In the wake of Stephen Harper’s big interview with Peter Mansbridge on Tuesday night, there is renewed talk about Senate reform, and those stalled notions that Harper has on the table of his so-called incremental reform of the Upper Chamber. Again. *sigh*
For starters, every time I hear someone bring it up, they say that it’s a big deal in the West. No, it’s not. It’s seen as an “issue” in Alberta (which is not the West), and even then, it’s not something they lose sleep over. It’s also an “issue” rooted in gross ignorance of a) what the Senate actually does, as the dominant idea is that it’s simply a repository for old bag men who do nothing but collect a salary, which is far from reality; and b) their ideas for reform, that “Triple E” nonsense, is just that – nonsense that has no basis in reality or fact, and wouldn’t accomplish anything its proponents seem to claim it would. Add to that, the Alberta notion of “Triple E” is that they would elect Senators representing provincial parties to the federal Upper Chamber – with no idea of how exactly that would work. It’s nonsense.
Now, that said, Harper’s incremental reform is not Triple E – which you would think would be the way to play to the Alberta base – but it’s also without an idea of an end product. Do you think that newly elected Senators will want to be without the powers that “elected legitimacy” would supposedly grant them? No. It would simply create power struggles and deadlock. Oh, and there’s also that tiny, little niggling detail that his proposed legislation is unconstitutional. If you want to change the fundamental make-up of the Senate – and rest assured, eight-year terms and elections are very fundamental changes – you need to reform the constitution. That means the agreement of seven out of ten provinces representing fifty percent of the population, and if you think Quebec is going to go along with any of it, let alone the Maritime Provinces, well, you’d have another thing coming.
On her blog, the Toronto Star’s Susan Delacourt asks two very important questions about Harper’s plans, and reminds us that the point of the Senate is supposed to be a check on the House of Commons – not a rubber stamp, which is what Harper seems to want.
Senator Elaine McCoy, who is made of absolute awesome, was on Power & Politics last night, correcting the record on just who was stalling bills. She also made some very good points – that an elected Senate would simply create 105 more backbenchers, the “term limits” bill is simply about creating space for elections, and their “election” bill contains language that would allow for a central party to control those elections and thereby create more backbenchers. And it’s nice to see someone who has such refreshing candour about the subject. You can watch the interview here (it’s around the 1 hour 30 minute mark).
Meanwhile, the CBC’s Kady O’Malley examines what happens to those two bills that the Senate amended once Parliament returns (they get reset to zero in the Senate), and the Globe and Mail’s Gloria Galloway talks to a criminologist who is glad to see the back of those crime bills, which were bad public policy.
Delacourt posted one other gem – a column by Scott Feschuck from 1999, when Chrétien prorogued Parliament, and when Reform Party leader Preston Manning decided to show up in Ottawa anyway to ask the very questions he would if Question Period were to happen – and how it all blew up so spectacularly in his face. A warning to the opposition parties who plan to show up in Ottawa on the 25th, no doubt.