2007-11-07

Abolishing The Senate - An Easy Solution

New Democratic Party Leader Jack Layton has called for a national referendum on the abolition of the Senate, while others, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper want to reform it, while the expert think abolition is unlikely.

Certainly at a time when politicians and political institutions are perhaps at their lowest in public respect, the Senate is the least respected institution and Senators the least respected politicians.

Politically, abolishing the Senate is an easy solution.

The real question is not whether Senators are doing a good job or whether the institution as it is constituted now is useful. The real question is whether our federal government requires two legislative chambers, a bicameral system, when the provinces function fine without them. Do we need a “chamber of sober second thought”.

In many ways the provinces deal with jurisdictions of a more administrative nature, such as health care, education and transportation infrastructure, while the federal Parliament is the one that reflects Canadian values.

Although health care administration is under provincial jurisdiction it was when the federal Parliament adopted Medicare as a national program that it became the most sacred of all Canadian values, along with national social programs.

As I type this I cannot help but think of the major role the New Democratic Party has played in establishing Canada’s national values, from inventing Medicare in Saskatchewan to opposing capital punishment, which recent polls indicate has become entrenched as a basic Canadian value.

As with the capital punishment decision, it is the federal Parliament that decides what we as a society consider to be right or wrong, in its responsibility for the Criminal Code. It decides who our friends and enemies are and what Canadians are willing to fight and die for, in it’s responsibility for foreign and military policy. It decides who we let immigrate into the country and become Canadians. It decides, on behalf of all Canadians, what our responsibilities are in the world in protecting and promoting equality, human rights and a sustainable environment. It is the level of government that ensures Canadian values are entrenched in our laws and public policies.

The Fifth Column proposes, for purposes of discussion, that we consider establishing a New Chamber with a more focused role.

That role would be to ensure that legislation complies with Canadian values, and in particular, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The New Chamber would also retain the “sober second thought” role of identifying flaws and unintended effects in legislation before it is passed, and sending it back to the House of Commons, basically saying “did you really want to do that”.

The New Chamber would be different. It would not be appointed. It would not be elected. It would be selected randomly from the population similar to the jury selection process. It would not be made up of politicians and it would not be divided by party allegiances. It would be an attempt to represent the people directly, rather than indirectly through elected representatives.

The New Chamber would not initiate legislation. That would be the role of the politicians that we elect on the basis of their policies and personal character. It would, as previously stated, provide an oversight role in ensuring that legislation complies with Canadian values and it would undertake studies on matters of public interest and policies and present non-partisan reports to the House of Commons for consideration.

This proposal would definitely not be an easy solution.

3 comments:

Lord Kitchener's Own said...

Holding a referendum may be easy. Abolishing the Senate? Not so much.

I wouldn't call any solution that requires the unanimous consent of the provinces "easy". Until the legislature of PEI (and the legislatures of the rest of the Atlantic provinces... and Quebec for that matter) announce that they will support the abolition of the Senate, "easy" is hardly the word I would use for re-opening the constitution.

I'd say "unfathomably hard and fraught with peril" would be a more apt description!

Lord Kitchener's Own said...

FYI, if it were easy, it may have just become less so.

The three main parties in Quebec just UNANIMOUSLY passed a motion reminding the feds that "any changes to the Canadian Senate cannot be done without the consent of the government of Quebec and the National Assembly".

Jasmine said...

the best solutions are never the easy ones but they are worthwhile. Getting everyone to agree on putting in the effort to try will be a project of its own