PoV: Reform, not abolition, the answer for Senate
Senator Mike Duffy arrives at Senate for a committee on Parliament Hill in Ottawa May 28, 2013. Andre Forget/QMI Agency
It’s understandable that some Canadians believe the Senate ought to be abolished. Scandal and the smell of corruption add to the belief of some that the institution has no useful purpose in a modern Canada.
But the Senate is worth saving. It’s in need of reformation, and if anything positive can be gleaned from the recent news headlines, it’s that a renewed public focus has been placed on the institution’s future.
As it is, Senate reform hasn’t been entirely ignored; it just hasn’t been able to compete for the public’s attention.
Following the federal election two years ago, the Conservatives introduced legislation, the Senate Reform Act, that would limit senators to a nine-year term and permit provinces to hold elections to choose their representatives.
But the bill hasn’t even passed second reading.
At the same time, the Supreme Court of Canada has been examining the constitutional requirements for several possible reform options. Those options include fixed-term Senate appointments; repealing the property qualifications required of potential senators; using a system in which the feds would consult the provinces, but still appoint senators at a national level; using a system in which the provinces would choose their own senators; and abolishing the Senate.
The Supreme Court’s decision is expected in November. By then, we should know what’s constitutionally possible.
In the meantime, it’s useful to remember the Senate’s original purpose hasn’t changed since its inception. The institution functions as “sober second thought” for the legislative actions of our House of Commons.
If there’s any deficiency, it’s in the fact that Canadian senators aren’t elected. Canadians should be directly and actively involved in choosing who sits in their Senate.
Elections would also make members of that institution more accountable. A lack of accountability and transparency has been at the heart of some of the revelations coming out of the Senate in recent months.
While abolishing the Senate provides immediate satisfaction, it’s a short-sighted move. It would also be anything but “immediate,” as our constitution would need to be revisited.