Sober Second Thought: Fixing the Canadian Senate


No one likes the Senate, but no one has a plan to fix it either. Justin Trudeau grabbed headlines this week by booting all of the Liberal members of the senate out of his caucus. NDP leader Tom Mulcair wants to abolish the Senate outright but under the parliamentary system, such a move would make the Prime Minister, effectively, an elected dictator. Stephen Harper ran, in part, on promises of reforming the Senate but didn't and instead appointed some of the most corrupt senators in recent memory.

While there is, apparently, universal support for 'fixing' the Senate, no one has put forward a workable plan so far. Senators could be elected as they are in the United States but that would require amending the Constitution and getting the provinces and territories, Anglophones and Francophones to agree on how the new senate should be made up would be no easy task.

Smaller provinces would want equal representation in the Senate, larger provinces would want representation by population and Quebec francophones would likely want representation greater than they would be given under either of those systems. In the end there would have to be unanimous consent before the Constitution could be amended, otherwise it would become another issue to divide Canadians for years to come.

The thing is that I still think that a chamber of "sober second thought" is a good one. I'd love to see a chamber of Canada's best and brightest in a variety of fields acting as a check on Parliament. In order for the Senate to be that though a system would have to be found that made the Senate accountable but, at the same time, put the chamber beyond the reach of party politics.

Under my ideal political system there wouldn't be political parties or donations. Individuals wishing to run would work with a independent bureaucracy which would publish information and hold debates among qualified candidates. Such a system could be devised for the Senate, but a Senate where political parties, party leaders, political donations and lobbyists carried no weight is probably the least likely to be supported by any political party.

Ultimately I agree with Justin Trudeau and the 2006 version of Stephen Harper that the Senate needs to be fixed (not abolished) but I've yet to hear a realistic plan for actually doing it.
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