Senate under fire

(Graphic by Stephanie Truong)
(Graphic by Stephanie Truong)

There has been considerable news coverage on the performance and credibility of Canadian Senators as of late.

Senator Patrick Brazeau recently came under fire for legal indiscretions, while Senator Mike Duffy was found to be claiming a residence allowance for a province he wasn’t living in. Criticism of the Upper Chamber and its members is mounting, leading to questions about whether changes might be needed or if the Senate should exist at all.

Barry Kay, a political analyst and political science professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, explained that “for the most part, the majority of them are seen, barely or not, as … political hacks that are getting rewarded for having assisted the party in one way or another.”

To address the issues of reforming the Senate, the Conservative government tabled Bill C-7, the Senate Reform Act, in June 2011.

Among the main tenets of the Act is to implement an election process in determining Senate members, which are currently appointed positions.

“It’s important for Canadians to have a say in who represents them in the Senate and that’s why we are looking to create a democratic process for the selection of Senators from Bill C-7,” said Kitchener-Waterloo centre Conservative MP Peter Braid.

Kay speculated, “My guess is we’re not going to even get to that stage.”

However distant, these potential changes to the Senate do raise questions. If the Senate members were to be elected, what would that mean for those who sit in the House of Commons?

“It is not the intention to have a democratically elected Senate trump a democratically elected House of Commons,”Braid clarified.

He also pointed out that “the framework [for democratic elections for Senators] already exists,” drawing on Alberta as an example. Since its 1989 Senatorial Act, Alberta has used a democratic process to choose senators, who were then appointed by the Prime Minister.

The NDP has also been vocal lately about its opposition to the Senate and is seeking its complete abolition.

“Frankly, it’s not going to happen, “said Kay.

“Contrary to the … view of the NDP you cannot simply wave a magic wand to abolish the Senate,” Braid added. “It is our understanding that at a minimum abolition of the senate would require the consent of at least seven provinces representing 50 per cent of the population.”

The NDP have pledged to work with the population and opposition in this process.

Even if the NDP were to be elected to a majority government it is unlikely that they would be able to enact the abolition of the Senate.

“Unless the provinces are in line, it’s probably not going to happen,” said Kay.

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