boom Boom Boom's picture

I think Harper said last night he is appointing senators because the majority (senators appointed by the Liberals)  are blocking his agenda. IIRC, Harper also said he gave the provinces an opportunity to elect senators which he promised to appoint, and only Alberta took up the offer.

JKR

Now that Harper has made the Senate an issue, the NDP should make sure their position on the Senate gets some airplay:

Abolish the Corrupt Senate Now!

Malcolm Malcolm's picture

The Senate is a festering pustule on the arse end of Canada's democracy.

thorin_bane

The CBC boartd was buzzing today with conbots. It got freeped for sure because there is no way they agree disagree lined up with people who visit the CBC The same con posters always bitch about all the left wingers only hanging out there. So you know its all BS because because the numbers don't match the demographics. On thr bright side the call for abolishments is getting much stronger.

I put in some thoughtful posts but the moderator was a lib today and didn't show 2 very good posts I wrote.

There is some charcter yapping away at how they are "always an NDP voter" But this time the will vote so they can get rid of harper...you are not an NDP voter because you would know this is one of the best times to not vote liberal. Harper is stick at 32% 6 points lower than last election. You have never been safer to vote NDP than now. Of that 32% one has to remember how much of that is from throwaway votes in alberta and sask. They get 70% plus in some ridings. They are really not polling very high elsewhere, though they have shorn up their base in the praries.

Of course its silly season because this is when harper pulls all his stunts while the house isn't sitting. All media is on his party.

 

Fidel

[url=http://www.stthomastimesjournal.com/ArticleDisplay.aspx?e=2921694]Senator learns fate next month on fraud charges[/url]

Quote:
OTTAWA - Raymond Lavigne will find out on Feb. 22 whether he'll be going to prison or back to the Senate.

Either way, it will be on the taxpayers' dime.

Lavigne, a former Liberal MP, is charged with fraud, obstruction of justice and breach of trust for allegedly misusing Senate funds.

He is alleged to have pocketed claims for expenses that had actually been run up by his staff.

He's also alleged to have used his staff to do work unrelated to his Senate duties.

Lavigne has been barred from attending Senate proceedings since he was charged in 2007, though he has continued to collect his $132,300 annual salary.

He's also claimed hundreds of thousands more for travel, hospitality, office and living expenses.

They'd cut off his fat-cat pay and fire him, but they can't get LAVIGNE AND HIS LAWYER to attend court at the same time. In the mean time he's still running around Ottawa and attending cocktail parties for dignitaries on the taxpayers dime and continues to enjoy full pay and benefits, perks etc.

Fidel

[url=http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/ottawa-notebook/jack-layton... Layton wants to rid Senate  of shills and party bagmen[/url]

Globe and Mail wrote:
Jack Layton’s ultimate goal is to abolish the Senate but he knows that isn’t about to happen any time soon, so he is urging Stephen Harper take some baby steps toward reform.

Mr. Layton is calling for “two modest but vital” initial changes. First, the Prime Minister should stop appointing “failed candidates and party insiders to the Senate.” Second, Mr. Layton wants all senators “banned from fundraising for political parties.” ...

It’s a common practice of the Conservatives and Liberals – when they’re in government – to appoint party bagmen, unsuccessful candidates and even their national campaign managers to the Red Chamber. That allows them to work on re-election and campaign strategy on the taxpayer’s dime – and not on their party’s.

Mr. Layton says it costs $859,000 a year for each senator in the 105-member chamber. “All for an institution that won’t play any relevant role in the lives of most Canadians,” the NDP chief complained.

And what a colossal waste of taxpayers money it is.

ygtbk

Seems like we need Senate elections to keep the hacks from getting appointed. I think Senators should be able to fundraise in their free time, but not when they're supposed to be working on public business.

Fidel

And they would likely go with a FPTP model for senate elections just to avoid acknowledging the fact that our overal electoral system is obsolete and needs modernizing.

"No more replastering - the structure is rotten!"

Ken Burch Ken Burch's picture

Could the Senate be abolished through a referendum?  If not, abolishing it would always be fairly challenging, since(unless I have this wrong)you'd have to get the Senate to vote to aboliish ITSELF.

Malcolm Malcolm's picture

Abolishing the Senate under the present amending formula would be difficult.

Reforming the Senate under the present amending formula would be impossible.

If abolition were passed in a referendum it would have no legal weight, but there would be considerable pressure on politicians to do the right thing for a change.

Sean in Ottawa

Indeed.

I prefer abolition to reform because reform would make it worse as I laid out in my opening post.

ottawaobserver

Fidel wrote:

Ottawa is broken. And it’s time to fix it.

It's time to get the party fundraisers and political hacks who lose elections out of the senate. And just as importantly, it's time to scrap an unnecessary senate that has nothing to do with democracy.

Hey Fidel, that link goes to your Hotmail login. Try this one instead:

http://www.ndp.ca/tv-ads

 

Boom Boom Boom Boom's picture

I watched this on CTV today: Senate reform leads to shouting match between Tory senator, NDP MP

excerpt:

Hamilton-area MP David Christopherson, the NDP’s parliamentary reform critic, called Conservative-appointed Senator Pamela Wallin “arrogant and elitist” on CTV’s Question Period Sunday after she snubbed his idea of a national referendum on abolishing the Senate.

Boom Boom Boom Boom's picture

An outstanding article by Gerald Caplan!!!

Electing the Senate: worst idea in the history of the planet

janfromthebruce

I read that article by Gerald ealier and thought it was right on! Think about, having to run a province wide election for one member of the senate - only those with "name recognition" and loads of cash will be able to run - a con upper house forever - just say no!

ScotianGuy1981

The question that needs to be asked is bicamerialism necessary in a federation? Should the legislative branch reflect the federal nature of the country? Should elections and government solely be in the hands of the most populous provinces? 

Shorter term limits does increase the power of the PMO, one PM who gets at least 8 years as PM would influence the Senate and the legislative agenda years after they are gone. There are lots of models we could consider for an upper house:

Jury Senate model from the Canadian Action Party

Senate by Electoral College in France

Senate appointed by provincial legislatures (United States pre 17th amendment)

Senate elected by STV - Australia

Senate compromised of provincial cabinet ministers - Germany

A Senate entirely appointed by the Head of State is only found in Canada and Jordan. 

Of course a deadlock mechanism is required. Ottawa is broken because the Constitution is broken and it is time that we had debate and disscussion on it and fixed it. 

Boom Boom Boom Boom's picture

McGuinty says "abolish the Senate" - finally.

Fidel

[url=http://www.ndp.ca/press/ottawa-broken-it-s-time-to-fix-it]... is broken. And it’s time to fix it.[/url]

It's time to get the party fundraisers and political hacks who lose elections out of the senate. And just as importantly, it's time to scrap an unnecessary senate that has nothing to do with democracy.

Boom Boom Boom Boom's picture

Tories' Senate reform reference to Supreme Court will divide country, says constitutional law professor

Mr. Mendes said Mr. Harper is engaged in “mischief-making” and is wasting the Supreme Court of Canada’s time forcing it to consider questions, particularly on Senate abolition, which are already clearly spelled out in the constitution.

“The other person who should be spinning in his arm chair is Preston Manning, because this is so antithetical to the triple E Senate which brought Preston Manning into politics,” Mr. Mendes said.

6079_Smith_W

@ Boom BOom

Except I'd remind Mr. Mendes that Preston Manning's idea wasn't all that well-thought out.

A truly bicameral house is bad enough in the American system, with its separate executive branch, and all it's fucked up tension around states rights (would anyone here want to have their state-run electoral system?)

Transplanting that to a british parliamentary system like Canada's would be a complete dog's breakfast. What happens the first time the Prime Minister is a sitting member of the senate, and th H of C can't even hold him to account?

Neuter the senate, or abolish it. There is no other option that will not lead to disaster.

 

Boom Boom Boom Boom's picture

Yup. But the point of the article is that Harper is pretenting to actually be doing something. I should have just ignored the Manning reference.

6079_Smith_W

I'm not criticizing you for bringing it up Boom Boom. I take your point. But I think it can't be said enough that making the senate elected is not such a good idea.

kropotkin1951 kropotkin1951's picture

The NDP has always has it right on the Senate. Just abolish the damn thing.  Here are two of my best arguments for abolishing the Senate.

1.

 

2.

Boom Boom Boom Boom's picture

Excellent, Krop! Those are two very useless individuals. They're only in it for the money. Probably goes for the rest of those overpaid bastards, too. And they're appointed for life. Frown

Caissa

I'm interested in what the Supreme Court will have to say on the issue.

Philo8

What is needed is a regime change and a new constitution to bring democracy to this country after all these years, not creating more millionaires in a US style senate.

Geoff

I wouldn't find the Senate so offensive if

a) it did not have the power to veto legislation proposed by the elected House of Commons (as is the case with the British House of Lords - pretty sad when we make those folks look good)

b) it was comprised of citizens from all walks of life (i.e. labour, environment, human rights, arts, and yes, even business)

Then, we would have a "citizens' assembly" whose sole purpose would be to provide advice to our elected representatives.  The Senate could be a useful source of information to help MPs make their decisions.

JKR

The Conservatives added the question regarding Senate abolition in order to delegitimize the NDP's position that the Senate should be abolished.

If the Supreme Court decides that Senate abolition requires the unanimous approval of all 10 provinces and the federal government, the NDP's support for Senate abolition will be weakened. If the Supreme Court says that unanimity is required, in any debate regarding Senate reform, the Conservatives will be able to say that the Supreme Court has gone against the NDP's position.

If the Supreme Court does require unanimity to abolish the Senate, the NDP will likely have to revisit their position on Senate reform.

Personally I would like to see the Senate expanded to at least 400 members and chosen by lottery. Maybe a man and woman should be chosen by a lottery from each riding, giving us 678 members altogether?

If the Supreme Court respects the democratic nature of Canada they'll conclude that the federal government is obligated to cooperatively negotiate with the provinces any significant changes to the Senate and while they're at it they should tell the government that they must also cooperatively negotiate with First Nations over any structural changes in Canada-First Nations affairs.

Michael Moriarity Michael Moriarity's picture

Geoff wrote:

I wouldn't find the Senate so offensive if

a) it did not have the power to veto legislation proposed by the elected House of Commons (as is the case with the British House of Lords - pretty sad when we make those folks look good)

b) it was comprised of citizens from all walks of life (i.e. labour, environment, human rights, arts, and yes, even business)

Then, we would have a "citizens' assembly" whose sole purpose would be to provide advice to our elected representatives.  The Senate could be a useful source of information to help MPs make their decisions.

Interesting ideas. If you imagine a "jury model" senate, composed of citizens selected by lot for a 1 or 2 year term, it could be quite useful. Give some randomly chosen people a platform to criticise, but not overrule, the elected house of commons. I like it.

 

kropotkin1951 kropotkin1951's picture

Harper or the Senate could send C45 to the SCC for a reference opinion on its constitutional validity.  However they would rather ram that through and let the court process take at least 6 years for a definitive answer.

This is just another red herring from the spin doctors in the PMO.

 

Boom Boom Boom Boom's picture

Yes, Krop. Important that folks see this for what it is.

6079_Smith_W

I'm with Geoff's idea. In fact, I'd say there are enough politicians through the years who have used the senate that way.

But I don't think the problem is all systemic. A politician who is so inclined can use any system in an anti-democratic way. It's only when it is abused in an outrageous way that it becomes necessary for laws to be laid down.

 

Hurtin Albertan

I always liked the Triple E senate that Reform used to propose.  Too bad that never carried over to the present day Conservatives along with Harper.

Boom Boom Boom Boom's picture

The Senate is just a bunch of overpaid useless freeloaders. Abolish the damned thing already - starting with Duffy and Brazeau!

Fidel

It`s all a conspiracy to prevent possible populist governments from having too much political power. Should control of the country fall into the hands of ordinary working class slobs, Canada`s landed artistocracy aka millionaire senators would be there working away diligently in the shadows to ensure all does not go to rack and ruin. IOW`s the people can not be trusted with democracy. And so it seems that our appointed senators are not entirely without purpose.

6079_Smith_W

I don't know, Fidel.

If you look at our current situation, with the government sometimes getting more opposition from unelected bureaucrats like the auditor general and the parliamentary budget officer (to name just two) than the actual elected opposition, I'm not so sure that a truly sober house of second thought is in principle such a bad thing, so long as it did not have the power to quash H of C legislation.

Of course what we have now is a real mess, and yes, abolition might be the only viable option, but the fact is that almost any fool with a party machine in the right riding  can get elected. We have a few here in our town who prove that point. I'm not so sure that - or having a set of cameras in the room to perform for - is the ultimate measure of how well one can get the work of government done.

 

 

Fidel

Define `sometimes`.  And besides, `Senate`just sounds phony.

I can`t imagine any party in Ottawa opposing the old white boys appointee clique more than the NDP.  If senators can effectively stall senate reform merely by showing up for work once in a blue moon and voting against it, what else are they able to quash...

Ken Burch Ken Burch's picture

Can the Senate be abolished with it's agreement to BE abolished? 

Wouldn't the Senate actually have to approve an abolition bill?

knownothing knownothing's picture

Yes. That is why you have to have a referendum so that the people can put pressure on the Senate to abolish themselves.

6079_Smith_W

Again, until someone started - just a few years ago -  using the Senate to overturn legislation passed by the house it wasn't the way that things were done. And when it did happen, I seriously doubt the order came from anywhere other than the PMO.

I don't think I'd worry too much about the senate putting up a fight if it ever came to that.

Boom Boom Boom Boom's picture
Mr.Tea

Apparently, Brazeau is in police custody after the police were called to his home to investigate a domestic violence complaint.

Boom Boom Boom Boom's picture

CBC: Senate has contracted outside auditors to audit the expense claims and residency claims of Senators Mike Duffy, Patrick Brazeau (Conservatives) and Marc Harb (Liberal).

arielc

Boom Boom wrote:

The Senate is just a bunch of overpaid useless freeloaders. Abolish the damned thing already - starting with Duffy and Brazeau!

arielc

Boom Boom wrote:

The Senate is just a bunch of overpaid useless freeloaders. Abolish the damned thing already - starting with Duffy and Brazeau!

Not saying I like the Senate the way it is, but do you really want the HoC yahoos to have ALL the power?

"Sober second thought" is still a valid concept, though the representation needs rethinking.

I say ditch FPTP first, implement prop. Rep with ALL members accountable to constituents, NOT parties.
NEVER again a majority gov - They can learn to cooperate and collaborate to achieve common goals, just like all ADULTS are expected to do in the workplace.

Unionist

arielc wrote:

Not saying I like the Senate the way it is, but do you really want the HoC yahoos to have ALL the power? "Sober second thought" is still a valid concept, though the representation needs rethinking. I say ditch FPTP first, implement prop. Rep with ALL members accountable to constituents, NOT parties. NEVER again a majority gov - They can learn to cooperate and collaborate to achieve common goals, just like all ADULTS are expected to do in the workplace.

 

Fidel

arielc wrote:

Not saying I like the Senate the way it is, but do you really want the HoC yahoos to have ALL the power? "Sober second thought" is still a valid concept, though the representation needs rethinking. I say ditch FPTP first, implement prop. Rep with ALL members accountable to constituents, NOT parties. NEVER again a majority gov - They can learn to cooperate and collaborate to achieve common goals, just like all ADULTS are expected to do in the workplace.

Of course, the senate would still be highly irrelevant to true democratic process if FPTP is replaced with PR because phony majorities would be made numerically impossible.

FPTP is the main culprit when MP's sleep under newspapers and rise merely to puff up their chests and babble and cackle on the taxpayers dime.

"Sober second thought" is just code for wasteful duplication of government. Why not just increase the number of political representatives through PR?

All of those fat-cat senators are illegit and need cleaning out of Ottawa but good as a lesson in democracy.

[url=http://www.liberalsforfairvoting.ca/[/url]">http://www.liberalsforfairvoting.ca/][=16]http://www.liberalsforfair...

kropotkin1951 kropotkin1951's picture

Boom Boom wrote:

CBC: Senate has contracted outside auditors to audit the expense claims and residency claims of Senators Mike Duffy, Patrick Brazeau (Conservatives) and Marc Harb (Liberal).

I seem to have missed someone in my post above. He has been from Ottawa his whole career. I wonder where he claims to live as a Senator.

mark_alfred

arielc wrote:

Boom Boom wrote:

The Senate is just a bunch of overpaid useless freeloaders. Abolish the damned thing already - starting with Duffy and Brazeau!

Not saying I like the Senate the way it is, but do you really want the HoC yahoos to have ALL the power? "Sober second thought" is still a valid concept, though the representation needs rethinking.

I agree with Boom Boom on this one.  True oversight and "sober second thought" of the federal government comes from the Charter and the Supreme Court of Canada, not from the Senate.  The Senate is just a partisan house of appointed government toadies that should be done away with.

Unlike the Federal government, none of the Provincial governments have a Senate.  They are all unicameral Parliaments (unlike the Federal bicameral Parliament) and they all work fine.  Also nations such as Finland, Greece, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Peru, Sweden, and Turkey have unicameral Parliaments.

Boom Boom Boom Boom's picture

Megan Leslie just said on CTV's QP that Marjorie LeBreton - the Conservative Senator who leads the Conservative caucus in the Senate, said she votes against any bills from the Liberals and NDP strictly because they go against government policy. That's not sober second thought - that's pure partianship.

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