Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Senate: Ask the Question

This week NDP leader Jack Layton asked for a referendum on the Senate at the next possible convenience. With the likelihood of Canadians going to the polls sometime in the Spring of 2011 that would be soon. Simply put, the New Democrats would like to consult the Canadian public on their thoughts on the future of the Senate. A truly novel idea in a democracy.

The NDP, in an ideal world, would like to abolish the Senate. According to their line of thinking the unelected upper house is an antiquated embarrassment in a modern nation-state like ours. In fact, the NDP does not recognize any NDP Senators because they refuse to sit in the body. The question on the referendum would be simply do you want to keep the Senate, or scrap it? The referendum would have no legal impact, but it would definitely have a political impact.

It would make the major parties speak in the issue of the Senate and rapidly educate the Canadian public on the issue of Senate reform. The Senate is a highly undemocratic institution, and really is just a house for political insiders and stooges of Prime Minister. The provinces have long ago scrapped their upper chambers.

The Conservatives oppose the referendum because it has no value, which I disagree with. It clearly has value, just not one the Conservatives benefit from. To be rid of the Senate would require a constitutional amendment, which politically is almost impossible in our country. Still. The Conservatives are pushing through a reform package, but after five years the reforms are stuck – of course – in the Senate. An elected Senate, with terms, is not on the horizon.

However, if the Canadian public loudly voiced their opinion than it would be difficult for the Senate or Conservatives, or Liberals, or whoever to resist reform. If I could shape events I would set the following question:

What should the future of the Canadian Senate be?

A. Maintain as is.

B. Make the Senate democratically elected with terms.

C. Abolish the Senate.

I have a feeling that, before a campaign, two thirds of Canadians, maybe more, would support option B. With 70%+ support for reform Canadian politicians would have a hard time maintaining their stance that reform is impossible.

I support the NDP and their call for a referendum on the Senate, though I’d reshape the question. If Canada is a democracy it is time to act like it and look like it.


Carey said...

I feel any change is unlikely, and that most of the population would vote for no change.

I think most of the population is uneducated in such politics, and they would fear any change they did not fully understand. If that is a naive assumption, which I'll assume will be your thoughts, I also believe that most Canadians are conservative with regards to their country's political process, if not also their current political ideals.

SJL said...

I agree Carey, change is unlikely.

The question of whether or not people would back reform is dependent upon the question. If you look at the question an how I pose it in the blog I think the choice is clear. People positively view democracy, and so more democracy is better. It's simple thinking, but most people spend their times raising families, working, paying bills and trying to enjoy their lives. This is reasonable, only some care about the Senate at all.

Canadians are very conservative in nature. Another astute observation, Carey. When Ontario held a referendum on democratic reform I think it lost 70% to 30%, or so. When uneducated and disinterested the people stick with what they know.