Column: Progressive Views – Senate Blues

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By Tristan Turner

Over the past several weeks Canadians have been witness to a bevy of scandals in the Senate. From Mike Duffy’s ‘confusion’ in filling out his residence forums, to Pamela Wallin’s $321,000 travel budget, it seems morality mishaps have become commonplace in the unelected Canadian Senate. These stories matched with a long brewing contempt for the Senate has got a lot of Canadians asking – why do we have a Senate?

Well, that’s a valid question, but it’s one I can’t answer. Proponents of the unnecessary body say the Senate provides ‘sober second thought’ to the laws passed in the House of Commons, but I would say that must be difficult considering many of them don’t show up to work much of the time. I would give specific data on just how frequently our Senators play hooky, except its incredibly difficult to receive exact information regarding the Senate because much of it is safely kept under lock and key. However, if Canadian’s catch a glimpse of Senate proceedings on CPAC, it’s easy to see that many of them are far too busy living it up in their ‘non-primary residence’.

Let’s not forget that the Senate is absolutely unelected, and everyday Canadian citizens have no say in who will be representing them in it. A body of unelected and unaccountable party loyalists have the power to vote down bills passed through the elected House of Commons.

I just want to remind readers that this entire time I’ve been talking about Canada, supposedly one of the most democratic countries in the world.

The Senate isn’t only an affront to the basic democratic values Canadians hold dear and an enormous waste of public funds (as Senators Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin have so kindly shown us), the fact is, Canadians don’t care or pay attention to it. Mishaps and head-to-head battles in the House of Commons make newspaper headlines regularly, but as an engaged political commentator, on the average day I couldn’t tell you anything about what was going on in the Senate, and the average Canadian is aware of even less. This underlines just how little the Senate adds to the political conversation in Canada. Well, except when there is talk of abolishing it, or yet another spending scandal within their ranks.

The Senate is useless, wasteful and damaging to our democracy. It’s a relic of a bygone era. Perhaps it served its usefulness once, but in the modern age it is becoming increasingly astonishing that it hasn’t been left behind long ago.

Public opinion is turning on the Senate, yet Harper and the Liberals have risen to its aid time and time again. They don’t want to fix a game they have rigged, and it’s becoming increasingly obvious to Canadians. If it’s not removed before 2015 the Prime Minister is going to find himself on the wrong side of public opinion polls. Follow Danielle Smith’s example, and drop the Senate like Tom Flanagan.

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3 Comments

  1. Individual Senators can achieve a great deal and have an enormous positive impact, which their position as a Senator can amplify. Thelma Chalifoux was amazing during her tenure as a Senator and had a strong positive impact on Aboriginal youth and Aboriginal concerns.

    But as an institution, the Senate as currently constructed is useless and a complete disservice to Canadians. It needs to either be reformed such that Senators are elected and effective (equal representation by province is definitely worth discussing) or it should be abolished. The institution is an economic drain and the money spent on the egos and vanities contained in the “chamber of sober second thought” can hie off and find real work to occupy themselves or a comfy chair to nap in. Either way, until Canadians demand it be abolished or reconstituted, we’re stuck with a bunch of freeloading oafs.

  2. The past, current, and future politicians who gain seats into Parliament will not move to abolish the senate. Simply because, as a political move, it may be suicide. In other words, if I am a politician who holds a seat, what are my chances of ever getting into the senate to milk the same cow? None.
    The only way to stop the nonsense would be to change the selection process, to keep the ruling government from filling those seats with political allies. And how do we do that? A majority government will never do it.
    Our federal politicians had their opportunity to at least try something with two minority governments in the past and didn’t do it. Now we are stuck with these teat-suckers.

  3. Well written editorial and I agree that the Senate may have been useful in the past, but not anymore. I also want to say thank you to Don Summers for his comment and I fully agree with that.
    Linda and Cliff

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