Same old song?

The Senate doesn't have to be dumping ground for political hacks, but latest reform proposal misses the mark

By Alex Binkley
True North Perspective

It was hardly a surprise that election funding charges against a couple of Conservative senators would lead to renewed calls to abolish the Upper House.

Abolition isn’t a new proposal and ignores both the Constitutional flap that would be created by trying to shutter the other place, as MPs call it, and the good work that many senators have performed.

David Christopherson, the NDP’s Democratic Reform Critic, has presented a motion in the Commons that proposes to make Parliament more democratic through abolishing the Senate and introducing proportional representation.

“What more evidence do we need (for abolition) than seeing the architects of the Conservatives notorious ‘in-and-out’ scheme currently sitting in the Senate?” he wonders. “And unnecessary Conservative Senators spend their time voting down laws passed by elected members of the House of Commons, while burning through taxpayers dollars to travel the country fundraising for the Conservative Party of Canada.”

The Senate does have a problem. The good work too often gets lost in the shenanigans coming out of the self described chamber of sober second thought. And for ever credible senator that gets appointed — recent Tory selection Don Meredith appears to be a case in point — there are more dodgy characters. While the Harper government isn’t shy about using Conservative senators to snuff bills it couldn’t kill in the Commons, it usually doesn’t pay any attention to the worthwhile ideas emanating from the Upper House. When it does, it never gives the Senate any credit.

Rather than wasting a lot of time and political energy on eliminating the Senate, a debate that would make most Canadians long for a blizzard, why not try to make it a more useful institution.

I again offer my Senate reform lite proposal first advanced in True North Perspective some years back.

When he isn’t packing the joint, Prime Minister Harper talks about restricting senators to eight year terms instead of until age 75. To achieve that reform, he needs to gain the support of the Senate and the provinces. You know the old phrase, until the cows come home. In other words, Harper’s confrontational approach won’t succeed any time soon.

The Tories hold a small majority in the Senate, which will grow during the next couple of years as more Liberal appointees reach 75.

Or he could get out the list of Order of Canada members and look at the folks who are between 67 and 75. Now most of the appointees are there in recognition of their service to the country. There are a lot of sharp and creative men and women in that group who would gladly take a Senate appointment. It’s a great job and a perfect way to cap an active career. If you don’t believe me, ask my old reporter colleague Jimmy Munson.

If people are picked at 67 or older, then they will be in the Senate for no more than Harper’s goal of eight years. Choose people who aren’t overly political and perhaps the Senate will evolve into a more productive role rather than the silly bugger delayer of government bills for purely political reasons.

In recent years, Senate committees have produced reports on a wide range of topics that are full of good recommendations. While the Harper government suffers from Not Invented Here syndrome, it might want to pay some attention to the contents of those tomes. They’re based on hearings across the country and there’s some thoughtful work in them.

With a full complement of engaged senior Canadians, who knows what useful work the Upper House could perform.

What ever, no electing senators. It would just add to the political gamesmanship and grandstanding that Canadians are justifiably tired of even though most would say the Senate should be preserved.

You’re welcome.