Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Senate reform bill introduced (again but amended)

Barely into this session of parliament, as promised, the Conservative government has tabled a Senate reform bill with term limits now set at nine years and will only apply to senators appointed after October 2008 (34 total).  It also does not bind the prime minister to recommend appointments, nor does it bind provinces into a democratic process, but it "strongly encourages" provinces to do so.

This will pass the house and hopefully in the senate.  If it doesn't pass the senate, but gets stalled and amended there, then I think there are two options, one I've already suggested, and the other I read on Twitter.

1.  Flogging.  Flog any senator who agreed to be appointed based on their support for senate reform but is now balking.  Flog hard. Flog often.

2.  Reduce or eliminate their pay and benefits.

The NDP critic wants the government to hold a national referendum on the fate of the senate because the NDP believe Canadians will want to abolish it.  Well, he's wrong.  Poll after poll suggest a majority of Canadians want it reformed.  In fact, there's a Conservative majority in the House of Commons, who have continually campaigned on senate reform, and so that's the mandate given by the people.

So what will happen now?  Let's say this bill gets Royal Assent. 

Before the next federal election in 2015, we have a pile of (22) senators who have to retire (not including the 34 Conservatives appointed by Harper after October 2008). Broken down as follows:

10 Conservatives
11 Liberals
1 Progressive Conservative

Then by 2019, there will be another 20 (mostly Liberals).

So in the next 8 years, we will have the 34 appointed by Harper, the 22 who have to retire on or before 2015, plus the 20 who retire up to 2019, for a total of 76 out of 105 senators.  (There are about 8 who were appoint by Harper before October 2008, for a total of 84 of 105.)

That's a lot of vacancies.  What will the provinces do?  If I were Harper, I'd stand by his bill and not recommend to appoint anyone from a province unless a province does one of these things:

1a) hold a senatorial election covering the whole province
1b) hold a senatorial election for each region as determined by the province
2a) have the provincial legislature elect senators from a list of nominees to represent the whole province
2b) have the provincial legislature elect senators from a list of nominees to represent a provincial region

My preference is 1b).

And you know what else I'd do?  I'd appoint only a certain number from each province, instead of the full amount, drawing further attention to the blaring inequality of representation. 

In the next 8 years, there will be
3 senator vacancies in B.C., leaving 3. I'd appoint 3 based on if they're elected.3 senator vacancies in Alberta, leaving 3. I'd appoint 3 based on if they're elected.
4 senator vacancies in Sask., leaving 2. I'd appoint 2 based on if they're elected.
4 senator vacancies in Manitoba, leaving 2. I'd appoint 4 based on if they're elected.
18 senator vacancies in Ontario, leaving 6.  I'd leave it at 6.
12 senator vacancies in Quebec, leaving 12.  I'd wait until another 6 retire and leave it at 6.
 3 senator vacancies in N.B., leaving 7.  I'd leave it at 7 and wait for the next one to retire and leave it at 6.
5 senator vacancies in N.S., leaving 5. I'd appoint 1 based on if they're elected.
3 senator vacancies in N.L., leaving 2. I'd appoint 3 if elected, and see about adding another 1 to make it 6.
2 senator vacancies in P.E.I., leaving 2.  I'd appoint 2 if elected, and see about adding another 2 to make it 6.
1 senator vacancies in NWT, leaving 1. I'd appoint 1 if elected, maybe more. Same for Yukon and Nunavut.

You see where I'm going with this.  Each province gets 6 senators, each representing a provincial region (which regions are basically what we have in some provinces already).  After every 3 years, 2 of the 6 senators get elected and serve 9 year terms.

We must must must must remember that we ALREADY have representation by population in the lower house.  Even then, it's usually out of balance and needs correction.   What we don't have is each province having an EQUAL say in the federation.  Canadian provinces are unique and this should be celebrated and acknowledged.  Our current senatorial allocation is archaic, unfair, and not based on any logic.  Why should one province get even more say than another?   Why have provinces then?  Having an equal senate is the next step and having six senators per province appears to be the logical outcome over the next decade.

And for those who hold up stop signs in the senate and want proportional representation, an equal senate addresses this need by being a check against provincial domination in the house (Ontario and Quebec have a majority of seats in the house don't ya know).

So in a way, if provinces start to elect senators, based on the bill today, it is permissible that the prime minister can then only choose the right number to balance out the current provincial inequality.

All without opening the constitution.


Rick Thomson said...

Works for me, although I'd be quite happy with only 3 or 4 Senators per province.

Anonymous said...

Hey, here's an idea...
Never mind reforming or eliminating the Senate, let's just abolish the political Left.

Imagine... no bloody Liberals or Dippers with their "entitlement" and socialist b.s.

If only it was so easy.

oxygentax said...

I think you miscalculated - you mean that 4 would be replaced in Saskatchewan, giving us the same 6 that everyone else has, right?

Anonymous said...

All this would work fine until the next Liberal or NDP government was elected and then they would stuff the place full of their senators according to the old numbers.

Mike B. said...

Quick answers to comments:

3-4 senators would be much better, but I just don't see it happening considering AB, SK, and MB currently have 6, NF has 4.

The left is currently technically eliminated since we have a majority in both houses.

Yes, 6 senators for SK. My mistake.

If NDP became gov't, would they appoint anyone at all being that they want it abolished? Liberals would definitely stack it again. I'm saying that if Harper draws attention to the inequality by trying to keep the numbers the same across all provinces, perhaps this would trigger a bill or yes, a constitutional amendment.

Harper plays the long game and I bet he's thought of this.

A friend of mine who worked at the PMO said Harper is one of the smartest people he's ever known. Politically, he's certainly brilliant in my opinion.