Tri-City News: Senate Scrutiny

I would like to respond to the Editorial, Tri-City News Jan 30, 2014, starting with:

“Certainly, most Canadians outside of Ottawa would rather see the costly house of sober second thought demolished completely.”

It’s a questionable claim. It is obvious that some, even many, think this, but that’s a far cry from “most,” and far from certain. I have seen a number of “polls” that do seem to lend some support, but they also tend to involve self-selected participation, which has no statistical validity, or are constrained or slanted to favour such an outcome. Not persuasive.

The piece finishes by characterizing the Senate as:

“… paying more people to go over the same decisions that elected parliamentarians already make is a waste of time and money.”

This grossly understates the key role of the Senate as a check on the unbridled power of the House of Commons, as well as its role as a representation-by-region mechanism protecting less populous regions from representation-by-population dominance of other regions. Beyond that, in any case, it is far more than a mere rubber-stamp; but that`s a whole essay in itself.

The further innuendo that as an appointed body it is somehow less legitimate than the “elected parliamentarians” is also misguided, I submit, though fashionable these days.

Is the Supreme Court not-legitimate for being not-elected? Do we think having Supreme Court justices on the hustings running for their offices would be a good thing?

How about our government itself? Not elected — starting with he Prime Minister who is appointed upon expectation of the confidence of the elected House of Commons. As a practical nicety this appointment is usually an elected parliamentarian, but this is not at all a requirement, and not always the case. The rest of the Cabinet is then appointed, on recommendation of the Prime Minister, and they, too, usually are but don’t have to be elected parliamentarians.

There is a whole legitimate debate about an elected vs appointed Senate. Electing the Senate would unquestionably change its character, and not necessarily for the better. An elected Senate would, by necessity, be far more politically active and aggressive, and probably of a similar nature as the House of Commons itself. Fair enough if we want a second House of Commons.

But electing everyone is not some magic panacea. It is not necessary for a vibrant and healthy democracy that every high office be elected; it can be sufficient that these cleanly derive-from, and with the proper oversight-of, an elected House of Commons, as Mr Trudeau proposes.

The dust has not yet settled on Mr Trudeau’s bold foray into Senate Reform; nevertheless, it is clear action where for so long there has been but talk, and blazes a direct path to an achievable enhancement to this important Canadian institution.

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