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Jason Kenney's Senate elections law a farcical, faux exercise

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The chamber of the Senate of Canada. Photo: Makaristos/Wikimedia Commons

Never mind the details for a moment, this is all you really need to know about Alberta Premier Jason Kenney's constitutionally meaningless Senate elections law, introduced as Bill 13 in the provincial legislature yesterday.

Kenney has presented Alberta's progressives, of whom there are many, and the politicians they support with a wonderful opportunity to shoot themselves in both feet in a little over two years.

On October 17, 2021 -- the day the non-binding vote required by the Alberta Senate Election Act is to take place -- we shall duly do so, I regretfully predict.

Well, no one ever said Kenney isn't a clever politician.

Senate "reform" has long been a hobbyhorse of the perpetually dissatisfied far-right in this part of the country. These people imagine that a U.S.-style upper house in place of the unelected 19th-century relic we now have would be a panacea to their feelings of alienation in a larger federation where the majority of citizens don't share their antediluvian views. Thus they have demanded for years a "triple-e Senate," meaning elected, equal and effective.

Accordingly, faux Senate "elections" were held by Conservative governments in 1989, 2004 and 2012 in Alberta. The NDP government sensibly allowed the legislation to lapse, but Kenney has now revived this pipedream, with a slightly altered agenda.

Here's how this will enable progressives to shoot themselves, metaphorically speaking, in both feet.

The last time there was one of these constitutionally farcical votes -- I hesitate to call them elections, because they're not really -- progressive voters were given no opportunity by their parties to express their protest for this then-$3-million waste of money other than by spoiling their ballots or formally declining them.

As I wrote at the time, "it's a pity the more progressive parties didn't take advantage of this spectacular opportunity for free advertising despite the preference of most of their supporters for a triple-a Senate -- that is, abolish, abolish and abolish."

The Senate vote, after all, was going ahead anyway, whether or not progressives thought it was a good idea, because Conservatives rightly saw gain for themselves in this fraudulent exercise.

But without an organized campaign for a strategically chosen candidate by any of the progressive parties then in the legislature, progressive voters had no obvious way to express their dissatisfaction with the wasteful symbolic exercise and prove the fraudulence of the exercise when their candidate was duly not appointed to the Senate after the Conservatives under Stephen Harper came to power in 2006.

Indeed, Harper even ignored some of the Conservative victors, wisely seeing they were too nutty for voters in other parts of Canada.

Of course, the progressive political parties were far too principled to consider such a practical option, and there is no reason to believe they won't do exactly the same thing again.

"Not a good use of our money," NDP opposition leader and former premier Rachel Notley said yesterday. "It undermines our democracy. It's retreaded old 1980s politics." All true, but no reason not to exploit the opportunity for greater good.

For his part, Kenney claimed "this is not some kind of political symbol, this isn't just a gesture, this is an effort to revive democracy in the heart of our Parliament."

This, of course, is errant baloney. As for as Parliament goes, that's all it is and all it ever will be.

However, there's more to it than that. Not by coincidence, October 17, 2021 is municipal election day, when turnouts are traditionally low to match the stakes and Alberta voters often elect plenty of progressive councillors and mayors to the intense frustration of well-financed local property developers' sprawl cabals.

What better way to motivate the perpetually angry Conservative base to turn out for municipal elections while they do something they think is really important -- electing Senate nominees that no government in its right mind, even a Conservative one, would foist on the Red Chamber?

Accordingly, this bill ought to be called the Mayor Nenshi De-selection Act -- which, I imagine, is really what Kenney and his cronies in Calgary's development industry have in mind.

The squishy candidate-financing rules contained in the legislation should also provide opportunities for Kenney's United Conservative Party to do what it does best -- misallocating election contributions.

And that, dear readers, is all you need to know.

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca

Photo: Makaristos/Wikimedia Commons

Correction: The proper name of  Bill 13 is the Alberta Senate Election Act. The second of the previous Senate nominee elections took place in 2004. Incorrect information appeared in an earlier version of this story.

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