Senate Reform is an issue that seems to pop up every 10 or so months, stay in the news for about half a week, and vanish. Usually when in the headlines, a particular kind of Senate Reform is being talked about - almost never the same as the one that was talked about 10 months prior - and people discuss that particular proposal.
I'd like to take this opportunity, when Senate Reform is not in the headlines, to examine some of it's possibilities. There are three main things to consider when talking about Senate Reform.
First, is powers. As it stands the Senate is a rather strong chamber but toothless on constitutional issues. This is not a discussion that you can have without examining changes to the other two areas of Senate Reform.
Second, is seat distribution. Anyone who has followed me in the past will know that this is normally where I focus my attention. Alberta and BC, for example, have a total of 12 Senators, while New Brunswick, on it's own, has 10. I am however not going to focus on this today either, rather my focus is on the third issue.
Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, is the method of selecting Senators. Included within this are possible amendments to the term which a Senator can serve.
Lets examine selection as it currently is. As the senate currently stands, the Prime Minister (through the Monarch) can appoint Senators at will. There is a maximum number of Senators from each province and Territory, and each Senator must have certain qualifications (minimum age, property ownership, etc) but beyond this, the Prime Minister can appoint any Senator that qualifies. This person will then serve until they resign, pass away, or retire at age 75.
Before I get into discussion of different methods I want to get a few terms out of the way. Appointments for life, or, for a set term, are in short, the same. The only "difference" is the end of the "term" is with the death of the individual in question. The main alternative of this is to serve at the pleasure of the Prime Minister, or other individual. Serving at someone's pleasure means if they are displeased, they can fire you. I'll be noting pleasure VS term differences in discussion.
The first proposal is to make a minor change to the Senate. The Prime Minister would still appoint all the Senators, but now they would have a term that only lasts a few years. 6, 8, and 12 years have all been tossed around as suggested term lengths. The major problem with this proposal is it only makes our current situation worse and does little to actually respond to the demands of those who call for Senate Reform.
Have the Premiers do it
Another change that has been proposed is to have the Premiers of the provinces appoint senators. There are two ways this can be done, either at Pleasure, or for a Term. There are problems with the former. Senators serving at Pleasure can be made to partake in shenanigans designed to disrupt the Senate. NDP and PQ Senators appointed in such a manner may purposefully cause trouble with the objective of having the Senate destroyed. Having Premiers appoint Senators for life would be only a minor change. So, what would such a senate look like? Presuming the BC Liberals would share their appointments between Libs and Cons, the PLQ appoints 4 Tories, and, the NDP and PQ would not appoint anyone, party standings might look like this:
Have Parliament do it
This is similar to how things are now, except this would allow opposition members in to the senate. In effect, allow the Leader of the Opposition and/or the other opposition leaders to appoint Senators. This option has similar problems to the current method, allowing a few opposition Senators in to the mix will not cause great change.
This option has many sub-options, as the question of "how" to elect them comes up. Also the question of a set term comes up, or to have them serve to retirement.
This is the method currently used to elect Senators in Alberta. In effect, voters are given as many votes as there are vacant positions, and, the vote is FPTP. Normally under a Block Vote, whomever wins the most votes, wins all of the seats. A Block Vote based on the 2011 federal election would have resulted 99 Conservatives elected. While this would give the Senate some democratic credibility, in general, it's elections would mirror those to the House to such an extent as to be nearly useless in practise. The only difference would be caused by the distribution of seats, which disfavours the West, and would thus only cause more trouble of a regional nature.
This would result in Senate Elections similar to what they have in Australia. Since Ontario has shown willingness to vote for the "Western based" Conservatives, it would cause less of a problem than the Block Vote, where the Liberals could otherwise sweep that province. A STV vote based on the last election would result in (apx) 70 Tories and 35 Liberals elected (presuming the Liberals would have run)
Ideas to elect the Senate based on a national PR list is not new. Greece uses a convoluted system that results in their assembly being elected based on a national PR scheme despite each province being allotted a certain number of members. We could certainly adopt a similar system. Such a Senate would have resulted in 66 Tories, 32 Liberals, and 7 Greens. Had the NDP and Bloc run candidates of some sort, the result would have been 42 Tories, 32 NDP, 20 Liberal, 6 BQ, and 4 Green.
Quebec already has Senate ridings. They were drawn in the 1840's and have not been altered since. No such map of these ridings exists. Ask your Senator, or the Senate, or the Atlas of Canada. Nobody has any map of these ridings. Nobody, that is, except for me! Might sound like boasting, and it is - but it is justified in that I've challenged others to prove me wrong; to find another map, and no such map exists. Regardless, here it is: https://maps.google.ca/maps/ms?authuser=0&vps=2&hl=en&ie=UTF8&oe=UTF8&msa=0&msid=214668381355121949879.00047c3bfe492787c9e67 As you can see, the populations of each of these ridings is so far from equal it is unlikely that these ridings would be used in any real Senate election. Other provinces have no such Senate ridings, but would have to draw them up. One can presume that, given the last election, the Tories would have managed to win every prairie Senate riding, and nearly every one in BC; though one could be won by the opposition. The opposition would have likely won 23 seats in Quebec. This puts the two equal at 24-24. In the Atlantic, there are only two additional house ridings than Senate ridings. One, in NL, would likely be Tory, and one in NS Liberal, meaning that the each side would be down two seats. This would put the Government at 37 and the Opposition at 41. The Government would sweep the Territories, and Ontario would likely only yield 6 opposition Senators, putting the final total at 47 for the Opposition, and 58 for the Government.
While there are other types of election method, and other proposals that, in short, mix and match the proposals outlined above, there are few alternative proposals out there that do not take one of those options in to account. However, I've come to know of one that comes, of all places, from the satirical Rhino Party.
Sortition, or the 'drawing of lots' is something the Rhino Party, by side-effect, proposed. In short, the Rhino party proposed that those who win the Lottery would also win a seat in the Senate. I actually think this is a great idea, but, with one minor change. A few years ago, when discussing electoral reform, both Ontario and British Columbia decided to allow random citizens to make the decision and discuss the issues. I actually think this is a good idea, if done properly, and my personal preference is to apply this to the Senate. No more political hacks, but rather, each senate seat would be given to a random citizen on the electoral rolls to hold for 5 years at a time. This would give people time to adjust to the operations of the Senate and by the end of their term, master it, and thus, teach new members. With one fifth of the Senate being new citizens each year, the Senate would retain it's connection to the people.