By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, March 13, 2013 - 0 Comments
Conservative Senator Bert Brown worries about what will happen if the Senate is abolished.
The outgoing elected senator from Alberta and the government’s point man in the upper chamber on Senate reform is adamant that reform is needed instead of abolition because without the Senate, Canadians could become subject to the dictatorial whims of a prime minister.
“It’s one of the five major institutions of the Canadian government and if you were to take that away, you’d just be creating a dictatorship,” Brown said in an interview in his office overlooking Parliament Hill. “Anytime you get a prime minister that won’t listen to anything but his own advice, you get some of the crazy things that we’ve seen.”
The lack of a second chamber, for instance, is why all of this country’s provinces have long since ceased to be functioning democracies.
But then Senator Brown also seems to believe that prime ministers have already carried on like dictators.
“What I’ve finally learned in the last little while is we’ve had too many prime ministers that became their own dictatorship. Take a look at it. When you are young — reasonably young — and you’ve just become an MP, if you have any liking of the job at all, you’re not going to criticize the prime minister of the day. If you get to be a minister, you’re certainly not going to speak even against the prime minister,” Brown said.
So the Senate must be maintained because the House of Commons cannot be trusted to hold the prime minister accountable.
This seems rather defeatist and I’m not sure how much evidence there is to suggest that the Senate has generally acted as a regular and worthwhile check on the prime minister’s power—ironically, in the case of Mr. Harper, the Senate might be preventing him from moving forward with legislation to reform the chamber—but perhaps Mr. Brown’s concerns open the door to a grand bargain on parliamentary reform. To deal with his concerns, let’s amend the Elections Act to remove the power a party leader has over the ability of individuals to run under the party banner, let’s reform Question Period to reduce the power of the parties to determine who gets to ask questions, let’s reform the estimates process and let’s empower the committees of the House. Then, with the House better empowered, we can safely the abolish the Senate.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, February 6, 2013 at 9:20 AM - 0 Comments
A year after it was suggested he might be working on something in this regard, Conservative Senator Bert Brown explains how the Prime Minister might seek to amend the Constitution to limit the Senate’s ability to block legislation passed by the House.
Mr. Brown said he has since presented the Prime Minister with a mechanism dubbed the Elton-McCormick Override — named for two Lethbridge political scientists — and that Mr. Harper read the plan with interest. The override says if senators want to thwart a House-approved bill, they can do so, but only if the move has the support of a majority of senators in each of seven provinces representing 50% of the population (much like the requirement to amend the constitution itself).
If successful, the House could either “fix [the bill] or forget it,” Mr. Brown explained. The Senate could not, however, force a non-confidence vote or even cause prolonged gridlock because the override only gives senators one month or 12 sitting days to muster the votes for a veto.
The future of the Senate in this regard is particularly interesting given the fact that after 2015, there could be an NDP government in the House and a Conservative majority in the Senate: something the New Democrats have been considering.
It’d be interesting to know when Mr. Harper started to think that limitations might be placed on the Senate’s ability to veto legislation. Presumably it was sometime after Conservative senators killed the Climate Change Accountability Act in 2010.
None of this would be of concern if the Senate was abolished.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, July 17, 2012 at 9:51 AM - 0 Comments
Postmedia tries to figure out how long the Senate could be Conservative.
A Postmedia News analysis of the current retirement dates for the country’s senators suggests the NDP would have to win, at minimum, two consecutive election victories to end Conservative dominance of the Senate. The same is true for the Liberals.
Should the NDP form a majority in 2015 (when the next federal election is scheduled), the analysis suggests it would take the party seven years to appoint enough NDP senators to overtake the Tories. This would require winning two consecutive elections at least four years apart. Should the NDP not unseat the Tories until 2019, it would take election wins through to 2034 for the New Democrats to accumulate enough Senate seats from retiring Conservatives and Liberals to wrest control of the Upper Chamber.
Jordan Press also talks to Conservative Senator Bert Brown about the Harper government’s hopes for reform.
What the NDP would do with the Senate and how a Conservative Senate would interact with an NDP government is one of the more intriguing questions for (at least) the next three years.
See previously: The NDP vs. The Senate
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, January 9, 2012 at 2:59 PM - 0 Comments
Kathryn Blaze Carlson’s consideration of an elected Senate includes an intriguing anecdote from Senator Bert Brown.
Mr. Brown recalls how he and Mr. Harper discussed at Caesar’s how a reformed, elected Senate and an unchanged House of Commons might interact: A Senate with newfound democratic legitimacy might rival the House in ways never before seen, and both men knew there was nothing in the Constitution preventing a deadlock or even a Senate-sparked government shut-down.
The prime minister asked Mr. Brown to come up with a mechanism that would protect the supremacy of the House of Commons. But that safeguard would require the sort of stand-alone constitutional amendment Mr. Harper knows would be a nightmare to attempt.
This begs various questions: Is the government going to act to protect the supremacy of the House of Commons? If so, how? And if the Senate is to remain secondary, why not just abolish it?
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, June 16, 2011 at 9:15 AM - 9 Comments
Senators appointed by Stephen Harper with the expressed purpose of pushing through his reforms apparently aren’t entirely supportive of his proposals. And so Bert Brown, the nominally elected senator, steps in to remind his caucus mates to whom they should be absolutely loyal.
“Those of us who came to the red chamber were there to get a majority vote for reform. Those in the Senate before Harper became prime minister need to realize that, had he not made appointments, the Conservatives appointed by Mulroney would now be a very small group struggling to do anything!” Brown wrote in an email to all Conservative senators.
“Every senator in this caucus needs to decide where their loyalty should be and must be. The answer is simple; our loyalty is to the man who brought us here, the man who has wanted Senate reform since he entered politics, the Rt. Hon. Stephen Harper,” Brown wrote.
By Andrew Potter - Wednesday, June 15, 2011 at 3:36 PM - 35 Comments
What is Harper trying to achieve?
Let’s set aside, for now, the inherent ridiculousness of Bert Brown chiding fellow Conservative members of the Senate — intended as a chamber of sober second thought, and at least nominally a check on the House of Commons — for their lack of loyalty to the prime minister. Here’s something I’ve never really understood about Harper’s bid to implement a term limit of eight (now nine) years for appointed Senators:
What problem with how the Senate is currently constituted and functions is this designed to solve?
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, May 24, 2011 at 5:38 PM - 85 Comments
Senator Bert Brown explains why we need a Senate quite unlike the one we have now.
Conservative Sen. Bert Brown, who has been travelling across the country selling provincial premiers on Harper’s reform plans, told Postmedia News he wasn’t pleased by this week’s appointments and knows they have set off a firestorm. “That’s not what I want to see for the next generation, but (Harper) is legally . . . able to do that,” Brown said. “I’ll be honest with you, I think it will stir up the populace to say it’s time we had an elected Senate.”
Brown said abolishing the Senate isn’t a solution because, not only does it require reopening the Constitution, it would also mean that, “somewhere down the line, we could have a prime minister, with a majority government, who would be able to do anything.” “He would have no opposition, he could just pass bills, and how much damage could he do to do the country?” Brown, the only elected senator, asked. That’s why, Brown said, a strong Senate that reflects the will of the provinces is needed. “Right now, if Harper wanted to, he could be a complete dictator, because there is no way to stop a majority government,” he said.