Reform, don’t Abolish, the Senate

Democracy is a balancing act. It can at times become so bureaucratic and complex that it grinds to a halt… other times, it can be so direct as to do nothing but legitimize a de-facto dictatorship.

Take the Parliament of Canada. The real power is in the hands of the House of Commons, and whichever political party, or coalition, has control at the moment. There is a 2nd chamber, the Senate, but it’s power of oversight is limited both by design and tradition.

Today the Conservative Party introduced legislation in the House to reform the Senate. But at the same time it laid down a threat, thanks to an bill expected bill from the NDP:

The Conservative government re-introduced two bills Tuesday that would lead to provincially elected senators and shorter Senate terms, warning that it would support the abolition of the upper chamber if the changes are blocked.

That support would, we assume, be in the form of supporting the NDPs intended bill that would propose a referendum be held on the next Federal Election Day on whether to abolish the Senate completely.

I fully support reform. I think the changes proposed would allow the Senate to come more to the forefront of the Canadian political scene which would hopefully make the institution more effective and provide a useful oversight to our MPs.

Abolition of the Senate would strip away any possibility of oversight at all, and in a Majority Government environment would basically ensure complete domination by one group of MPs and one Prime Minister.

I can’t believe I’m saying it, but at this point, the Conservatives have it right, the NDP have gone too far. That said, if it is the big stick of the NDP referendum bill that convinces the parties in the House and Senate to pass the reforms, then in effect, we all win.

On a related note, I think reform of the Senate would also be an excellent opportunity to “test” a form of proportional representation for election of the members of the Senate. First Past the Post has been shown time and again to be the least fair way of electing a representative for a population as spread out and diverse as Canada.

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