Disintegrating the Upper House?

Apparently Stephen Harper believes in a Good Senate or No Senate:

The Globe and Mail has learned that the Prime Minister would add his voice to those who would support a referendum that would ask Canadians whether they wish to abolish the Senate.

The idea was broached by NDP Leader Jack Layton on the weekend. Tory Senator Hugh Segal has also put forward the notion of a nationwide plebiscite.

“If it came to the House, it would be hard not to support it,” a source told The Globe.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks at a Conservative Party event in Castlegar, B.C., on Monday. (Jeff Bassett/The Canadian Press)

Sources were quick to add, however, that the Prime Minister’s preferred route is to elect members of the Senate. Mr. Harper has already introduced a series of bills designed to overhaul the Senate.

Mr. Layton suggests holding such a referendum at the time of the next general election, which is set for October of 2009.

Methinks Harper’s a wee bit frustrated with Chretien’s legacy.

Seriously, though, this can’t be a positive idea. In most governmental systems, checks and balances are seen as key. The States in particular are often criticized by Canadians as being less democratic than we are, and yet our government is musing over eliminating the one real check that exists for Parliament.

Don’t get me wrong. The Queen is a great figure. But I don’t remember the last time the governor general did anything particularly noteworthy. It may be as long ago as the King-Byng affair. The Senate, on the other hand, has some real say in what goes on in the Canadian legislation. While it’s true that they have become the brunt of many homeland jokes, their role is important, even if it may be frustrating for members of a different party.

Clearly, this should not be an all or nothing deal. While the current system may not be ideal, Harper’s support for elected members should not come alongside the thought that having no Senate would be okay. If anything, having a Liberal Senate forces a Conservative government to take into account their policy-making, which cannot be a bad thing, unless, of course, you’re a Conservative.

Press for reform, folks. But don’t give the House of Commons absolute power. The fact that the Senate’s a joke already allows to much stupidity in our lower house!


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Stephen
    Nov 07, 2007 @ 16:03:19

    The original goal for the Senate was to create an institution that had regional balance. Population always favours Ontario and Quebec, and disadvantages the Atlantic provinces. The Senate divides seats by Region, regardless of population. That regional balance is what you would lose if the Senate was abolished.

    The Senate sometimes suggests amendments to Bills, but I don’t think it really represents much of a check on the House of Commons. And of course Senators’ legitimacy is often called into question because they are elected.

    In fact, one of the arguments against an elected Senate is precisely that it would give Senators more legitimacy. And if they had more legitimacy, they might begin to actually do stuff. And if they actually did stuff, our government might be paralyzed: because the Senate and the House would offset each other, and the Government wouldn’t be able to get anything through both branches of Parliament. So we might be better off with an ineffectual Senate!

    I’m probably in the camp that would like to see the Senate dispensed with. But here’s one good thing about a referendum: the people who think the Senate has value would have an opportunity to put that case before the public. Then we could all make an informed decision — because voters are so good at that.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: