By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, May 22, 2013 - 0 Comments
Thomas Mulcair has just announced that the New Democrats are embarking on a cross-country campaign—”Roll up the red carpet”—to abolish the Senate.
Standing in front of the Senate chamber, Mr. Mulcair was asked whether he didn’t see the value of sober second thought.
We’re going to stop trying to find excuses for keeping a bunch of party hacks, bagmen, political operatives and defeated candidates sitting in appeal of the decisions of the duly elected mmebers of the House of Commons. That’s a game of the past. That’s a mug’s game. Where you try to find an individual in the Senate who’s not so bad. Where you try to find something that they’ve done in the past that wasn’t horrible. The real question is, in 2013, how can you possibly continue to argue to keep an institution of unelected people who have the power to reverse the decisions of duly elected members of Parliament. That’s the fundamental discussion that we’re having today.
But how to go about abolishing the Senate?
One of the things that you have to do if you actually want to make this happen is you’ve got, one, to get the public on side because once you have public support, there’s nothing more important in a democracy than having the public on side, that’s what this program is about. The other thing that you have to do is you have to talk to the provinces and territories. Because whether you’re in Newfoundland and Labrador or in Quebec or in other areas, everyone’s going to have a word to say about this. But Stephen Harper doesn’t talk to the provinces and territories, so he can’t talk seriously about reforming the Senate either. So that’s one of the things that I’m going to be doing. As I continue to travel across Canada in the coming months, every time I do I’m going to be meeting with government leaders and I’m going to be meeting with opposition leaders, we’re going to be talking about this, they’ll share their opinions as well. We want to hear from all Canadians on this. But we are convinced, from having worked on this for a long time, that the vast majority of Canadians, the quasi-totality of Canadians, realize that in a free and democratic society, having a group of people who can sit in appeal of the decisions of elected members, who have never been elected and, indeed, are more often than not defeated candidates, is a scandal that it’s about time to…
His answer trailed off there.
As I’ve written before, the argument here has to be between an elected Senate (including what would be necessary to accomplish that and all of the complications that would come with having such an upper house) and abolishing the Senate (including what would be necessary to accomplish that and whatever considerations should be made in regards to no longer having an upper house). I agree wholeheartedly with the Prime Minister that the status quo is not acceptable. But I believe abolishing the Senate is much more preferable to an elected Senate.
All previous coverage of Senate reform is here.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, May 21, 2013 at 11:30 AM - 0 Comments
The Prime Minister arrived to the stage with a slight smile, an acknowledgement perhaps of his caucus’ willingness to stand and applaud his presence at this particular moment. He quickly turned serious.
“Good morning, everyone. Colleagues, obviously the reason I’m speaking to you this morning is I want to talk about some events that have transpired recently. And I don’t think any of you are going to be very surprised to hear that I’m not happy,” he said. “I’m very upset…”
So upset that he would commit here and now to release any and all relevant documents and correspondence in the possession of his office? So upset that he would submit to a news conference today to address the allegations concerning his former top aide? So upset that he would detail precisely what he knows about the arrangement between Nigel Wright and Mike Duffy? So upset that he would offer any kind of explanation here now with all these cameras summoned to transmit his remarks to the nation?
No, no, not that upset. Just upset enough to feel it necessary to tell everyone that he was indeed upset. A revelation that even he conceded was not much of a surprise.
“… about some conduct we have witnessed, the conduct of some parliamentarians and the conduct of my own office.”
In fact, we have not witnessed anything except the spectacle of a government attempting to slowly explain how one of the Prime Minister’s appointees in the Senate had come to pay back some unfortunately claimed expenses and how the Prime Minister’s chief of staff had come to be involved in the return of those funds. The actual events in question occurred entirely in secret.
Now though we would witness self-congratulation paraded for all to see. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Saturday, May 18, 2013 at 3:12 PM - 0 Comments
First, CTV says Pamela Wallin was forced out amid concerns about the audit of her expenses. Next, CTV says the Senate’s report on Mike Duffy was edited as part of a deal with Nigel Wright. Via Twitter, the Prime Minister’s director of communications denies CTV’s report that the Prime Minister might prorogue Parliament in early June.
The weekly meeting of the Conservative caucus, which normally occurs on Wednesday, has been rescheduled for Tuesday morning before the Prime Minister departs for Peru. The Star describes this as an emergency caucus meeting at which the Prime Minister is expected to set out a zero tolerance policy on spending transgressions.
Jason Fekete notes that Mr. Duffy, Ms. Wallin and Patrick Brazeau were all nominated for the Senate on the same day—December 22, 2008—along with 15 other Conservative appointees. But that date is particularly interesting for everything that occurred in the month preceding it.
In the 2006 election, the Conservatives promised to not appoint to the Senate anyone who hadn’t won a mandate to do so from voters. And up until December 22, 2008, Stephen Harper had only appointed two senators—Michael Fortier, shortly after the 2006 election, so that Mr. Fortier might serve in cabinet, and Bert Brown in 2007 with Mr. Brown having won a Senate election in Alberta.
Then Stephen Harper almost lost his government.
Four weeks before those 18 appointees were announced, the Conservative government tabled its fall economic update (the last such economic update to be tabled in the House, actually). The measures contained therein, including the elimination of the public subsidy for political parties, had precipitated coalition talks between the Liberals and New Democrats. On December 1, the Liberals, New Democrats and Bloc Quebecois announced their accord. Facing an imminent vote of non-confidence and the possible replacement of his government with a coalition government led by Stephane Dion, Mr. Harper asked the Governor General, Michaelle Jean at the time, to prorogue Parliament. After some consideration, she agreed to do so.
The coalition’s moment might have thus passed, but it was not yet officially dead. The Liberals quickly installed Michael Ignatieff as leader and he maintained that the coalition was an option. Not until Parliament reconvened in late January and a new budget was tabled, did Mr. Ignatieff effectively kill the coalition.
Just as Mr. Ignatieff was taking over the Liberal caucus, the Prime Minister’s Office revealed that Mr. Harper would fill 18 Senate vacancies before Christmas. A debate about the legitimacy of doing so ensued. Mr. Harper claimed to be in a difficult spot that compelled him to do something. And then, on December 22, Mr. Harper named his 18 appointees, asserting that the appointments were important both in the pursuit of Senate reform and in the interests of opposing the coalition.
“Our government will continue to push for a more democratic, accountable and effective Senate,” said the Prime Minister. “If Senate vacancies are to be filled, however, they should be filled by the government that Canadians elected rather than by a coalition that no one voted for.”
The incoming Senators have all pledged to support eight-year term limits and other Senate reform legislation. Each incoming Senator has also declared his or her unwavering commitment to support Canadian unity and oppose the coalition.
This did not go over terribly well with Mr. Harper’s opponents.
“Mr. Harper knows that he does not have the confidence of the House of Commons,” Ignatieff said in a statement. “Appointing senators when he lacks a mandate from Parliament is not acceptable.”
It’s possible that the coalition was less a cause of the appointments than an excuse to make them. And possibly Mr. Harper was going to have to appoint senators at some point anyway (he’d hinted at such a possibility in October 2008). But December 22, 2008 does now seem like the plot point of a bad political thriller.
Four and a half years later, the Harper government’s Senate reform legislation is collecting dust while the Supreme Court prepares to hear a reference on the matter and three of the December 2008 appointees have either been removed or removed themselves from the Conservative caucus.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, March 13, 2013 at 2:34 PM - 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 John Geddes - Friday, March 8, 2013 at 5:00 AM - 0 Comments
After months of scandals, could it finally be time to scrap the Senate? John Geddes reports
For a sense of how damaging the news has been for the Senate this winter, take a guess at which of two Feb. 6 stories most stuck in the minds of Canadians. There was the release that day of a carefully researched report by the Senate’s finance committee on the persistence of lower consumer prices in the U.S. than in Canada, just the sort of policy work senators use to justify their patronage positions. And then there was Sen. Mike Duffy scuttling away through the kitchen after giving a speech at a Halifax hotel ballroom, trying to evade reporters asking questions about his claim that he mainly lives on Prince Edward Island, the dubious basis on which he’s collected a Senate allowance for his Ottawa housing costs. At the journalists in hot pursuit, plying his former trade, Duffy huffed, “You should be doing adult work.”
Many Canadians listening to that TV clip—let’s stipulate that few were distracted by the worthy committee study of prices—must have wondered if it isn’t senators who should heed Duffy’s advice. Parliament’s upper chamber has suffered through patches of deep notoriety before, but the past three months brought an unusually sustained flurry of public-image pummelling. A key reason was the marquee quality of three Conservative senators who found themselves under unwelcome scrutiny. Duffy is famous as a former long-time TV news personality. So is Sen. Pamela Wallin, whose six-digit travel expense claims are also the subject of controversy and a special audit. And Sen. Patrick Brazeau—whose far more dire downward spiral, culminating in charges of assault and sexual assault—is also widely recognizable for having been thrashed last year by Justin Trudeau in a highly publicized charity boxing match.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 6:45 PM - 0 Comments
The House defeated the NDP’s motion calling for the abolishment of the Senate this evening by a vote of 186-101, with the New Democrats, Bloc and Elizabeth May voting in favour.
The Bloc’s bill to repeal the Clarity Act was then defeated by a vote of 283-5, with only the Bloc MPs supporting it.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 6:16 PM - 0 Comments
And so, inevitably, we reach the point in our grand democratic experiment at which the deputy leader of the government in the Senate feels compelled to take to Twitter to clarify that another senator is no longer in a romantic relationship with an employee—this much being an issue that had come to the fore shortly after questions were asked about the senator’s decision to claim housing expenses despite no longer living in the Sherbrooke condo where his estranged wife currently resides. All of which became an issue because Mike Duffy’s residency was found to be something of an existential riddle.
The senator now in question, Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu, would seem to have both an impressive resume and a heartfelt cause, but here we apparently are.
Meanwhile, in no-less-silly but potentially more consequential news, the Senate is still thinking seriously about the possibility of challenging the Parliamentary Budget Officer’s actions and authority. Which would not only put senators in the odd position of questioning someone else’s mandate, but might also raise questions about the separation of powers between the legislative and judicial branches.
The Senate is best which is noticed least. It is most easily appreciated when it is merely being ponderous and double-checking bills and otherwise only existing. Presumably it will eventually get back to being so unremarkable. If only because it seems likely to be here for awhile yet. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, March 4, 2013 at 5:34 PM - 0 Comments
Thomas Mulcair smiled as James Moore concluded his first response. The NDP leader had asked the government side to account for the dispatch of investigators to check on the recipients of employment insurance and Mr. Moore had stood to accuse Mr. Mulcair of mongering fear and to explain that this was about seeking to “protect the integrity of the system.”
Mr. Mulcair chuckled and crooked his head as he stood to respond. “Mr. Speaker, that’s it,” the NDP leader observed, “for the unemployed, we send the secret police, and senators, we do not even ask where they live.”
The New Democrats laughed.
So the first question this day had been both an expression of concern and a setup. And so the Senate seems to have returned to its natural place in our civic and societal order as an enduring subject of complaint and mockery. It is not that the Senate has reached some new low in recent weeks. It is merely that, after a period of relative quiet, we have once again found reason to variously question and lament its existence. It might make more fiscal sense, in this period of austerity, to convert the chamber into lofts, but then we wouldn’t have the Senate to kick around anymore. And what fun would that be? At least as a punchline, it might be forever relevant. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, March 4, 2013 at 1:31 PM - 0 Comments
The New Democrats have decided to go with their first of their three aforementioned options and the House will spend tomorrow debating whether to abolish the Senate. Presumably the motion will be defeated—with the Conservatives and Liberals voting against—but the discussion might prove interesting, especially insofar as someone will, presumably, have to defend the Senate’s existence.
The NDP has, in the past, attempted to defund the Senate.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, March 4, 2013 at 10:19 AM - 0 Comments
Five years removed from the chamber, former Conservative senator Michael Fortier—Stephen Harper’s first appointment—questions the Senate’s “usefulness.”
In an interview airing Saturday on CBC Radio’s The House, Michael Fortier told host Evan Solomon while he didn’t believe in abolishing the Senate when he was a part of it, “if I had to choose today, I would say that I’m probably closer to closing the place down. I just don’t see the usefulness…
“I was very naïve… I thought it would be a different place than the one I found. I found it to be extremely partisan… on both sides, including my own. And it was very annoying because these people were trying to be members of parliament and they weren’t,” Fortier said.
Apparently Mr. Fortier didn’t find it to be a “stimulating environment.”
On that note, the New Democrats have tabled three options for their opposition day tomorrow.
That, in the opinion of the House, the government of Canada, in consultation with the provinces and territories, should take immediate steps towards abolishing the unelected and unaccountable Senate of Canada.
That, in the opinion of the House, given that the Auditor General has found that Senate “expense claim files do not always contain sufficient documentation” and that “it is difficult for the Administration to clearly conclude that expenses are appropriate”, an independent authority should be appointed to conduct an in depth review of matters related to Senate residency requirements, housing allowances and travel expenses since January 2008, including access to all relevant documentation and authority to interview all relevant persons, and that this authority report to the House on the following questions: a) whether any Senators have failed to comply with the constitutional residency requirements for the Senate of Canada as outlined in Sections 23 and 31 of the Constitution Act of 1982; b) whether any Senators have claimed housing allowances to which they were not properly entitled under Senate rules; and c) whether any Senators have incurred travel or transportation expenses not relating to parliamentary functions including travel to any personal residence not within either the province or territory they were appointed to represent or the National Capital Region.
That, in the opinion of the House, the government should not further increase Senate spending or reduce spending for the Senate Ethics Officer for fiscal year 2013-14 and that it be an instruction to the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates that it conduct a study of other means by which the Senate’s budget could be reduced.
The second and third options are perhaps more practical, but the first might make for the more interesting debate.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, February 28, 2013 at 5:53 PM - 0 Comments
Charlie Angus wanted to talk about the possibility that individuals appointed to the Senate to represent specific provinces did not sufficiently reside in those provinces. But Pierre Poilievre wanted to talk about how Mr. Angus had been the subject of a complaint made by the Ontario election boundaries commission.
“The Member of Parliament for Timmins—James Bay submitted that the community of interest among farmers and people associated with agriculture in the farming area west and north of the City of Temiskaming Shores flowed north along Highway 11, and that there was no community of interest with people involved in agriculture in the electoral district of Nickel Belt,” the report reads, in reference to Mr. Angus. “The Member also expressed concern about the ability to serve constituents effectively if the communities along Highway 11 from the Town of Smooth Rock Falls to west of the Town of Hearst were included in the electoral district. This was the first hint of what the Commission considers to be inappropriate involvement by a Member of Parliament in the electoral redistribution process.”
Hadn’t the Conservatives, just two weeks ago, defended the involvement of parliamentarians in the boundary-drawing process? Well, yes. But they had also been responding, in part, to questions from Mr. Angus.
So… what exactly? Was Mr. Angus’ intervention somehow worse than the Conservative party’s mounting a public political campaign against the boundary commission? Was he merely guilty of the same offence he accused the Conservatives of committing? Were they both wrong? Did Mr. Angus’ wrong make the Conservatives’ actions somehow right? Did Mr. Angus’ actions somehow excuse whatever was going on in the Senate?
“He is the one who stands in the House and grandstands so regularly, putting himself on the highest moral level,” Mr. Poilievre explained a moment later.” He is the one who has been singled out for breaking the rules. He is the one who should stand and explain that.”
So perhaps Mr. Angus should stand and proclaim his offence a “big victory” and that would be that.
But ultimately Mr. Poilievre’s allegation is just that: hypocrisy. Whatever his actual title as the parliamentary secretary to the minister of transport or some such, Mr. Poilievre is something like the Minister of State for I-Know-You-Are-But-What-Am-I? And he is very good at his job. Whatever you can accuse his side of doing, he can think of something that your side did that was somewhat similar in nature. Or he can suggest that you—at least if you are the NDP’s Alexandre Boulerice—are a separatist. Presumably the aim is to ensure that everyone is regarded as equally unworthy of your trust. His fellow Conservatives adore his performances. For sure, as song and dance routines go, Mr. Poilievre’s is certainly more entertaining than, say, Julian Fantino’s lo-fi grumble or Rob Nicholson’s perpetual disappointment in the opposition.
But he is still no John Baird—the gleeful master of the glancing gotcha, the wizard of fleeting and tangential advantage. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, February 27, 2013 at 6:02 PM - 0 Comments
On the anniversary of the government’s Senate reform legislation last being debated in the House, an exchange this afternoon between Thomas Mulcair and the Prime Minister. (emphasis mine)
Thomas Mulcair: Sixteen Conservative senators are still refusing to provide evidence that they actually live in the provinces they are supposed to represent. Fifteen of those were appointed by the Prime Minister. In their eighth year of broken promises, this is the Conservative record on Senate reform. Will the Prime Minister demand that his senators, members of his caucus, come clean with Canadians or is he going to keep covering up for them?
Stephen Harper: Mr. Speaker, all senators conform to the residency requirements. That is the basis on which they are appointed to the Senate and those requirements have been clear for 150 years. We recognize there have to be reforms to the Senate, including limiting senators’ mandates and encouraging an elected Senate. Unfortunately, it is the NDP that consistently opposes reforming the Senate and opposes an elected Senate, hoping in the future to appoint its own senators. I would encourage the NDP to join with us and allow the bill to pass so that we can have an elected Senate.
Why, in this case, does the Prime Minister believe it is necessary for the opposition to “allow” the bill to pass? The Conservatives have a majority in the House of Commons. They could use that majority to pass a motion of time allocation to bring C-7 to a vote and they could use that majority to pass the bill at second reading. They have already used time allocation to end debate in the House on 28 occasions in this Parliament.
Government House leader Peter Van Loan might be reluctant to do so, but he also seems to believe in the necessity of time allocation if it is about fulfilling a commitment the government has made.
Mr. Speaker, nobody would be more delighted than I if we could actually not have to use time allocation, but so far we have not seen an indication from the opposition parties that they are prepared to deal with bills on an expeditious basis. We feel the need to actually get things done here and deliver on our commitments.
In fact, in each of these cases since we started in September, each one of those bills continues to be debated in the process in the House of Commons. At committee, they have not even returned here for report stage yet, let alone third reading. Extensive debate is taking place.
The fact is that the parliamentary process is a lengthy one with many stages. We want to ensure that bills have an opportunity to get through those stages so they can become law, so we can keep the commitments that we made to Canadians.
As Mr. Van Loan said yesterday, Canadians have “elected a government committed to delivering Senate reform.” Surely then this moment cries out for time allocation.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, February 27, 2013 at 8:00 AM - 0 Comments
Punctuating a back-and-forth with the NDP over the Senate yesterday, Peter Van Loan offered a stirring call to move forward with the government’s Senate reform legislation.
Mr. Speaker, the question was put to Canadians in 2006 when we proposed an elected Senate, in 2008 when we proposed an elected Senate and in 2011 when we proposed an elected Senate.
None of those times did the NDP support it, but Canadians did. They elected a government committed to delivering Senate reform. We brought forward legislation on Senate reform and the NDP has blocked it every step of the way.
What is the real agenda of the NDP? Appointing its own senators, that is the agenda of the NDP.
The first part was a response to Charlie Angus’ suggestion that a referendum be held on the future of the Senate. The third part was apparently a reference to the coalition agreement signed by the Liberals and NDP in 2008 that would’ve allowed for Senate appointments (as well as all other appointments).
The trouble here is the second part. The Conservatives are fond of the idea that the New Democrats have held up the legislation—Bill C-7—by standing to speak to the bill each time it is brought before the House. Technically, C-7 can’t be brought to a vote until debate collapses. Thing is, if the Conservatives wanted to have a vote on it, they could do so almost immediately. They’d just have to use their majority in the House to pass a motion of time allocation. Just like they have done 28 times already in this Parliament.
So why not use time allocation to compel a vote? I asked Tim Uppal’s office that question last month and the only words I received in response were, “We are committed to moving reform forward.”
The Globe’s John Ibbitson suggested last August that to use time allocation to move along legislation related to reforming Parliament would be “unconscionable.” Maybe the Conservatives feel likewise. But then, if they admitted as much publicly, it might raise questions about those 28 times they’ve already used time allocation.
As Ibbitson wrote in August, the Conservatives could just keep bringing the bill before the House for as many hours as it took for each New Democrat to have his or her turn to speak. But, according to Ibbitson, the Prime Minister doesn’t want to do that because some Conservative senators don’t agree with the bill’s term limits.
Meanwhile, of course, the Conservatives have asked the Supreme Court to provide a reference on Senate reform. And it’s now been exactly one year since C-7 was brought to the House for debate.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, February 26, 2013 at 11:42 AM - 0 Comments
From the archives of the Canadian Parliamentary Review, an essay written by the 35-year-old leader of the Ontario NDP, at the time two years removed from fours in the House of Commons as an NDP MP.
Our parliamentary institutions were clearly modelled in 1867 on those of Britain at that time. Surely it is hardly a radical suggestion to say that the Canada of 1984 is profoundly different from the British unitary state of 1867. Canada’s Senate was not seen at that time as in any sense representative of the federal principle. Rather it was intended, as was the nineteenth and early twentieth century House of Lords, as a kind of property brake on the democratic principles emerging in the House of Commons. The House of Lords, and hence in conception the Senate. existed to keep the democrats (I say “democrats” and not necessarily “New Democrats”) from getting carried away. That, in concise terms is the basis of the cliché about the Senate as a source of sober second thought and the concern consistently expressed in this last century. not confined to Canada, that second chambers were necessary to protect business and commercial interests from the Workings of popular government.
In its conception and in its operations, the Senate is neither regionally representative in the sense that we understand it today, nor is it democratic. In tact the Canadian Senate is an undemocratic institution working at the heart of democratic government. That fact, combined with the history of the Senate as nothing more or less than a tool of patronage in the hands of the party in power, has led our party to the conviction that the Senate should be abolished.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, February 25, 2013 at 5:40 PM - 0 Comments
Thomas Mulcair stood first to mock.
“Mr. Speaker, Conservative Senator Mike Duffy has now admitted he mistakenly collected, maybe, about, $100,000 in Senate housing allowances. How does one accidentally claim $100,000 in living expenses? He says the form was too complicated,” the NDP leader reported sarcastically. “We also have Senator Pamela Wallin who has an Ontario health card while claiming to be a resident of Saskatchewan. She told the federal government that she lived in one province but told the provincial government that she lived in another. This would be unacceptable for any other Canadian. Why does the Prime Minister seem to think it is acceptable for his Conservative senators?”
The Prime Minister was away, so it was Peter Van Loan’s responsibility this day to offer the official reassurances. “Mr. Speaker, we have committed to ensure that all expenses are appropriate,” the Government House leader reported, “that the rules governing expenses are appropriate and to report back to the public on these matters.”
But Mr. Van Loan apparently sensed that Mr. Mulcair was not sufficiently serious in his concern for the Senate. “The reality is, if we want to see real change in the Senate, real change toward an accountable Senate,” Mr. Van Loan segued, “we need to embrace the Conservative proposal to actually let Canadians have a say on who represents them in the Senate. The NDP simply will not do that.”
So if you are truly upset with the actions of the senators Mr. Harper has appointed, you simply must agree to pass Mr. Harper’s legislation to reform the Senate. Neat trick, that. Indeed, if this has been the Prime Minister’s play all along, to appoint dozens of senators—and two former members of the press gallery at that—in the hopes that somehow someday they would do something to incite the sort of controversy that would leave everyone begging for change, he is precisely three times the brilliant strategist he is often thought to be.
Of course, if Mr. Van Loan really wanted to move ahead with Senate reform, he might invoke time allocation to bring the legislation to a vote. Unless the Conservatives now believe that such maneuvering, of which they have otherwise been so fond, is somehow undemocratic.
This much though was merely the preamble this day. Indeed, for perhaps the first time since Confederation, the Senate was only the setup and not the punchline. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, February 22, 2013 at 3:26 PM - 0 Comments
Yesterday, Marc Garneau criticized Justin Trudeau for comments Mr. Trudeau made about Quebec secession. Today, the Garneau campaign announces that the candidate disagrees with Mr. Trudeau’s stance on Senate reform (see previously: The solution is not better patronage and How would Trudeau appoint senators?)
Liberal Leadership Candidate Marc Garneau would push for an elected Senate with limited terms, in stark contrast to fellow leadership candidate Justin Trudeau’s status quo approach to the red chamber.
“I fundamentally disagree with Justin Trudeau, who has said he would stick with the status quo and simply nominate better Senators,” said Garneau, who is travelling in rural Quebec this week.
“Trudeau says reform is too problematic. I say real leaders find solutions to make positive change. They don’t give in to the status quo because it’s too hard.”
Garneau said Australia, which also has a parliamentary system, has a tie-breaking mechanism between its House of Commons and its Senate, and has an elected senate that could serve as a model for Canada
He said he would work with the provinces and constitutional experts to create an elected Senate that would address regional balance and ensure the House of Commons would be the final arbiter.
“Canadians have made clear that they are dissatisfied with the undemocratic, unrepresentative Senate as it now stands. My position is Canada must work with the provinces to create an elected Senate with limited terms,” said Garneau.
By The Canadian Press - Friday, February 15, 2013 at 6:50 PM - 0 Comments
OTTAWA – The federal government is asking the Supreme Court to study its Senate-reform…
OTTAWA – The federal government is asking the Supreme Court to study its Senate-reform proposals as quickly as it can.
Two weeks ago, the top court was asked to provide its opinion on the constitutionality of a number of changes to the Senate, including term limits and elections.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government also asked for an opinion on how to abolish the Senate outright.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, February 15, 2013 at 1:14 PM - 0 Comments
Conservative Senator Hugh Segal revives his proposal of a referendum on Senate abolition.
Segal envisions one simple referendum question: “Do you think the Senate should be abolished? Yes or No.” “That would have a clarity and an impact and a weight in our political discussions that none of the other discussions to date have had.”
Senator Segal floated this idea a year and a half ago.
In this case, he thinks a referendum should be conducted before the Supreme Court returns with its response to the Harper government’s questions about Senate reform and abolition.
By Martin Patriquin - Thursday, February 14, 2013 at 4:52 PM - 0 Comments
Martin Patriquin explains why the status quo is here to stay
In a column that could have been written yesterday afternoon, L Ian MacDonald said the following about Senate reform in 1985:
When Canadians think of the Senate at all, they clearly don’t think much of it, which is why the New Democrats in the Commons think they’re on to a good thing in calling for the abolition of the upper chamber.
The truly cynical would say the column was an attempt by MacDonald, who would become speechwriter for Prime Minister Brian Mulroney later that year, to tamp down the expectations of the voting public. After all, the same voting public elected Mulroney in part because he would put an end to what Peter C. Newman called “the orgy of patronage appointments” of previous Liberal governments. I was a tyke at the time, but I still remember my old man watching the debate when Mulroney made John Turner’s campaign go poof! by delivering that famous “You had an option, sir” line in that indignant, fuck-off baritone of his. Turner’s crime, in large part, was appointing three senators during his three months as Prime Minister. Mulroney was disgusted and promised change. I think the old man even voted for Mulroney—though I doubt he’d admit as much in polite company.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, February 14, 2013 at 10:41 AM - 0 Comments
While saying there are options to the way Senators are appointed by the Prime Minister in Canada—such as the way candidates for federal judicial appointments are vetted and the Congressional screening of presidential appointments in the United States—Mr. Trudeau said it is the “values” of nominees to the Senate that must be addressed first.
“We need to be appointing qualified people, in a transparent, open process that leaves people confident that these public servants in Parliament, that Senators are, are going to be doing right by the province and the country they represent,” Mr. Trudeau said.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, February 13, 2013 at 7:05 PM - 0 Comments
In being the last of the major parties never to have formed a federal government, the NDP has won something almost nearly as satisfying: the right to pronounce shame on the Senate. Perhaps the meek shall one day inherit the earth, but first those unencumbered by never having had to do anything about the Senate shall inherit the righteous indignation about the chamber’s continued existence.
“Mr. Speaker, in the Senate, the more things change, the more they stay the same,” Thomas Mulcair sighed this afternoon. “Senator Pamela Wallin claimed more than $300,000 in travel expenses over the last three years alone. Less than ten percent of these costs were used for her movements in Saskatchewan. This is taxpayers’ money that Senator Wallin used to walk across the country to star in fundraising for the Conservatives. Does the Prime Minister think it is acceptable for taxpayers’ money to be used to raise funds for his political party?”
It is unclear how much of Mr. Mulcair’s aspersion here can be precisely substantiated—specifically how much of Senator Wallin’s travel expenses could be said to have resulted from partisan activities. Suffice it to say, the Prime Minister “regretted” the opposition leader’s “characterization.”
“In terms of Senator Wallin, I have looked at the numbers,” Mr. Harper reported.
Stand down, Deloitte.
“Her travel costs are comparable to any parliamentarian travelling from that particular area of the country over that period of time. For instance, last year Senator Wallin spent almost half of her time in the province she represents in the Senate. The costs are obviously to travel to and from that province, as any similar parliamentarian would do.”
Mr. Mulcair was not quite reassured. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, February 13, 2013 at 10:31 AM - 0 Comments
Justin Trudeau rightly identifies the trouble with an elected Senate.
“I think an elected Senate is a terrible idea,” he said. “If you all of sudden have a legitimate Senate that exercises the full extent of its powers — as opposed to one that understands that it’s less legitimate than the House of Commons because it’s not elected — you’re transforming our system in very, very negative ways.”
Mr. Trudeau’s solution? To maintain the “less legitimate” Senate, but to demand “better” of the people that are appointed.
“It needs to be fixed by demanding better of the people that we choose to appoint to the Senate. That’s the answer for me,” he said after a pep talk late Monday to several hundred Liberal supporters at a pub near Ottawa.
Just as Patrick Brazeau’s current legal troubles can’t justifiably be used to question to the existence of the Senate, neither should “demanding better of the people that we choose to appoint”—although, granted, it’s not clear what “demanding better” would entail—be considered a solution to the problem of justifying the Senate’s existence.
There are good people in the Senate currently. But you could fill the Senate with 105 national treasures (Anne Murray, the 1992-1993 Montreal Canadiens, Mark Carney, etc.) and those 105 individuals could only ever act like dignified, responsible and humble public servants and it still wouldn’t make the Senate a necessary part of our legislative system.
The problem with the Senate isn’t the people, it’s that none of the reasons offered in its defence (it periodically makes a useful change to legislation passed by the House, its committee studies are sometimes more substantive than those held in the House) sufficiently justify maintaining an unelected, second chamber with the power to obstruct legislation passed by the democratically elected House of Commons.
Four provinces maintained second chambers after Confederation in 1867. Two of those legislative councils didn’t last into the 20th century. Nova Scotia abolished its second chamber in 1928. Quebec abolished its legislative council in 1968. (Manitoba joined the country in 1870 and abolished its council six years later.) So far none of the provinces has descended into anarchy or tyranny as a result of their lacking a second chamber.
A democratically elected Senate introduces a different set of problems, but those problems aren’t justification for maintaining an unjustified chamber. The choice shouldn’t be between an elected Senate or an appointed Senate. It should be between an elected Senate (and all the complications that come with that) or no Senate at all. (To clarify: I favour the latter.)
By John Geddes - Friday, February 8, 2013 at 6:39 PM - 0 Comments
When Canadians hear the Prime Minister calling Senator Patrick Brazeau’s situation “extremely appalling”—from Stephen Harper, uncharacteristically vivid language—they might well wonder how this character rated a Senate seat in the first place.
The short, glib answer is that he didn’t. In a way, no senator does. The continued existence of an upper chamber in our Parliament that exists to be packed with partisan patronage appointees remains a national embarrassment—or would be if we thought about it much.
But Brazeau’s personal downfall is, of course, entirely distinct from the institutional problem of a standing affront to democracy right there on Parliament Hill. Nobody should suggest that the charges of assault and sexual assault laid against him today somehow reflect on the Senate in general.
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 - Friday, February 1, 2013 at 3:56 PM - 0 Comments
More than seven years after the Conservatives formed government and more than six years after they first tabled legislation to reform the Senate, Minister of State for Democratic Reform Tim Uppal has announced that the Conservatives will ask the Supreme Court for a reference on Senate reform.
Here is the official announcement.
And here are the six questions the government is sending to the court.
Senate Term Limits
1. In relation to each of the following proposed limits to the tenure of Senators, is it within the legislative authority of the Parliament of Canada, acting pursuant to section 44 of the Constitution Act, 1982, to make amendments to section 29 of the Constitution Act, 1867 providing for
a. a fixed term of nine years for Senators, as set out in clause 5 of Bill C-7, the Senate Reform Act;
b. a fixed term of ten years or more for Senators;
c. a fixed term of eight years or less for Senators;
d. a fixed term of the life of two or three Parliaments for Senators;
e. a renewable term for Senators, as set out in clause 2 of Bill S-4, Constitution Act, 2006 (Senate tenure);
f. limits to the terms for Senators appointed after October 14, 2008 as set out in subclause 4(1) of Bill C-7, the Senate Reform Act; and
g. retrospective limits to the terms for Senators appointed before October 14, 2008?
Senate Appointment Consultations: National Process
2. Is it within the legislative authority of the Parliament of Canada, acting pursuant to section 91 of the Constitution Act, 1867, or section 44 of the Constitution Act, 1982, to enact legislation that provides a means of consulting the population of each province and territory as to its preferences for potential nominees for appointment to the Senate pursuant to a national process as was set out in Bill C-20, theSenate Appointment Consultations Act?
Senate Appointment Consultations: Provincial Processes
3. Is it within the legislative authority of the Parliament of Canada, acting pursuant to section 91 of the Constitution Act, 1867, or section 44 of the Constitution Act, 1982, to establish a framework setting out a basis for provincial and territorial legislatures to enact legislation to consult their population as to their preferences for potential nominees for appointment to the Senate as set out in the schedule to Bill C-7, the Senate Reform Act?
4. Is it within the legislative authority of the Parliament of Canada acting pursuant to section 44 of the Constitution Act, 1982 to repeal subsections 23(3) and (4) of the Constitution Act, 1867 regarding property qualifications for Senators?
5. Can an amendment to the Constitution of Canada to abolish the Senate be accomplished by the general amending procedure set out in section 38 of the Constitution Act, 1982, by one of the following methods:
a. by inserting a separate provision stating that the Senate is to be abolished as of a certain date, as an amendment to the Constitution Act, 1867 or as a separate provision that is outside of theConstitution Acts, 1867 to 1982 but that is still part of the Constitution of Canada;
b. by amending or repealing some or all of the references to the Senate in the Constitution of Canada; or
c. by abolishing the powers of the Senate and eliminating the representation of provinces pursuant to paragraphs 42(1)(b) and (c) of the Constitution Act, 1982?
6. If the general amending procedure in section 38 of the Constitution Act, 1982 is not sufficient to abolish the Senate, does the unanimous consent provision set out in section 41 of the Constitution Act, 1982 apply?