No new workable plans for Senate reform

Current advertisements trumpeting Justin Trudeau’s new plans to reform the Senate point to the Liberal party’s website. A search of the website lists the plan, as it were, which is still the Liberal leader’s late January pronouncement that all Liberal Senators had to leave the party and sit as independents.

Let’s face it, calling for correction and change at the Senate, or even abolition, is a “can’t lose” proposition, no matter what the party, because only one third of Canadians now support the Senate It’s like asking Canadians: “Do you want to pay less taxes?” Most recognize the problems with the upper house, and we’re all acquainted with the largesse and scandals of the past two years, i.e. Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin, Patrick Brazeau and Mac Harb. For those paying attention, there have been problems in the Red Chamber for decades, including the infamous Andy Thompson. Appointed in 1967 by

Lester Pearson, Thompson who resigned in 1998, just after becoming the first Senator ever to be disciplined for truancy. He lived most of the time in Mexico.

Support for the Senate now currently rides at about one third. Most Canadians indicate they prefer voting for Senators, with that support around 70 per cent.

On the website, Trudeau states: “If I am elected Prime Minister, I will put in place an open, transparent and non-partisan appointment process for Senators. This process will be developed working with experts and informed by other non-partisan appointment processes.

“Further, as the majority party in the Senate, immediate and comprehensive change is in Conservative hands. I’m calling on the Prime Minister to do the right thing and join us in ending patronage and partisanship in the Senate. All he needs is the judgment and will to get it done.”

Taking a look at what is there, the nonpartisan appointment process sounds interesting, but it would remain to be seen if a sitting PM could resist the temptation to appoint non-party members to positions where they could vote against the ruling party’s legislation.

Besides, the democratic process ensures that there will always be something resembling balance in the Senate. Liberal PMs appoint Liberal Senators. Conservative PMs appoint Conservative Senators. Of the 105 total Senate seats right now, the Conservatives have 57, although there are 9 vacancies and 7 independents.

Liberal PM Jean Chretien named 75 Senators, and Conservative PM Stephen Harper is closing in at 59. Trudeau’s father, Pierre, appointed 81.

As for Trudeau’s call for “immediate and comprehensive change,” Harper attempted that, but was redirected by the Supreme

Court to the real target if change is to be realized: The provinces and the Constitution.

The ruling re-clarified an important point: The prime minister simply cannot make change of this magnitude just because he wants to. He must obtain near consensus from the provinces.

Re-opening the constitution is also necessary, but that means re-opening old wounds and re-examining a process that sees Prince Edward Island with four Senators. Vancouver Island, twice the size of PEI with five times the population, has none.

The Senate is supposed to provide an important function by taking a sober second look at legislation.

But if it doesn’t and the only way to reform it is to re-open the constitution, then while it’s open, why not go all the way and just eliminate it altogether? -Vancouver Island NewsMedia Group