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, April 5, 2009

The Senate reform Canadians wanted

Reading Jim Travers' essay yesterday (The quiet unravelling of Canadian democracy), I kept waiting for him to trash the Senate. All the way through his long list of democratic deficits, I held my breath. But not once did he suborn the Senate – not once.

Dare I think that Canadians might agree with him? Actually, yes, I might. In 2007, the Harper government itself commissioned an in-depth report based on Canadians' views of the House of Commons, the Senate, political parties and the electoral system in general. What is most striking about the report, by and large, is that it is not the Senate that generates vehement and critical reviews from Canadians, but the House -- especially the negative and unconstructive partisan fighting amongst our MPs and political parties. Canadians, the report reveals, clearly want to see more cross-party co-operation and a more dignified exchange of ideas between MPs.

When Canadians were queried on their views of the Senate, they were far more positive. Consultations showed that Canadians believe it important for the Senate to continue to preserve and defend minority and regional interests, and to work co-operatively across party lines. Participants also remarked on the more diverse face of the Senate compared to the House, including more women, aboriginal and other ethnic minorities. The consultations also reveal that Canadians find the Senate a useful institution -- a watchdog even -- for safeguarding and fine-tuning legislation put forward by the government.

One facet of the Senate that they didn't mention is our ability to give Canadians an open platform to make their voices heard on a wide variety of issues. We routinely hold lengthy hearings on subjects that affect Canadians in their everyday lives, and reach out to concerned citizens to make sure we hear all sides of every issue. Our committees are currently examining fees paid on credit and debit cards, for example, as well as the Navigable Waters Protection Act and pay equity in the federal civil service. All of these committee hearings are open for comments from concerned Canadians.

Jim Travers concluded his essay by saying "surely democracy is too important to delegate to politicians." I couldn't agree more. We need active participation from all Canadians, and we need it every day. I firmly believe the Senate should be a powerful conduit for that kind of participation, and indeed it is. We may not get to dictate government policy, but that's not the point. What we do is make sure that policy choices are broadly informed by insights from those who are most affected. And we make sure that minority and regional views are fully heard. That's one of the strengths of a fully functioning democracy – and it's why an appointed 'Council of Elders' helps put the "demos" back in democracy.

Elaine McCoy is an independent Progressive Conservative Senator from Alberta. She regularly dialogues with the Canadian public through her blog, http://www.hullabaloo.ca/, and provides analysis on crucial Senate debates and documents at www.savvysenate.ca. You can contact her at mccoye@sen.parl.gc.ca.
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Ms. M said...

Hi Senator,

I really appreciate your posting that Travers article - I thought it was excellent (albeit, disquieting). I will openly admit that I don't really understand what the Senate is all about - I never have. I don't recall it ever being talked about back in highschool (in the 80's) and my total lack of interest in politics up to now hasn't helped. I do remember my dad once saying that he thought the Senate was very important, but I never have known how (I am starting to learn now from following your blog). I will tell you that I thought that since the PM picked the Senate and because I have no respect for our current dictator - er - PM, I guess I subconsciously concluded that the Senate would naturally be composed of a bunch of Harper "yes men". You can imagine how delighted I am to discover my ignorance on the matter! (and now off to Wiki to learn more - LOL)

Rural said...

I too need to learn much more about the senate, a process I hope the good Senator will help us out with. I was aware of the in depth reports that they produce having studied their “report on rural poverty”, and that they normally study proposed legislation in greater detail than most may realize. I hope to do a series of articles on the actual workings of the senate and the passage of bills through the system. But first I must do much research, for how can we discuss a system we do not fully understand!