Saturday, November 20, 2010

Senate shenanigans underscore need for real debate

The recent shenanigans regarding the Senate, including the death of the House majority-passed Bill C-311 by Conservative Senators a couple of days ago, as well as the shameful and stupid bravado put forward by John Baird the day after, is just another rallying call for a real debate to be had on the future of Canada's Senate. Too long, we've lived complacent with the idea of an unelected, very unrepresentative upper house that works more in the interests of whichever party holds the majority/plurality, rather than in the interests of the citizenry at large. This goes for the Senate under both Conservative and Liberal control. Neither party can honestly claim the banner of Senate reform as their own, not even the old Reformers.

But the problem is exactly that we are complacent. Canadians are usually only up in arms about how bad the unelected Senate is whenever something like Bill C-311 comes along. If the Senate does something high profile and something we don't like, then we get angry. But the rest of the time, no one cares. For all Harper's talk about the unelected Senate, not many give him their votes on the basis of Senate reform. The people, frankly, do not care that much. They're happy with the status quo, as long as the status quo doesn't do anything to disrupt things they want. And what seems to be true for the people, also seems true for our Members of Parliament; so long as the Senate does not block legislation they want. When they do, the claws come out. This is evident by Jack Layton's little speech in regards to the Senate. When's the last time he's said anything about the Senate when they did pass bills he wanted?

This mentality - everything's OK until its not - does not help advance reform anywhere in this country, in regards to anything. When the system breaks down, it's not fixed until you actually do something about it. If you think there's a problem with it, you shouldn't be happy and change your tune when it does end up working in your favour. That's what Harper does. He's against the Senate when it doesn't suit him, but is first in line to abuse the power it has when he gets a chance. When that happens, he's absolutely mum on the subject. How can anyone believe his commitment to reform?

Until there is pressure from voters to do so, we can't. All politicians, Liberals included, will bend to populist will when there is enough pressure. The key is mobilizing such a movement, but of course its also the most difficult thing to do. I doubt there is enough interest out there to even justify an attempt at it, even with Bill C-311. Honestly put, we can't rely on citizen movements, not now or at any point in the near future. So, how can reformers make their voices heard?

I believe the key to pushing for real debate on Senate reform, something that's meaningful, important, and best of all, non-partisan, is targeting those members in all four parliamentary parties that we know to be critics of the way the current Senate system runs. If we can mobilize them, bring them together and make sure they push the issue a helluva lot more than it is right now, there could be a real debate on the issue of reform. We could actually bring forward in the House real proposals and real questions of how reform could work, the consequences of changing it, and the consequences if we don't.

This isn't proposing anything new, of course. But, Canada lacks a real movement or organization dedicated to making Senate reform. We have organizations dedicated more to the role of the monarchy than Senate reform, and really, what's more pertinent at this point in time? Maybe its time that those interested in creating a more accountable Senate started pushing forward, instead of relying on the people or the politicians to do it for them.

So, let Bill C-311 be a lesson , because its not the last time it'll happen, from the Conservatives or the Liberals, or whomever else gains an upper hand in the Senate as it is. Until there is real debate on the reform needed, we'll be stuck in this do-nothing state of letting the status quo occur without challenging it one bit. We can get angry, but it means nothing until we're actually spurred on to do something.


  1. Senate Reform has been blocked. Preston Manning would have worked with Liberals. NDP would like it scrapped.

    Now that control has shifted once again the noise from the cheap seats has increased.

    NAFTA, GST were delayed blocked by Liberals. NDP supported the use of those unelected senators.

    Today NDP think those unelected Senators are undemocratic for applying the second sober thought.

    Lesson is Liberals blew it, failed to anticipate the loss of Senate. The two main parties do not need to have NDP or Bloc onside to fix it.
    Look to defunct PC's that lost their way and joined other political parties into the dustbin of history.

    If Liberals want to follow the PC don't change, keep blaming the leadership and look for the next Trudeau.

    The writing is on the wall (steaks and tickets for volunteers), balance sheet shortfall, no star candidates. Bury your head and pretend the next tweak will work or ask the tough questions.
    Hoping for the other team to screw up has not worked. How many more years until a Plan B?

  2. You're very doom and gloom, aren't you?

  3. Ignatieff held promise, I like aspects of his speeches in 2005.

    Several conservatives hoped Ignatieff would lift the debate to values and big ideas. They hoped he would force them to the right. Some Conservatives think the CPC are too centrist or liberal. ( Imagine that!)

    I am open to a factual based debate why Liberals can't connect reality to SPIN. You don't believe they are falling farther behind in the silly metrics.

    We could talk about voluntary polls, internet ads, bus tours and exclude balance sheets and actual ballot results.

    It is a shame the LPOC are not up to challenge of making the right changes to fix their party.

    Do you know any Liberals that rely on real facts instead of SPIN from HQ?

    I am having a difficult time finding one Liberal blogger that can explain the drop in donations and donors in 2010 as a positive sign the management are going in the right direction in a credible fashion.

  4. "I am having a difficult time finding one Liberal blogger that can explain the drop in donations and donors in 2010 as a positive sign the management are going in the right direction in a credible fashion."

    That's because no one is quite that stupid. You're in fact the only one who seems to want to find an excuse.