06.11.2015 07:45 AM

Mulcair’s Senate gambit: perfect

Between seeking commissions for fine art, getting thousands from the banks they cover, defending industries on-air that they’re paid by – okay, yes, I am still irritated by the avalanche of media scandals (cf. Solomon, Lang, Ghomeshi, Murphy, Mansbridge, Roberts, Crull et al.), so forgive me – some media have apparently peppered Angry Tom Mulcair with questions about how he would persuade Quebec to go along with his Senate gambit. That is, doing away with it.

Mulcair shouldn’t worry about what the Ottawa media think, and I suspect he doesn’t. His strategy is brilliant, in my opinion. It is perfect. Here’s why:

  • It coincides perfectly with buckets of slime and grime oozing out of the Red Chamber about expense accounts – and, possibly, fraud, theft and breach of trust. Mulcair’s suggestion is in sync with the public’s mood.
  • It is a perfect wedge: Mulcair can say it, but Messrs. Harper and Trudeau can’t. Mulcair has no Senators with which to be embarrassed. His opponents do.
  • He would have many provinces onside – in fact, forces as diverse as the Ontario Liberal Party and the Saskatchewan Party are already in agreement. It is a perfect federal-provincial bridge-builder.
  • If Mulcair succeeds in turning the 2015 election into a referendum on the issue, he could win. And if he does win, no Premier would dare oppose a clear expression of the national will. It is the perfect ballot question for the NDP. 

Is it pandering? Of course. Is it cynical? Perhaps. Is it something Mulcair has no intention of ever doing, should he ever win power? Maybe. 

But it is overdue, and it is right. And, I suspect, many Canadians would vote for the party that is offering to kill the Senate, once and for all.

Would you?


  1. MississaugaPeter says:

    Add that Canada ditches the monarchy before King Chuck is on our money and Quebec will not squabble over the Senate.

    Unfortunately, Mulcair only needs the Senate issue.

    Now if Trudeau offered both, I would be back in the fold.

  2. Christian says:

    Yes. Absolutely. Early and often!

  3. Peter O'Malley says:

    Given our “odd” constitutional history, a referendum would only be useful if it called on all levels of government to pass a resolution supporting constitutional change to abolish the Senate WITHOUT DEMANDING ANY ADDITIONAL CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS.

    The reason is that it’s really the notion of “opening up” constitutional talks for whatever changes anyone anywhere wants to advance that is divisive and unacceptable to most Canadians. Abolishing the Senate, in itself, is not all that controversial.

    And that is probably the NDP problem here. They are all alone in demanding abolition without saying how you get there. Add in a “no other amendments” clause to the referendum wording and you’d probably have all-party support, thereby negating it’s usefulness to the NDP as a wedge issue.

  4. Tony Miller says:

    Yes, I would. It needs to go, and I believe he would kill it. He can hammer Harper on this issue and I suspect he will.

  5. Peter says:

    I’m not convinced Quebec would be on board if push came to shove. Quebecers have always been loathe to see their constitutional guarantees dispensed with in the face of a declining demographic power. It would also be interesting to see what the aboriginal groups would say if the issue were pressed. There are no guaranteed aboriginal Senate seats but a convention has emerged that there be several. There aren’t too many ridings where their absence could be compensated by electoral control.

    Senate abolition naturally suits the Anglo majority, but looks different from the perspective of cultural and linguistic minorities.

    • Dave says:

      Newfoundland will also play the constitutional grey-mail card if the constitutional debate opens up again.

  6. JH says:

    Mulcair is using the salesman’s mantra with great effect. KISS – Keep It Simple Stupid. He just has to keep saying he’ll abolish, everyone else has to get into the weeds and say why it won’t work. During election campaigns, few listen to the complicated, it takes too much work. Yes, it says something about the voter’s attention span and not in a good way. But hey, we already know they’re not political junkies or even that interested in the process, other than on election day.

  7. Lance says:

    People say “abolish it” as if it could be done by taping ruby red slippers thrice. It is a nice wedge issue, and makes a great electoral soundbite, but you’re right – it is cynical and pandering, because it won’t happen for a number of reasons……..and he knows it. Don’t get me wrong; I would like to see it gone, but I know that is never going to happen.

    If Mulcair were to gain power and become PM, I wonder if his sentiment would change when he knows that he is able to appoint senators, the first ever NDP senators. Would he be able to resist that? It wouldn’t be the first time that a principled stand was “forgotten” in the face of expediency.

    • Dave says:

      Even more than a wedge issue, it is an awesome fund-raising issue… which is a part of why the NDP is hammering it so hard now, in the final month of a quarterly reporting period. Not stupid, them; they have learned from CPC and LPC best practices…

  8. Matt says:

    I guess the real questions would be:

    What exactly would Mulcair have to give Quebec in exchange for them agreeing to abolish the Senate?

    What would Canadians reaction be? What would piss them off more – The Senate, or the optics of Ottawa being held hostage again by Quebec, and yet another PM from Quebec kissing their ass.

    Once Mulcair paid Quebecs price, would the other provinces begin to make their own demands and withraw their support until those demands were met.

  9. GFMD says:

    If it ever comes down to it, it probably won’t just be Quebec. In fact it would be foolish for ANY premier not to say “I like your senate idea, but there’s another change that’s long been important to the people of my province, and they should be heard too.” The national will is great and all, but its not as important as the people who are casting votes for you.

  10. Matt says:

    “Is it pandering? Of course. Is it cynical? Perhaps. Is it something Mulcair has no intention of ever doing, should he ever win power? Maybe.”

    Yes, yes, and yes.

    Just like his opposition to C-51.

    Does anyone really think he’ll repeal, or even amend the law if he wins?

  11. Tiger says:

    Could hold a national referendum on abolition and then dare the premiers to ignore their populations’ votes.

    Anything short of that, the premiers are going to want to talk and talk and talk and talk and get stuff.

    • Patrice Boivin says:

      they will still want to talk and talk and get stuff, regardless of what the population says

      politics is about funneling resources to your constituencies (while you put in your time in order to collect the pension)

  12. P Brennan says:

    Yes I would but more softly and gently than mad tom …but this will get into the “but look at them argument – they cheat too” re the use of parliamentary funds to fund NDP offices.

  13. Tired Denier says:

    The NDP has had a policy of abolishing the Senate for a very long time. People always argue that they should keep the Senate, but it is only because they have been promised a job as a chief of staff, or they have a relative who is a long-serving political hack and is waiting for their time at the trough.

    As the vast majority of Canadians have no chance of being a Senator or a chief of staff, there is no benefit to them in retaining the Senate. Apart from dispensing with political patronage and engaging in partisan Liberal and Conservative political activity, there is no reason for the Senate to exist.

  14. debs says:

    and I actually believe he would make a good effort to actual abolish it.

  15. gyor says:

    The NDP has been offered Senators before, they were refused.

    And yes I support the NDP.

    All the NDP has to do is offer provinces like PEI and Quebec side deals, instead of shoving everything into the amendment.

    I also agree that if the NDP wins they will have a mandate to abolish the senate and that will put pressure on Premiers to support it.

    Lastly worse comes to worse and Coulliard still opposes abolishing the Senate, the NDP can create a Quebec NDP to take the Premiership away from Coulliard, that might happen anyways.

  16. Mark says:

    Good strategy or not, it’s one of the worst examples of pandering to an angry electorate about something you can do nothing about. Harper did the same thing about Senate reform in the early days.

  17. edward nuff says:

    1. shut it down and turn it into a refuge for battered women. Assign well armed guards to protect them.
    2. cut off all payments to current and retired senators from sugar daddy zimmer to lady camembert who,ve given us the let em eat cake treatment.
    3. send every senator back to where they claim to live and turn over their Ottawa houses to the homeless. Even the poor like bad art.
    4. lem em sue. We,ll slapp back and delay forever. Fuck it,s our money.

  18. sezme says:

    Would the Atlantic provinces be in favour of abolishing the Senate? Did Mike Duffy kill their love for it? I mean NB and NS (with 5% of the country’s population) have more senate seats than BC, AB, and MA (with almost 25% of the country’s population) put together.

  19. James Bow says:

    “Is it pandering? Of course. Is it cynical? Perhaps…”

    It’s also consistent. The NDP have been calling for the abolition of the Senate for years. The public knows this is not some Johnny-come-lately conversion.

    • Lance says:

      One thing for them to say it when they weren’t ever close to a sniff of power. Yeah, yeah, the NDP refused senate appointments when offered by another party,, however, if Mulcair wins, do you REALLY think he won’t appoint senators in his own right when he has the chance?

    • Priyesh says:

      Exactly. With the NDP being against the senate for decades, I have to wonder if any of their poll increase is because that time has finally come?

    • gyor says:

      The NDP has been demanding Senate Abolishment since it was founded.

  20. Bruce A says:

    That’s it for me. The Senate just doused itself with gasoline. Rubberstamping C-51 and now this:


    We need reasonable voices from the Senate to articulate it’s function and role in keeping the government of the day on it’s toes. They’ve had their chances and they’ve passed on it.

  21. billg says:

    Long time NDP supporters who have been life long Leaf fans…..why do I get the feeling the next 5 years might be epic for you.
    Sure Mulcair is pandering, but it is consistent and its also great politics.

  22. Matt says:

    Doesn’t sound like the Ontario government is supportive of abolishing the Senate.

    Spokesperson for Wynne today:

    “A spokesperson in the office of Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said that while the “Senate plays a valuable role as a chamber of sober second thought,” the province would be willing to participate in discussions on how to reform the institution within that function.

    “Ontario is ready to participate if the federal government decides to lead collaborative pan-Canadian discussions about Senate reform.”

    And Couillard in Quebec today again affirmed he has no plans to suuport Senate abolition. It’s DOA.

    “Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard said Wednesday abolition is against the political interest of his province.

    “Clearly, because the percentage of the population of Quebec is diminishing over the years, we need a place where we can find a balance in terms of regional interest — and it’s in that spirit that the Senate was created,” Couillard said.

    • Peter says:

      There we go then. Dead in the water. Maybe it’s better to push for that other favourite lost cause of perennial political minorities–proportionate representation. If that doesn’t work, there’s always Esperanto.

  23. Kre8tv says:

    Canadians’ hatred of the Senate is a mile wide. But their interest in solving it is but an inch thick. An interesting talking point, but not the stuff of campaign centrepieces. As usual, it would be awesome to be proven wrong about this.

  24. Liam Young says:

    I like your list Warren. I’m on board!
    I’d leave the Queen out of it. Too much of a hot potato.
    I have a naive question: since we’re all agreed that the Senate is just a hot, steaming turd of abuse, why can’t Parliament just turn around and say … oops, we forgot to fund you and your pensions and make it go away?

    • edward nuff says:

      exactly but oh the gnashing of teeth we would have to endure.

    • Michael says:

      Because the Constitution. For a law to be passed it must pass in both the House of Commons, and the Senate, and get Royal Ascent. If one of those three is missing it is not a law.

      For anyone saying “just stop funding the Senate and it will go away”, that is like Harper saying “I just won’t fund the Supreme Court, and I’ll stop losing all those pesky Charter challenges”

  25. Ronald O'Dowd says:


    It’s pure bullshit, plain and simple. Let him or another leader get out in front and do the grunt work — before being in office.

    Nope, he won’t and neither will the other two. And what does a future PM with unanimous provincial and territorial support do when the Senate refuses to abolish itself? Don’t see them winning in the SCC if the Senate is steadfastly opposed to its own projected demise.

    • Sean says:

      Totally agree. Actually, I thought his interview on P and P yesterday was one of his weakest moments. Brutal actually. He’s exposed himself as a bald faced liar. Everyone knows he’s lying. I’d defy any NDP supporter to state otherwise with a straight face.

      • terry quinn says:

        I agree the interview was very poor and he did look like he was going for an oscar in my opinion. He died in that interview and he continues to play hide and seek with the $3.7MM he owes the HOC for his alleged abuse of franking privileges and the opening of party offices on the taxpayers dime. he will wear that big time once the real bottles begin.

    • doconnor says:

      He just has to appoint the majority of Senators who agree with him. It just takes a term or two.

      The House of Lords voted to remove the hereditary peers.

  26. eric weiss says:

    Yep. I’m a non-partisan, small-c conservative and abolishing the senate would be enough for me to vote NDP.

  27. Ronald O'Dowd says:


    The BQ have high hopes that Duceppe will be able to reinflate the BQ but that won’t happen. Why? Because if Mulcair becomes PM, the Quebec people will be looking for movement on the Sherbrooke Declaration. Only if that goes nowhere will the Bloc have a chance to rise again from its ashes.

  28. cgh says:

    A wedge issue for Mulcair? Hardly, it’s sheerest hypocrisy on his part. There were repeated attempts for Senate reform by the government over the past half dozen years, all shot down either by Senators or Opposition in the H of C. What’s more likely is competing partisan views of what form Senate reform should take.

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