In 2019, it’s commonplace for political opponents to throw around hyperbolic terms like ‘treason’ whenever it suits one’s argument, so it is with extreme trepidation that I use it to describe two ‘Alberta’ Senators right now.
Two of Alberta’s Liberal-appointed Senators-for-life – Grant Mitchell and Patti LaBoucane-Benson – just voted for Trudeau II’s tanker export ban (C-48) and no-more-pipelines bill (C-69). These bills are a direct, frontal assault on the future of Alberta’s economy with the destructive potential of Trudeau I’s National Energy Program.
These two bills are not divisive in Alberta. There is virtual unanimity across the political spectrum – NDP, Liberal, Alberta Party, United Conservatives, Freedom Conservatives – that this suite of legislation is a hostile attack on Alberta. One would have to look to the nascent Green Party or the lunatic fringe of the NDP’s far-left flank to find even a grudging morsel of support.
In Alberta, opposition to bills C-48 and C-69 is as close to unanimous as any issue can get. The only real disagreement is in how strongly one disagrees.
For the Senators-for-life from BC, Central Canada and Eastern Canada, support for these bills can at least in some measure be chalked up to honest disagreements over policy. However misguided or punitive these bills may be, it’s possible for a Senator from Prince Edward Island to believe that these are reasonable measures and not contrary to the interests of his home province.
But for Senators Grant Mitchell and Patti LaBoucane-Benson, there is no such allowance for good-natured disagreements. They are constitutionally obliged – with what few seats are allotted by Ottawa – to represent Alberta’s interests.
It is difficult to believe that people of good will – with virtually no one at home supporting their decision – would vote to strike against the heart of their own people’s interests.
Our elected MPs and MLAs more often than not serve their partisan masters before their constituents. But at least the threat of losing their seats in the next election provides a modicum of accountability every four years.
If our elected representatives are liable to put their party before their people, then can we be surprised if an appointed Senator-for-life also does so?
Alberta Liberal MPs Kent Hehr and Randy Boissonault are likely to pay the electoral price for this in October. But Alberta Senators Grant Mitchell and Patti LaBoucane-Benson? They will serve until the ripe age of 75 and retire with a massive gold-plated pension.
But we are missing the point if we think that these two appointees are the problem, or even the fact that they are not elected. The problem is the semi-colonial place of Alberta in the foundational structure of Canadian confederation.
Alberta’s two elected Senators Doug Black and Scott Tannas have represented Alberta ably throughout this mess, but even if all six of the seats given by Ottawa were filled democratically, Alberta would still be treated grossly unfairly.
Nearly every functional federation in the democratic world has an upper legislative chamber to smooth regional conflicts. In the United States, each state has two Senators regardless of population. In Germany, the Bundesrat gives the smallest länder three seats, up to a maximum of six for the largest.
In no democratic country on earth does a larger unit of people receive less representation than a smaller unit. Save Canada.
Alberta – with twice the population of all four Atlantic provinces – has six seats compared to their 30.
With a little more than one-sixth of Alberta’s population, New Brunswick alone has nearly twice as many Senators as Alberta.
If Canada did not exist and the ten provinces were meeting in Charlottetown to form a confederation, it is unlikely that the new nation’s borders would stretch much beyond Thunder Bay with such an agreement.
Canada’s MPs will do as they are told by leaders to win votes, normally elsewhere than Alberta. But Canada’s Senate is broken by design.
Grant Mitchell and Patti LaBoucane-Benson may be treacherous as Albertans, but they are doing exactly what Canada’s federal institutions designed them to do.
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