A blog to give a voice to our concern about the continued erosion of our democratic processes not only within the House of Commons and within our electoral system but also throughout our society. Here you will find articles about the current problems within our parliamentary democracy, about actions both good and bad by our elected representatives, about possible solutions, opinions and debate about the state of democracy in Canada, and about our roles/responsibilities as democratic citizens. We invite your thoughtful and polite comments upon our posts and ask those who wish to post longer articles or share ideas on this subject to submit them for inclusion as a guest post.
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Sunday, February 2, 2014

An Independent Senate – We can but hope!

I call upon the Prime Minister to publicly commit, as I have today, to be guided in all future Senate appointments by an open, transparent, non-partisan process, and once appointed, have senators sit independent from the political parties that serve in in the House of Commons.
Justin Trudeou Jan 29 2014

By now you all know that in a surprising and brave move the Liberal leader has released all the former Liberal Senators from any connection from the Liberal Caucus saying that “only elected Members of the House of Commons will serve as members of the Liberal Caucus. “ Whilst this move is not without its problems, not the least of which is how Senate committees will be formed and chaired in the future, it is in my view probably the only way in the short term to return the Senate to its role of 'sober second thought' and reduce the extreme partisanship that has made it simply a rubber stamp of the PMO. That Mr Trudeau also says what many of us who believe the senate has in the past (and can in the future) have an important role in our parliamentary system have said for some time is also encouraging. That being:-

I’m committing today that, if I earn the privilege of serving Canadians as their Prime Minister, I will put in place an open, transparent, non-partisan public process for appointing and confirming Senators. No more closed doors. No more secretive deliberations. No more announcements the week before Christmas, under the cover of darkness.”

There already has been a great deal of debate upon exactly what kind of process such a system will entail and no doubt there will be much more. As always the devil is in the details! We know that Harper has asked the Supreme Court of Canada to rule upon exactly what can and cannot be done within the existing constitutional framework and you may be sure that if he cannot hold sway over decisions in the Senate his preference would be to abolish it (as it would seem is also the preference of the NDP) so that a PM who holds a majority (preferably him of course) can have total control over legislation. Justin covers this point thusly:-

As an unelected body, there are — and ought to be — limits on the Senate’s power. These limits have expanded over time and have become conventions. These proposals are in keeping with that direction.
As you all know, the Supreme Court of Canada will rule sometime soon on the exact limits of the House of Commons power as it relates to Senate Reform. Let me be clear on this point: these proposals, while bold and concrete, are not the final word. They represent our judgment of how far we can go in the absence of guidance from the Supreme Court.
In other words, I believe this is the most meaningful action possible without opening up the Constitution. If the Supreme Court says more can be done, we will be open to doing more.

All in all despite some of the details that will need to be sorted out in both the actual operation of the Senate with no party caucuses and the way in which future Senators are selected (perhaps recommended to the PM would be a better term as under the constitution the PM must still 'appoint' the senators) this in my view a fantastic move by the Liberals. Some have already said that:-

when (when, not if) Trudeau is Prime Minister, he will have a problem. Every single piece of legislation must pass the Upper House, the unelected side. To do that with a chamber for of independents will be hard, if not impossible. When push comes to shove, independents will flex their political muscle. They will pass nothing that they don’t approve of, Senate traditions not withstanding.”

I disagree, A senate full of independents would work EXACTLY how it was supposed to work, legislation would pass or fail entirely upon its merits rather that along partisan lines, now wouldn’t that be refreshing? Its not like should the Liberals come to power that all those Con Senators appointed by Harper will suddenly disappear, they will in fact be an undemocratic presence in the upper chamber for years to come. We hope that at least some of them will declare themselves independent and think and act independently, it would indeed be a step in the right direction, as is this brought to our attention by Nancy over at Impolitical:-

This may be a nod to the democratic reform resolution that the federal Liberal MP caucus has proposed as one of its priority resolutions to be voted upon at the upcoming February biennial policy convention in Montreal, less than a month away now. That resolution, Bolstering Canada's Democracy, contains this operative proposal:
AND BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT immediately after the next election, the Liberal Party of Canada institute an all-Party process, involving expert assistance and citizen participation, to report to Parliament within 12 months with analysis and recommendations for an electoral system including, without limitation, a preferential ballot and/or a form of proportional representation, to represent all Canadians more fairly and to allow Parliament to serve Canada better.
I do hope the Libs endorse this resolution.

A final note here if anyone, including Justin, thinks that Harper will willingly give up his control over the conservative senators or despite his rhetoric to do so, embrace a “open, transparent, non-partisan process” for appointing them then they are dreaming in technicolour. This will be particularly true if the Cons think they are going to be in opposition come 2015, after all we wouldn’t want any one else to be able to pass legislation through the Senate would we? Watch for a highly partisan attack upon this idea from the Harper Oligarchs.

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Owen Gray said...

The Harperites will -- and already have -- heaped scorn on Trudeau's move. It's the reaction of a party that is intellectually bankrupt.

Rural said...

I wish I could disagree but unfortunately that is an all to accurate description.

Tom said...

So now Liberal senators are no longer Liberals, although they still say they are Liberals. The party constitution would have to be changed to allow this to happen, but Goodale says they can change it retrospectively.
Curiouser and curiouser!

Rural said...

No doubt its going to take some time to sort out, the important thing is that they can operate independently from party pressure should they wish to!