The Conservative Party of Canada is slowly trying to move to what they call a Triple E Senate: Equal, Elected, Effective. Our current Senate is appointed, not elected. Appointments generally go to party cronies, or to popular media and sports figures. The Senate even as is, is touted as being the home of ‘sober second thought’. That is, the Senate is charged with keeping the House from doing anything too asinine, and with reigning in wild populist impulses.
It is a vestigial instrument of the anti-populist, anti-democratic, fathers of Confederation, and works mainly to express with blunt force, the will of whatever party last had a majority when Senators, who serve lifetime appointments, last retired in droves.
The CPC proposal, broadly, is that the Senate should represent the provinces, as American Senators represent States. Senators should serve shorter terms—somewhere in the neighborhood of six to nine years—and they should be elected. Final approval of senatorial candidates would still be up to the Prime Minister.
It’s my opinion (and also the New Democratic Party of Canada), that ideally, the Senate should be abolished. Provinces are rather adequately represented by their provincial governments. And sober second thought? The very concept is anti-democratic, anti-populist and well, kind of silly. We elect Members of Parliament to create legislation, represent ridings, and to develop budgets and manage portfolios, if they make it into Cabinet. MPs are up to this job. They are capable of producing fine legislation, of fighting for the interests of their constituents, without a body of senior parliamentarians looking over their shoulder.
Representative democracy is representative. That is, direct political participation by the people, for the people, is not exactly commonplace. Moving from an unelected to an elected Senate is a democratizing measure, but only in the narrowest of senses. In the minds of most Canadians, the Senate as it stands is a mostly invisible rubber stamp, about on the level of the Governor General: a reminder of the country’s past as a British colony, but about as useful or relevant as the Monarchist League. Legitimizing a body which is meant to oversee the activities of our elected MPs, to make sure they aren’t getting out of hand with populist measures (ie. things that make people happy), is anti-democratic.
It is anti-democratic because it puts up yet another barrier between the people and participation in government. It perpetuates the notion that the people are to be feared, and that politicians are incapable of seeking the greater good. It gives Parliament a get out of jail free card, when they’ve pushed bad legislation through in the name of partisan brinkmanship. It promotes provincialism above both nationalism and localism. It gives the PM, already powerful, a newly legitimate army of cronies to lean on. It does exactly nothing to make heard the voices of ordinary Canadians, and nothing to increase access. Triple E is about power—ask yourself whose.
And a handful of things that would make me happy (happier?):
- Online publication of all bills, with explanatory notes and summaries.
- Ridings rejigged to better reflect current population, to ensure equality of votes.
- More meetings of key committees and conferences broadcast on CPAC and online.
- Funding formulas reassessed to ensure that all levels of government have funds adequate to their responsibilities.
- Senate abolished. (!!!)
- Transparency, transparency, transparency.
- Increased independence for officials tasked with holding government to account (Parliamentary Budget Officer, Auditor General, etc).