Sunday, April 4, 2010

Senate Reform - Let's Look to South Africa!

I think everyone here in Canada realizes the need to take a good, long look at our Senate, and figure out its future. It's silly to continue with the current status quo, seeing how easy it is to abuse it, how weak the arguments of "representation" are, and serious questions about whether it even fulfills its role anymore as a chamber of sober second thought, or at least of provincial representation.

Personally, I'm a big fan of creating an elected Senate. Nick Boragina of RidingByRiding.com recently posted a hypothetical election of our Senate based on what is known as the "D'Hondt" system, which is what the Australians use. The results were pretty cool, if I must say so myself.

However, I get the feeling that not only is adding an extra election a bit of a pain, but it also somewhat dilutes the purpose. We can see the results of an elected Senate down south, and I personally want nothing to do with that. If we do go the route of an elected Senate, we best make sure it is nothing like the American system.

But, there is another, more compromising way to deal with Senate reform. I invite you to take a look at South Africa's National Council of Provinces.

In the NCOP (as we'll know refer to it), each of South Africa's nine provinces have equal representation. Seeing as there is 90 seats, that means each province gets 10 seats.

The NCOP itself is indirect, meaning that South Africans do not elect their NCOP Members. Instead, Members are chosen based on the distribution of seats within the provincial assemblies. For example, in the Western Cape province, the Democratic Alliance (woot!) controls 22 seats out of 42, or 52%, in the provincial assembly. That translates into 5.2 seats in the NCOP - or, to round properly, 5 seats. The opposition African National Congress controls 14 seats, or 33%. They get 3 seats in the NCOP. And on it goes for all other parties in all other provinces.

Furthermore, if I understand correctly, all premiers similarly get a seat (called apart of the "Delegations"). This means there are 9 Delegate Members, 8 of which are ANC, one of which is DA.

So, how would this translate to Canadian politics? Well, let's say that each province gets 10 members, while each territory gets one (the Yukon, while it does elect parties, will be left out just to make this a little simpler for right now). That means there is 103 Senators - down two from the current 105 (oh noes). Also, members will be decided after each provincial election, which means by-elections or defections in between which change the make-up of the assembly won't count.

Assuming that all provincial parties agree to elect Senators on behalf of their federal counterparts, we get this result:

BC: Libs 6, NDP 4
AL: Cons 8, Libs 1, NDP 1
SK: Cons 7, NDP 3 (While the Sask. Party isn't part of the Conservatives, they're close enough)
MN: NDP 6, Cons 3, Libs 1
ON: Libs 7, Cons 2, NDP 1
QC: Libs 5, Bloc 4, ADQ/Cons 1
NB: Libs 5, Cons 5
NS: NDP 6, Libs 2, Cons 2
PE: Libs 9, Cons 1
NL: Cons 9, Libs 1
Territories: 3 Independents or self-designated

In total, we get 38 Conservatives, 37 Liberals, 21 New Democrats, 4 Bloc, and 3 Independents/Self-Designates. For the "Premiers Delegation," we get 5 Libs, 4 Cons (including Yukon's Fentie), 2 NDP, and 2 Territorial. Compare that to the current Senate make-up (51 Cons, 49 Libs, 5 Independents), and it seems pretty representative of the voter's choices if you ask me. It also gives the NDP the balance of power, since by working with either the Cons or the Libs, they can power through legislation.

Though, to make a further point, it is equal representation - meaning Ontario has the same amount of votes as the much smaller PEI, which can present its own problems.

However, making it proportional to the population also defeats the purpose. The House of Commons, more or less, does that exact thing, where Ontario gets 106 seats, compared to PEI's 4. The Senate, however, should be representative of the provinces themselves. This way, the much larger provinces can't bully the smaller provinces out of everything. Instead, Senators from Ontario can team up with Senators from PEI to win together.

It isn't perfect, I know, but its better than the current system. By giving the provincial legislatures the power of representation, we're allowing all parties the chance to be represented. No one really loses out.

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