03.18.2016 11:37 AM

Pigs, lipstick, and today’s Senate of Canada appointments

From my column in next week’s Hill Times, Troy Media, etc. You asked what I think, here’s what I think.

“…But the Senate of Canada is still – after all of Justin Trudeau’s efforts to affix lipstick to it – a pig. It is a disgrace. It is an anti-democratic abomination, and it should be abolished, not maintained. Kill it, now.

All of us have heard the arguments for the Senate. That it is a chamber of sober second thought. That it improves legislation emanating in the House. That its reports and resolutions are unsullied by politics.

But we don’t care. WE DON’T CARE. If the Senate of Canada were stuffed to its ermine walls with cloned replicas of Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi, Plato, Nelson Mandela, Mozart, Kahlil Gibran, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, Socrates, Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks – and, on civic holidays, apparitions of the Buddha, Moses, Mohamed and Christ – it would still be this: a body of unelected persons, however eminent, wielding real power.

It would therefore be illegitimate. It would be illicit. In a supposedly modern democracy, it would be unlawful, even.

Most of us, out here in the real world, don’t have expense allowances and living allowances and “travel points.” We aren’t guaranteed a job until age 75. We therefore don’t give a sweet damn about how impressive are the CVs of those who won the Mother of All Lotteries on Friday.

We don’t give a shit, actually.”

42 Comments

  1. m5slib says:

    I’ll raise you one Murray Rankin to match your twenty year old waitress vacationing in Vegas on election day*

    *to her credit, she earned her keep after being elected

  2. PJH says:

    I think of a certain Senator from my electoral district, now retired……Already a very wealthy man, he received salary and benefits from 1993 to 2012 until his mandatory retirement at age 75.
    According to a National Post article he was listed as the top spender for expenses in the Canadian Senate spending $378,292 in one year.
    I can think of far better uses of tax dollars than for a bunch of privileged party hacks and toadies(which this Senator was) to sit as impotent, unelected legislators.
    Either make it elected, and effective, or abolish it outright.

  3. Matt says:

    Yeah, I’m sorry but Trudeau promised independent, non partisan Senate appointments. Those people announced for the Senate today are the very definition of political partisan patronage appointments.

    Trudeau appointing an unelected, unaccountable panel to choose unelected, unaccountable Senators takes us further away from democracy, not closer to it.

    Blow it up. Ontario’s legislature seems to function just fine without a Senate.

  4. ABB says:

    Love the list of global do-gooders. You forgot to add Terry Fox.

    Would it be within the PM’s authority to appoint new senators for a time-limited period, say, 5 years? What reforms would it take to do so?

    I think the lifetime circumstance of the appointment is the most odious aspect of the entire Senate.

  5. Ron Waller says:

    Thanks for telling it like it is.

    You should also tell the truth about electoral reform. Our voting system is certainly “an anti-democratic abomination.” Of 181 democratic nations, 74% have reformed their voting systems to ensure government by an actual majority of voters. All developed countries except Canada and the UK.

    Of course, it’s a system that serves Liberal and Con partisans well — and the plutocrats who own their bribe-taking leaders. But not so much Canadian voters.

    By the way, why on Earth is no one pointing out that Christy Clark is a complete idiot who knows nothing about the role of a senate in a democratic society? She says BC is under represented oblivious to the fact that senate representation is founded on regional equality, not representation by population.

    Take the US. California has 36M people. Rhode Island, 1M. Both have 2 senators each.

    Yet the media is simply propagating this ignorance. (I guess they only put an effort into writing pieces that manipulate public opinion for some agenda for some price.)

    • doconnor says:

      “All developed countries except Canada and the UK.”

      The U.S. also suffers under First Past the Post, but they have so many governance problems, that one barely makes the list.

  6. Yukon Cornelius says:

    Well said, I’m looking forward to reading the whole column.

  7. Aongasha says:

    I thought for sure you’d be writing about Liberals – Corruption – Quebec, nah can’t be, though they do just run together natuarlly don’t they? Whodda thunk it? 🙂 And one of them an ex federal Liberal bagman of Sponsership Scandal fame to boot. Still, senatorial bagmen/women are not much different I suppose.

  8. Cory says:

    Well said. I suspect that those who support the senate as is, deep down actually support the idea that the elites must not let the commoners run the show unchecked.

  9. Mark says:

    I love talking about the Senate.

    The way I see it is the Red Chamber is here to stay, it is going anywhere anytime soon and accepting that reality quicker rather than later is the only way to move forward. However, this doesn’t mean we can’t alter the Senate institutionally rather than constitutionally.

    During the election, I couldn’t help but notice how pathetically optimistic the NDP sounded when talking about the Senate and what to do with it. The plan was to, with a snap of a finger, have the chamber just morph into a daycare for MPs and staff. There was no plan, no realistic approach and no recognition of the clear opposition by a few different provinces. The same was true of Harper’s plan to choke the Senate to death; it was completely unfeasible as the PM is constitutionally bound to appoint Senators if there are vacancies for an extended period of time. Again, no plan or clarity on how the obstacles were going to be circumvented.

    Collectively, the voices against the Senate were frustrated, angry ones but they were neither rational nor realistic.

    Personally, I agree with the detractors of the Senate. While many Senators do valuable work in studying laws and various issues facing Canadians, the liberties taken by these authorities of sober second thought have been deplorable to say the least. I have first hand heard the tales of the luxury enjoyed by the all-expense-paid club. I believe what was meant to be achieved with the Senate has now become a diminished aspect of what is now a partisan breeding ground for complacency.

    Justin Trudeau’s approach, despite being akin to slapping lipstick on a pig, is the only feasible approach to the Senate offered by all 3 of the major parties. Frankly, I don’t believe that abolishing the Senate would achieve any relief for taxpayers that are being suggested by some. The money being spent there will ultimately be absorbed by other aspects of government. At least now I know exactly where my money is being abused.

    But I digress.

    The Senate desperately needs reform; something that is only possible with the participation of the Senate itself. Trudeau’s plan injects individuals who aren’t bound by fickle partisanship and are willing to usher in change. Ask any reasonable Senator, Conservative or Liberal, and they’ll tell you how painful partisanship being peddled from the PMO can be. This approach ensures at least some change worth attempting. Its not the greatest option but in contrast to Mulcair’s magic words in the ears of Premiers or Harper’s come to Jesus moment after 10 years in power, its all we have. Which is a bit ironic given that the bulk of criticisms thrust upon Trudeau have to do with over optimism when his strategy on the Senate made the other looks like they were concocted in a kindergarten classroom.

  10. ben says:

    Despite your column, of which I somewhat agree, the only way that an appointment process is to be judged transparent is to tell us who the selection panel members were and to release the short list. Anything else smacks of no change and the sameold sameold.

    Some how supporters of the ‘sunny ways’ expected more, but as the new libs are just like the old libs – no surprise here.

  11. Bruce A says:

    Senate seats as 649 Prizes.
    Good for a year and check out.
    Literally!

  12. Wayne says:

    While we are at it, let’s get rid of that other abomination in our supposedly modern democracy – the unelected foreign head of state.

  13. CLAP! CLAP! CLAP! CLAP! CLAP! CLAP! CLAP!

    @#$% yes. Sweet Jesus, yes!!

  14. Brendan Denovan says:

    You’re really hurting your chances at being appointed to the Red Chamber.

  15. Mike Smith says:

    Could not agree more!

    No politician has the balls to fight the fight of abolition…

  16. dean sherratt says:

    The attention of the media is focused on the qualities of those 7 appointed. To be frank, my vision of Canada would have a few less bureaucrats and lawyers and a little more from wealth producers from farmers to businessmen. I’m of two minds about Peter Harder…from a respected public servant, to various post DM-retirement activities, to heading up the Trudeau transition team to representing the government’s agenda in the Senate is a transformation in his status. It is not consistent with square one…an impartial and respected civil servant.

    But the real question remains unanswered…what will the Senate do and what will the new Senators do. If their appointments were an immense privilege etc. that means that the Senators believe that they have been given a very responsible job and few responsibilities come without authority.

    So what is their new authority?

  17. Matt says:

    It should also be noted the RCMP have dropped their investigations in 24 of the 30 Senators and Former Senators who had their expense audits flagged.

    • Warren says:

      So? I don’t think Senators themselves are a scandal. I think the Senate is.

      • Tim White says:

        I don’t agree with you on this issue. I think a unicameral house is a recipe for abuse of the democratic process. Especially in this day and age of the all powerful PMO. The chamber for sober second thought, as imagined by our nation’s founders, is probably an elitist anachronism. And it has evolved into a partisan forum that is not particularly pretty. But consider the concept of a chamber for sober second thought, it’s a check and balance on the system that doesn’t gum up the process the way the Americans are doing. I like the idea. I think Justin Trudeau’s intentions are good and I support him in his efforts. I’m looking forward to seeing who he decides to appoint. It’s something I think achievable without revisiting the constitution.

        • Kevin T. says:

          Also, if this easier-to-implement approach doesn’t work out, and the Senate doesn’t redeem itself, THEN it would be hard to argue against its abolition. This is the Senate’s last chance for respectability. Let’s see how many of them take that seriously.

      • Matt says:

        But the people are the place.

        Watching Power and Politics panel tonight, all the guests seemed ta agree with all the negative attention the Senate and Senators have gotten the past couple years they are now, at least for the time being, simply going to rubber stamp every piece of legislation the HOC sends them to avoid any more attention.

        If that’s the case then the Senatos aren’t doing their jobs, and the Senate is moving further away from being the chamber of sober second thought.

  18. davie says:

    There are a few things in our election system, in our institutions(like the senate), in our party control of our MP’s, in secrecy of our contracts with private companies, with treaties with no info and no honest consultation,…and so on…that irk front porch types, but we go with it.
    Sometimes, though, enough people get irked, and some idea or person comes along to organize in that ‘irk,’ and you end up with what is happening with the Republican Party in USA.

  19. Steve T says:

    Completely and totally agree. The Senate is a travesty to a democratic system.

    Here is another similar topic: appointed judges. They arguably wield more power than Senators, and are political appointees (in Canada) as well. Theoretically they are “above the fray”, but we’ve seen issues of Constitutional interpretation that could easily have gone a different way. Eloquent prose in a judicial decision does not make something right.

    • The Doctor says:

      Oh God, please don’t give us elected judges (or their bastard child, elected DAs/Crown attorneys). They have that in the USA, and it’s a fucking gong show down there. Basically, he or she who promises to hang the most criminals wins.

      • Mark says:

        Could not agree with you more, Doc.

      • Steve T says:

        It all depends on your political leanings. Judges in the U.S. (other than perhaps the SCOTUS) tend to be right-leaning, as you point out. Judges in Canada (including the SCC) tend to be left-leaning. So, they both interpret the law according to their personal biases. At least in the U.S., they are biased in a way that tends to reflect the views of the citizens.

        • Mark says:

          No. It doesn’t.

          Regardless of political leanings, elected judges in the US are a catastrophe. Cases that are brought before a court aren’t meant to be simply boiled down to ideology or left/right demarcations. Judges are expected to make ruling based on impartiality and careful consideration of the different interpretations of a law. They are not expected to behave like politicians.

          The American system is fundamentally flawed with the pollution of the judiciary with electoral politics. Instead of making decisions based upon legal cognizance, judges are preoccupied with pandering to voters on whom they depend on to retain their positions. Besides, how many land and property disputes are decided on the basis of political leanings? We’ve seen dozens of cases in recent years where judges have acted in manner that were in favour of special interests in exchange of campaign support. It doesn’t matter if the person walking in the door is a conservative, liberal or a communist –they’re gonna get screwed if the judge has predetermined the case against in this fashion.

          With all the good democracy does, it has too many flaws to be injected into every aspect of governance. Too much of a good thing is never good.

          Note: Stephen Harper appointed 7 SCOC judges and still found his bills being stricken down on a regular basis. The assertion that these judges are “left leaning” despite being hand selected by PM Harper is utter idiocy. They were appointed to roles of impartiality and so far, they’re doing their job.

  20. William McClelland says:

    An interesting question is the effect of the Senate on the participation of women and members of minority groups in the legislative process. I’ve often heard it argued that the Senate allows individuals who may not have gotten the opportunity through electoral politics to have a seat in a lawmaking body, which makes me wonder if that gives the parties a feel-good excuse to drag their heels when it comes to nominating more underrepresented folks as candidates. Other than the NDP (and even they need work), it’s an outright scandal how few women and (especially) indigenous candidates are nominated, let alone elected. At any rate, I think Trudeau’ measures are a decent half-step towards the solution, abolition (works for New Zealand and the provinces, Nordic countries, etc). But God help us if we end up with two elected chambers like the U.S. – hello gridlock and poisonous partisanship.

    • davie says:

      Another group unrepresented is salaried working people: suppose, a few ambulance attendants, electricians, a tool maker or two, some farm workers – yes some farm workers in our senate.

      (Yeah, I know, property ownership qualifications…)

  21. Terence Quinn says:

    You cannot abolish the senate w/o change to our constitution and several provinces will not allow that change. Therefore, the way JT is going about it is the best approach to an almost impossible situation.

    • Vancouverois says:

      Who’s to say that it can’t be done, when nobody has even tried?

      If you take it to the people in a referendum and they overwhelmingly call for abolition, any provincial government would be hard pressed to ignore that result.

      • Cory says:

        Mulroney tried and almost reformed the Senate but the rest of the stuff in the Charlottetown Accord probably killed it.

        I’m sure if the senate reform plan from the Accord was put to a referendum on its own, the majority would accept it.

      • Mark says:

        Because its impractical.

        For one, referendums are probably the best way to defeat change of any kind. Canada’s history with referendums isn’t exactly a productive one. People think too highly of referendums as being the quintessential method of direct democracy, but in most cases the pre-established parameters make the process moot.

        Also, it has been tried. I don’t personally think Stephen Harper’s rhetoric matched up anywhere near his actions but he did look into moving on the Senate in some manner, but in his own words, its not that simple. I’m sure if he really hated the Senate he’d have advocated for a referendum but the complexity of fair representation for provinces is enough to give one a migraine.

        Even if there was a unanimous decision to open the Constitution to reform the Senate, there are big unintended consequences to doing so. I remember when Mulcair was asked during the campaign about his “plan” on the Senate and what he would do about Quebec and Couillard’s special demands while opening the Constitution. His response of course was ludicrous but it also showed how woefully unprepared some pro-abolishment Canadians are to take such a step.

        Love it or hate it, Trudeau’s approach to the Senate is the only feasible one. We’ll see what changes it will breed but I’m optimistic of the efforts being taken.

  22. Shawn says:

    Easy to say kill the Senate especially political. Almost impossible to actually do it.

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