Archive for the ‘Senate’ Category

Blast from the past: Harper on Senate reform 2006

- November 6th, 2013

I came across this speech today – an address by then rookie Prime Minister Stephen Harper before a Senate committee discussing his plans to reform the upper chamber. Some seven years later, the federal government is readying to argue Parliament has the power to move ahead alone with reforms including implementing term limits before the Supreme Court of Canada next week.

There’s video here

Harper on the importance of Senate reform:

As everyone in this room knows, it has become a right of passage for aspiring leaders and prime ministers to promise Senate reform – on their way to the top. The promises are usually made in Western Canada. And these statements of intent are usually warmly received by party activists, editorial writers and ordinary people. But once they are elected, Senate reform quickly falls to the bottom of the Government’s agenda. Nothing ever gets done. And the status quo goes on. Honourable Senators, this has got to stop. For the Senate must change. And we will be the ones to make it happen. The Government is not looking for a report. We are seeking action.

On “modest” Senate reforms like term limits:

“We must act.  The Government believes that S-4 is achievable through the action of Parliament itself….The key point is this. We are seeking limited, fixed terms of office, not decades based on the antiquated criteria of age. I have carefully reviewed your deliberations on this Bill. Some Senators have said the Bill goes too far.  Others have said it does not go far enough. But we can all agree on one thing:  it does go somewhere.   Somewhere reasonable, and somewhere achievable.
And in conclusion:
I would like to read a quote from a book I reviewed recently. On page 206, the author writes, and I quote: “Probably on no other public question in Canada has there been such unanimity of opinion as on that of the necessity for Senate reform.” The author is Robert MacKay. The book is The Unreformed Senate of Canada.  The year is 1926.

Harper’s latest feeble Duffy excuse

- May 24th, 2013

So the Prime Minister’s latest excuse on the Wright-Duffy $90,000 cheque (or WD-90 for short) is that Wright “should have told me earlier. That’s why I accepted his resignation upon reflection. Should I have reached that conclusion earlier? Perhaps.” Whaddaya mean, perhaps?

No, wait. That’s not the real problem. The real problem is this new claim that Harper accepted his chief of staff’s resignation because Wright didn’t tell him about the payment “earlier”. So you’d have kept him if he had? Is that what you’re saying? That the real problem wasn’t him writing the cheque, it was keeping you out of the loop so when the scandal erupted you could deny all knowledge?

For goodness sake, stop babbling inconsistent nonsense. Pick a story and stick to it.



My modest proposal to reform the Senate

- March 5th, 2013

Given that any change to the Senate is liable to require a constitutional amendment (resolutions from the House of Commons, Senate, and legislative assemblies of two-thirds of the provinces representing at least 50 percent of the Canadian population), here’s my idea:

Instead of allowing the prime minister to pick individuals at will and reward his friends with a cushy job for life, we force the PM to pick Senators from a pool of candidates selected by provincial legislatures. That way you’d have Senators who are more representative of the great diversity of Canadian views and values, with a better (read: real) regional representation, more influence for the provinces to pick who sits in what ought to be the Chamber of the Provinces, and a more democratic way to pick Senators without forcing them to run for office individually (which creates issues of legitimacy vis-a-vis MPs once Senators get to Ottawa).

I say it’s a great idea. Therefore it has approximately zero chance of being adopted. Sigh.

Can we put the green-eyed monster back in its closet?

- February 20th, 2013

Senator Pamela Wallin owns a small apartment in New York City, it says here.


It’s not illegal, is it? So what if she wants to spend money to have her own place there? What business of yours is it? You’re jealous? You’d like to be able to afford a little pied-a-terre in the big apple? Me too. But that’s not exactly solid ground from which to criticize Wallin.

Look: Senators are meant to be among the more privileged members of society. That’s why there’s a property ownership requirement. That’s the way the system was set up – the House of Commons (“commons”, get it? That’s us, the common folk) is for everyone. The Senate was set up to represent the interests of minorities (e.g. rich people) and the interests of the provinces. Maybe that system needs changing. Maybe Canadians would rather be governed exclusively by power-hungry middle-class lawyers and punk musicians, I don’t know. I’d argue the Senate is necessary – you need to have, somewhere in your legislative machine, a way to slow things down and reflect on serious issues in a relatively non-partisan, long-term setting. The Senate does that, in its own imperfect way. It does much more, too – look at the kind of solid, in-depth work Senate committees do and ask yourself whether Canada would be better governed without it.

By all means keep Senators accountable for the way they use public funds. Keep on top of their travel expenses. Check their residency status. That’s fair game. But what they do with their own money and where they choose to spend their down time is none of our business.

About those Senate travel expenses

- February 13th, 2013

Look: we can’t complain when the senators stay too close to Ottawa and also complain when their travels back home cost money. I’m glad to see the PM defend Sen. Wallin.

Harper defended Wallin’s travel costs as in line with those of other parliamentarians with similar travel schedules.

“Last year, Sen. Wallin spent almost half of her time in the province she represents in the Senate. The costs are obviously to travel to and from that province, as any similar parliamentarian would do,” he said.

In an interview Wednesday with Saskatchewan radio host John Gormley, Wallin said the way travel expenses are calculated by the Senate downplay the amount of time she actually spends in her home province.

She’s in Saskatchewan 168 days a year, she said.

There is an audit into her expenses and that’s fine. She ought to account for the way she spends her travel allowance. But assuming she does that to the auditor’s satisfaction, we should cut her some slack.