The Canadian Senate: Past, Present, and Future

Reform the Senate, but in the correct way
Rahman Mohamed

Not so long ago a couple of men in what was then a British colony decided to get together and form a new nation.  They called it Canada.  These men (aka “the Fathers of Confederation”) decided that the nation’s federal Parliament should have two chambers: an upper chamber that was supposed to be a “sober second thought” to legislation created by the House of Commons, Canadian politicians elected by Canadians.  Is that what they are today?

Today the Canadian Senate has been littered by spending scandals.  So much so that many Canadians believe it now has little or no purpose and should be abolished, not changed.

Since the Scandals began Canadians have been watching the Upper House, wondering what it will bring. To help Canadians the Senate is broadcast online.

To fight the scandals Prime Minister Stephen Harper suggested changing the Senate.  He said that if he couldn’t reform it he would abolish it.  So he sent his Senate reform plan to the Supreme Court of Canada.  Today he received a reply.  If he wants to limit Senators’ terms or have elected senators he needs agreement from 7 provinces that represent 50% of the Canadian population (aka the 7/50 rule).  The court did tell him that he was able to change the rule about property ownership.  Unfortunately, to his disappointment and Mr. Mulcair, another strong opponent to the current Senate, it can’t be abolished without approval from all of Canada’s provinces – a decision Premier Kathleen Wynne liked.

According to Liberal MP Stephen Dion, “The Trudeau Plan” is the only realistic Senate reform plan without re-opening the Constitution.  Today all Senators are partisan except the former Liberals.

If Senators are elected: they will be partisan.  That means they will either (outright) agree or disagree with the House of Commons (just like what’s happening today; a Conservative majority in the House of Commons and a Conservative majority in the Senate).  If they agree, no sober second thought.  If they disagree, Parliament will get nothing done.

If the Senate is to be truly reformed and return to its roots, the purpose it was designed for, to provide “a sober second thought” to the Canadian Parliament, the Senators have to change.

Senators can’t be associated with parties.  Instead of providing a second thought, criticising a bill and amendments to make it better serve Canadians, partisan Senators think along party paradigms.

The “Trudeau Plan” isn’t the only step.  Senators that know how to provide a second thought must be found.

This means they must be knowledgeable in their field.  Today’s Senators aren’t dumb. The ideal Senator to provide a second thought on every budget, no matter what shape the economy is in, is an Economics Professor who sits with a Business Professor in the upper chamber, two Canadians who’ve completed a PhD and have been examining and teaching the effects of previous budgets on Canadians for a couple of years, not a past political correspondent.

The easiest way to find the members of the new upper house, find a representative from each party with a seat in the House of Commons, including the Green Party and the Bloc Québécois, to ensure each has a voice and the new members are non-partisan and create a “Senate Committee”, a committee to nominate the professionals to provide a sober second thought in a non partisan manner.

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