Alex Binkley on senate reform

Alex Binkley is a foremost political and economic analyst, whose website is Readers will be aware that his columns in True North Perspective have foreseen political and economic developments in Canada. This week in ...

The Binkley Report

Senate reform again, eh!

By Alex Binkley
True North Perspective
Honourable Members or Rogues' Gallery?
Senators Brazeau, Harb and Duffy.

Once again, the actions of a couple of Senators have short-sighted pundits and opposition MPs alike calling for the abolition of the Upper House.

The courts will decide the fate of Patrick Brazeau while Mike Duffy will have to answer to his colleagues sooner or later.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has decided to shunt the issue onto a siding with a reference to his so–called Senate reform legislation to the Supreme Court of Canada. That should give him many months of avoiding the issue and then it will be too close to the next election to do anything.

Perhaps, most puzzling, through this latest flap is that no senator has bothered to mount a defense of the institution!

The federal government would need the support of a majority of the provinces to shut down the Senate and it’s hard to imagine many of them giving Harper a free ride on that. One reaps what one sows.

Despite what Harper calls his proposed legislation, limiting the terms of Senators or making them elected doesn’t reform the Senate. Giving it a worthwhile purpose suited to the 21st Century and ensuring its members are the kinds of Canadians who would fulfill that role would be real Senate reform.

Harper has used the Senate, as have prime ministers before him, to bootleg legislation into Parliament, to kill off legislation he doesn’t like or reward patsies.

The first step in Senate reform is for the government to treat the Senate seriously. Of course, the Senate has to be capable of serious work. To do that, it needs members who have accomplished more in life than supporting a political party.

There are probably other ways, but my suggestion, advanced in this column once before, is for the prime minister to examine the list of Order of Canada appointees for quality Canadians. Then he could pick men and women who are in their 60s. Senate retirement is at 75, which means the new senators wouldn’t be there forever.

Order in Canada appointees are being rewarded for their service to the country. There’re a lot of sharp and creative men and women in that group who would likely regard a Senate appointment as a perfect way to cap an active career.

They would likely ensure the Senate wasn’t overly partisan or become caught up in the silly political games in the Commons. They could likely teach the elected politicians a lot about community service and social responsibility.

Even with the underpowered Senate we now have, a lot of good work gets done. The recent report on the difference in consumer prices between Canada and the United States is an excellent example. There are other good examples of solid work by the Senate that the government has simply ignored. So Senate reform has to be accompanied with an understanding that its work is to be treated seriously.

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.

Time for a bit of creativity.