Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Rethinking Senate Reform

I just found out about Libertas Post, a conglomerate Canadian blog and gave a read of this post from Joseph Ben-Ami.  He makes an important point and while I agree with the whole idea of comprehensive parliamentary reform, realistically, and in knowing modern Canadian history, I think Harper is still on the right track.

And that is, stack the Senate to get through a bill to try and limit Senator term limits to 8-10 years but then only appoint Senators who were elected by their province.  Eventually, provinces will have no choice or face not having Senators. It's a sneaky way, but it will draw even more attention to Senate reform.  And maybe, just maybe, when provinces like Ontario and Quebec are too stubborn to have elections and BC, Alberta, and Saskatchewan do, then the number of Senators may naturally equalize or that we'll have no choice but to amend the constitution to appease everybody.

But in reading Ben-Ami's proposal, while it's too bad he doesn't mention Australia's elected senate, it basically sounds like what the Americans have, where cabinet is not derived from members, and believe it or not, it's perfectly acceptable in Canada. Does anyone remember one Stephane Dion who was appointed to cabinet by one Jean Chretien, yet Dion wasn't even an MP yet?

So what’s to be done?
In the first place, let’s stop talking about senate reform and start talking about comprehensive parliamentary reform. By all means, let’s elect our senators and, if a way can be found, let’s amend the Constitution to give provinces, rather than regions, an equal number of seats in that chamber.
More importantly though, let’s restore Parliament’s historic role as the people’s watchdog over the government by severing the office of Prime Minister and its executive functions from it altogether and creating a new, separate, and popularly elected office to fill that role. Under such a system, Cabinet would still be made up of ministers appointed by the Crown on the advice of the Prime Minister, but they would no longer be selected from among those elected to either the House of Commons or the Senate.
Elections would be held at fixed intervals, providing MPs and Senators with greater latitude in representing what they believe to be the best interests of their constituents and the country, especially those who are members of the governing party.
A truly independent Parliament would establish independent committees comprised of members at least as interested in the subject they are deliberating as they are in promoting or opposing the executive’s – or the party’s – objectives.

So why I do continue to focus on the Senate in this blog?  It's because there's an imbalance in representation. Not just a little one, but a huge one.  It's because our Senate is totally unaccountable and it's my country and I want a say in that.  It's because a lot of Canadians don't pay much attention to the Senate and they should.  It's because I think having an upper chamber in our parliament is also important, so I'm not in favour of abolishing it. Why? Go back to the imbalance.  Ontario and Quebec's interests will always continue to dominate the country due to their larger populations, when the government and parliament should consider not just all regions, but the interests of all provinces equally.

And I believe that this understanding will actually unite the country instead of regions being pitted against regions. And I also believe that our Prime Minister believes that as well.

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