Saturday, April 26, 2014

Some form of Senate reform is still possible

In a decision that surprised no one the Supreme Court of Canada has essentially stated that no fundamental changes to the Senate can be made without the agreement of the provinces.  That means no abolition, no changes to a Triple E Senate not even term limits and elected senators without an amendment to the Canadian Constitution, which is not going to happen.

So we are stuck with the Senate in its present form at least until Hell freezes over and the Toronto Maple Leafs win another Stanley Cup.

In an indication of just how shallow and desiccated our politics have become most of the reaction of the media to this news were the political implications of the decision on the Federal scene.  Predictably, as I watched the "analysis" last night it shook out along partisan lines so it was pointless.  The only interesting point was some statements by Conservative friendly groups demanding a referendum.  That bears watching.

Much of the coverage indicated the Stephen Harper had "thrown in the towel" on Senate Reform and my watching of his reaction was they seem to be correct.

Does it really have to be that way?

Although there is no way to fundamentally change the Senate there is still leeway to make substantive changes around the conventions and practices of the Senate that are not covered by the Constitution, and there are a great many of them.

Not to be partisan but Mr. Trudeau did show us some ways of doing just that.  Certainly the changes he made were for partisan purposes but they are examples of what can be done within the Constitution. 

Could there not be a way of expanding on them?

Here is a thought, there is a broad consensus in this country that the Senate as it is now is broken.  Would it be too much to ask for our political leaders to put aside their petty partisan concerns and actually sit down together with some of the more thoughtful Senators to come up with ways to improve the Senate in its current form? 

There are many aspects that could be changed.  For example:
  • Developing a appointment process that reduces or even eliminates patronage.
  • Measures to reduce the partisanship of the Senate.
  • Mechanisms in place to ensure that Senators, once they are appointed, actually do the job.
The Senate can be substantively changed but it would require true leadership from those who would call themselves our leaders.  I wonder if any of them will rise to the challenge.

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