Senate of Canada
4 min

Another warning sign ignored

There’s a story in this week’s Hill Times that got me thinking. It was about the ways in which Senators are being pressured to become more partisan, in a chamber that is far more known for its cooperative and less-partisan nature than the Other Place. Not that any of it surprises me.

While the Conservative senators, by and large, seem keen to earn favour with Harper by toeing the party lines (and I’ve been told by more than one Senator that the new batch that came in at the New Year have been partisan in the extreme). The Liberals, meanwhile, have been often told to hurry legislation through without giving it proper study so as to avoid the usual criticisms of it being stalled by the so-called “Liberal Senate.” Liberal senators haven't been happy about it, but they have gone along with it.

It’s troubling, but like I said, it’s not unexpected. Hell, the Conservatives have lately turned the Senate into a de-facto confidence chamber by threatening to treat their votes as confidence measures in a bid to bully legislation through.

The article itself goes on to talk about how the UK has established a nomination committee to appoint “independent” peers to the House of Lords, and perhaps Canada should do the same. Of the many suggestions out there for reforming our Senate, it’s one of the sanest options, as it won’t change the character of Parliament in any meaningful way, like an elected Senate would. (Seriously – in the grand scheme of things, an elected Senate is probably one of the worst things we could do).

It also quoted one of the coolest Senators currently up there, being Senator Elaine McCoy, who hails from my home province of Alberta (not Manitoba as the Hill Times article suggested. I mean seriously – can you not use the internet to do some basic fact checking?). She sits as one of the few remaining independent Progressive Conservatives in the Upper Chamber, having refused to join the Conservatives. She values her independence, and she was also one of the first Senators to establish a significant web presence. Her site is definitely worth checking out, and if you look under the  “Savvy Senate” link, you’ll find an interview with Senator Nancy Ruth.

A lot of what troubles me goes back to the basic fact that the vast majority of Canadians have no idea about how their Parliament works, and that applies most especially to the Senate and the role it plays. For Harper and the Conservatives to continue to try and tinker with its functioning to appease a populist voter base that lacks the understanding of its mechanics is playing with fire. Trying to make it a much more partisan chamber strikes me as a means to introduce even more instability and paralysis into the system – which, mind you, could be his ultimate goal for whatever nefarious purposes he may have in mind. But this is why Canadians need to get informed about these kinds of matters – so that people like Harper can't continue to manipulate them with their own ignorance (just like he did over the prorogation issue). This feels like just one more warning sign that most people are going to shrug and ignore, and that bothers me most of all.

Also quoted in the Hill Times piece is Senator Céline Hervieux-Payette, who talked about why Harper’s plans for the Senate are fundamentally bad. But today, she put out a release in her continuing crusade to save the seal hunt, but as much as I love her diva-ness, sometimes I think she can go off the deep end a bit. Yes, financial compensation for the sealing industry is one thing, but trying to get the Parliamentary Restaurant to serve seal meat as a gesture? May be a bit much. (But granted, possibly more harmless than trying to get our Olympic athletes to have seal products included in their uniforms. That unanimous Commons motion seems way more insane).

Elsewhere, Canada’s refugee board unveiled a report that shows how the Roma in the Czech Republic have been suffering at the hands of Neo-Nazi violence. These are the same refugee claimants who were causing such a flood to our system that the Minister felt it necessary to slap visa restrictions on people coming from the Czech Republic, intimating that their claims were largely bogus. So people suffering at the hands of Neo-Nazi violence are now bogus claims? I’d hate to see what then has to qualify as a legitimate claim.

On the topic of immigration, that Canadian woman trapped in Kenya has now given her DNA samples to prove that she is who she says she is. I continue to be troubled by this story, especially when the Canadian government declared her to be an impostor without examining the stacks of photo ID she had with her, and summarily rejecting half a dozen affidavits from family and friends. WTF? It’ll be a couple of weeks for this to be cleared by DNA, but I have a feeling we’ll be hearing renewed calls for a full public inquiry on this matter soon enough.

And in a case of fortuitous timing, I managed to catch the arrival of the Liberal Party’s National Director as he pulled into the Ottawa Locks after completing his kayaking fundraiser trip from Kingston, and was greeted by Michael Ignatieff. (Yes, it is a good thing I keep my camera in my bag).

Up today: the Conservatives hold the second day of their summer caucus session here in Ottawa. Meanwhile, their communications director has just resigned to “spend more time with his family,” so we’ll soon see who his replacement will be.