Over the past year, the Senate of Canada has been front and centre in the media which has reignited a debate among Canadians as to whether or not the Senate should be reformed or abolished. Let’s face it, before the “Senate scandal,” the institution was practically not discussed. Truth is, it takes a significant event for the Senate to receive any airtime or print at all.
Most Canadians are indifferent to the Senate either because there is little understanding of its role, which I attribute to being the fault of the Senate, or because they know it would take major constitutional amendments to bring about any significant change.
As a Senator, albeit suspended for no justifiable reason and in title only for the time being, I have my personal views on what should happen to the Senate of Canada. Obviously, there are varying opinions on whether we keep the status quo, reform or abolish the Senate. I respect that political parties have their own views (for specific political purposes) which are all worthy of debate but all bring about very different and significant consequences.
When Stephen Harper was the Leader of the Opposition, he promised if elected prime minister he would not appoint senators to the Upper Chamber. Look how well that turned out. Harper holds the record for appointing the most senators in Canadian history but he should not be faulted for that.
An elected prime minister of any political party, including the NDP, would have done the same thing Harper did if vacancies were to be filled. It is no secret that the NDP is fully in favour of Senate abolition. Their position may be because the NDP has never had the opportunity and privilege of appointing senators but that’s an entirely different topic for another column.
When I was asked to become a senator, Prime Minister Harper asked me if I would support the idea of an 8-year term limit. I did at the time but my position has now changed. Over the course of Harper’s mandate several pieces of legislation were introduced relating to term limits, but these never received Royal Assent. Political games were played to ensure the legislation never saw the light of day.
Stephen Harper himself did not believe in Senate reform. I clearly recall Harper joking about his own pieces of legislation when several “new” Senators were invited to a dinner at 24 Sussex.
Prime Minister Harper could have introduced one piece of legislation dealing with term limits if he truly believed in Senate reform. The legislation could have been debated in both the House of Commons and in the Senate in less than two weeks. If he had done so, we would have new laws in place today.
Instead, Harper the strategist introduced Bill C-7, legislation that amalgamated both term limits and Senate elections. Why did he do that? Harper did so knowing full well the amalgamation of two separate pieces of legislation into one would need a constitutional amendment requiring approval of at least seven provinces representing 50% of the population and a never ending process of constitutional debate.
Bill C-7 is currently before the Supreme Court of Canada and a ruling is expected later this year. Of note, the Quebec Court of Appeal has already ruled Bill C-7 unconstitutional. That was Harper’s strategy from the outset.
I also once believed in Senate elections but have since changed my mind. Having elections would only create the same zoo that occurs in the House of Commons – a popularity contest. Having two elected institutions would cause greater divisions and could potentially create parliamentary stalemates if the same party did not control both houses.
Reform needs to take place. I would support having the provinces develop their own process of appointing senators rather than the prime minister. After all, senators are appointed to represent their provinces and their regions and are there to protect minority rights – not to serve the Prime Minister of Canada! Individuals with expertise in various fields need to be appointed to the Senate and not the party faithful.
Besides reform, the other option is to abolish the Senate. This option would provide Canadian taxpayers with significant savings and may not require endless constitutional battles. A special finance committee could be created to negotiate a buy-out contract for current Senators factoring in their age, years of service and number of years left before attaining the mandatory retirement age of 75. Once concluded, future prime ministers would no longer need to appoint senators. As a result, the Senate of Canada would be abolished without a constitutional amendment.
I firmly believe in the Senate of Canada. I believe in its role, its place in our democracy and in its value to Canadians. Just not in its present form.
Debates are not televised and the role of the Senate remains unknown to most Canadians. That is why many Canadians are indifferent to it.
The Senate has become a place to reward party hacks, bagmen, loyalists and puppets that tow the line notwithstanding Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau’s move on Wednesday to kick all 32 Liberal Senators out of caucus in the appearance of reform. Luckily, I was none of those.
Most parliamentarians are there to serve Canadians and are not self-serving. The time is now for real Senate reform.