Dr. Dawg

Senate reform: open thread

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I supported outright abolition for years; my late partner persuaded me to become at least agnostic on the issue.

It was a bit of a surprise for me to hear that Dalton McGuinty was in the abolitionist camp, but that sets up the debate nicely. Does the Senate have a use, even in elected form?

Let’s all agree that an unelected Senate, stuffed full to bursting with assorted Tory cronies and hacks, cannot stand—especially as it had now taken to blocking legislation approved by our elected representatives.

If you love democracy, you can’t support the status quo.

But is outright abolition the answer?

Canada is a confederation of provinces with specified powers under the Constitution Act. More importantly, this is a country of at least six regions: the Atlantic provinces, Quebec, Ontario, the Prairies, BC and the North. Would the needs of these regions be met by a unicameral legislature?

Imagine an elected Senate whose members would speak for the specific needs and concerns of the regions of Canada. Each region would be equally represented (by, say, six Senators), or else the problems in the House of Commons would simply be replicated in the Senate—smaller regions (in terms of population) swamped by the larger ones.

The new Senate would have a more restricted mandate than the current one. It could review Bills sent from the House of Commons, but be empowered only to make suggestions for amendments. Its primary purpose would be to give voice to the regions. Senators could propose Bills, but restricted to regional concerns, and the ensuing discussion would situate those concerns within Canada as a whole and deal with them on that basis.

Does a certain form of taxation discriminate against the North? Do current federal transfer policies negatively affect the Atlantic provinces? Does the West have sufficient say in federal plans for capital investment in the primary industries?

A chamber of sober second thought could deal with specific concerns such as these, hash them out, seek compromises and adjustments, and send their considered Bill to the Commons for disposition. This might be a means, in the long run, of reducing the antagonistic hyper-regionalism generated by the first-past-the-post electoral system under which parties seek to concentrate their votes in various regional strongholds.

(Yes, electoral reform for the House is a sine qua non of Senate reform. You can’t have one without the other.)

How would Senators be elected? On the provincial and territorial ballots, that would include all regional candidates, using a single transferable vote system to ensure that the various political forces in the regions are represented (because, of course, no region is a monolith). This would require harmonization of provincial and territorial election dates, so that the pooling of these votes within the regions could take place.

I’m not a Constitutional expert, and that probably shows in the foregoing. So what do other folks think of Senate reform? If not abolished outright, what shape should a new Senate take? What should its mandate and powers be?

The floor is open.

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This page contains a single entry by Dr. Dawg published on June 3, 2011 11:35 AM.

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