Keeping this Canadian political institution is a waste of tax payer money

senateThe main promises Stephen Harper made during his 2006 campaign were to reform Canada’s Senate and make our government more accountable. So far, mission failed.

Harper said at the time that if Senate reform failed, it should be dismantled. Back then, Harper’s vision of the senate completely Americanized our upper chamber. Harper wanted to see an elected senate with a maximum term limit of eight years. This would no doubt have led to the same partisan stalemates we see in Washington.

Harper’s initial stab at senate reform was shot down by the Liberals in the Senate who dominated the chamber when the Conservatives first came to power. However, shortly after their majority win in 2011 they introduced bill C-7, also known as the Senate Reform Act. The bill would limit Senators to a nine-year term and would allow the provinces to hold elections to choose their representatives.

Instead of passing the bill through parliament which hasn’t even been debated in 15 months, the Conservative government asked the Supreme Court of Canada to look at the constitutional requirements for five possible options for Senate reform:

• Fixed-term Senate appointments
• Repealing the property qualifications required to become a senator
• A system in which the federal government consults the provinces, but still appoints senators at a national level
• A system in which the provinces choose their own senators
• Abolishing the Senate altogether

Expense Scandal Senators
Expense Scandal Senators

The Canadian Senate was created with the intention of having a “place of sober second thought” before bills become law. Unfortunately some politicians serving in the senate, past and present, have come to respect the upper chamber as a place of second income.

There are so many problems with our senate the least of which are the senate expense scandals. Whether we keep the status quo by appointing our senators or we choose to elect them, the senate has no business in a parliamentary democracy.

We presently appoint our senators which is anti-democratic to begin with. We elect our members of parliament to the House of Commons to write our laws and table our budgets. It’s ridiculous to think the people we elect can be overruled by those who were not.

But what is the alternative, an American style election for senators that could grind parliament to a halt just the same? Let’s not forget to mention the added cost of holding the elections in the first place. Those of you who think this works need only look south of the border.

Even the notion of limiting the number of years a senator can serve is counterproductive and could cost the tax payers more money in pensions. Our MPs and Prime Minister can serve as long as the population chooses to keep them in office, if it isn’t broken, why fix it right?

The senate is and has always been an elitist institution. Elected or not, there has been a law in place for the last 145 years that stipulates that a senator must own $4000 worth of land. It isn’t much compared to 1867, but if you rent your home, you cannot sit in the senate.

Canadian-Senate-CartoonThe senate is broken and in my opinion beyond repair, it doesn’t work, it costs too much money and it gets in the way of governing the country. I’m not the only one who believes this historically useless establishment should go the way of the Dodo. Over 40% of Canadians now feel the senate should meet its end, although the number might be fueled a little by the expense scandals.

Some of the most successful parliamentary democracies in the world do not have an upper chamber or a senate including every Scandinavian country (Sweden, Finland, Norway and Denmark). Advancement thrives in these progressive countries because there is no second House to obstruct it. Why do we need to be different?

There are those in Canada who insist on defending the Senate because they care about our history and about Canada’s links to the British parliament (which were severed decades ago). Quite frankly, the Canadian senate is as useful to the Canadian people as the Queen of England, but at least the Queen only costs us the salary of one Governor General.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Not so long ago New Zealand abolished their second chamber. This was accompanied by a mix-member system in parliament, that is some members are elected from ridings, others are from a PR list system. There have been many benefits from this change. First, the parliamentary committees have become much more responsible with parliamentarians critiquing their own government’s policy more; a substantial number of MP having time to focus on policy issues, not simply constituency issues and of course a cheaper parliament. Despite what is claimed in Canada, the UK and elsewhere, unicameralism works.

    • I couldn’t agree more, Canada and the UK are stuck in a centuries old tradition. Like anything else, traditions are made to be broken. I’ll have to take a better look at New Zealand’s model, it’s interesting.

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