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, November 21, 2010

Senate Shananikins.

There has been much said this week about the hurried vote in the Senate that killed the Climate Accountability Act, almost all of them include the phrase “unelected Senate” as if this is the problem here. Whilst it may be part of the problem it is by no means the only area of contention, lets face it this is a reflection of the extreme partisanship which has now migrated from our ELECTED MP's in the House of Commons.

Lets take a look at what one observer has to say and then return to address some of the points raised....

It's kind of hard to argue that the Senate remains the "chamber of sober second thought" when they kill a bill passed by parliament without any debate. And this wasn't just any bill. This was the very first bill passed by a democratic nation which established greenhouse gas emissions targets for a period beyond that mandated by the Kyoto Protocol. Indeed, Bill C-311, passed by our elected officials in parliament, established that Canada would commit to reducing emissions by 25% from a 1990 baseline by the year 2020 (in contrast to the Conservative Party's stated goal of "reducing" emissions by +3% above 1990 levels by 2020,.................
And now our unelected Senators have killed our Parliament's bill without any discussion. This situation is just absurd. We elect parliamentarians to represent our interests, and that's presumably what happened when parliament passed Bill C-311. What good is a Senate which can betray our elected representatives in such a way, and betray Canadians in the process? There was considerable debate in parliament before Bill C-311 was adopted; in the Senate, none at all.

For quite some time now, I've advocated for the abolition of the Senate at the federal level of government. Our provincial governments do not have equivalent upper houses. It's always been unclear to me what value the Senate adds to the legislative process, except to perhaps stand in the way of legislation adopted by political parties which don't also have majorities in the Senate.

Lets not 'throw out the baby with the bathwater', just because the current method of selecting senators and the dictatorial tendencies of the current PMO makes the senate look bad does not mean the whole concept is flawed. I agree with Steve that It's kind of hard to argue that the Senate remains the "chamber of sober second thought" but lets lay the blame where it belongs, with the political partys that use the senate as a reward system for highly partisan party faithful. Without an independent second in depth look at legislation (and yes, I agree, that is NOT what we are getting now) a party with a majority, or a minority with a weak and inefective opposition, can force through ANY legislation it wants no matter how partisan, idealogical or flawed it may be. That the conservatives are playing games once again with our legislative system should not enter into the debate as to whether the senate should be abolished, this is after all what they seem to be trying to accomplish, a system where the PM and his hand picked flacks in the PMO can do ANYTHING they please without any 'checks and balances'.

There is little doubt that a better method of selecting senators exists, its just than no one can agree as to what that may be, elected or appointed the political partisanship will still rear its ugly head. Election by the general population could follow the makeup of the HoC so closely that the senate would be but a rubber stamp for the party in power, or maybe not, its hard to tell and would depend much upon how such elections were carried out. Our senators are supposed to represent various regions of the country, we have a system of regional elections, its called provincial government, why not use this level of government to select senators. Appointment of senators to represent various areas of the country by majority vote of the provincial legislatures (from a list of candidates nominated by some process independent from the PMO or the Provincial governments of the day) would seem to be a reasonable and easy to implement solution.

The point here is that, in my opinion we need the senate. If you question that, go look at the details a few of the more complex bill put before our MP's, it is impossible for individual MP,s to fully understand the implications of such bureaucratic gobbledygook without extensive study, something that rarely happens. The study of such bill clause by clause is what the senate is SUPPOSED to do, and in fact they have in the past revealed major flaws and hidden clauses in such bills, (the omnibus budget bill comes to mind) to the embarrassment of the partys that created such documents.

Bottom line lets FIX the Senate not abolish it!

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1 comment:

Sudbury Steve said...

Fixing the Senate may ultimately be the easier thing to do anyway, as abolishing it will most definetly require the support of 7 out of 10 provinces with over 55% of Canada's population -- that seems unlikely to happen, given the situation with the Atlantic Provinces. So I recognize that abolition is likely going to be off the table.

I agree that calling for abolishing the Senate shouldn't be occurring necessarily as a result of the Con's recent actions. However, I'm also reluctant to let a good opportunity pass by without throwing my two cents in. I've long suggested that the Senate should be abolished, that it is not necessary, that the net contribution it ultimately makes to democracy is limited and not worth the expense. Bills passed by the Senate are still challenged in the courts, so the argument that the Senate can make parliamentary bills better holds little water.

For me, more telling is the fact that provincial legislatures don't have upper chambers. They seem to be doing just fine operating without them.

So no, don't jump on the "abolish the Senate" bandwagon simply because of the excessive display of partisanship which the Cons just showed (or because it's likely their Senators would also oppose government sponsored bills if the Liberals and/or NDP formed government one day). No, jump on that bandwagon because it's a sensible place to be from a practical point of view.

But acknowledge that from a political point of view, the chances of it happening are slim to none, unless the nation falls apart first. And then it likely won't matter anyway!