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Senate and GG Reform : A Simple Solution

January 7, 2010

A great article on the Globe and Mail about Harper’s Senate reform plans. As always, Senate reform is a more complex issue than it first appears. Harper likely knows this and knows that his overly simple solution will never be implemented anyways because as the author points out, there are a lot of drawbacks to the West of taking the first small step to reform and going no further.

But perhaps the best part of this article is a comment by one Jim Q which I am repost below in its entirety, he proposes a PR solution to give the senate legitimacy without any consitutional changes, and I must say, its so crazy it might just work.

Here’s Jim Q’s proposal. (Jim if you’re out there and take issue with my reposting please let me know)

Oh my dear Lord.

Meaningful Senate reform without constitutional change is the easiest thing in the g-d world, if Harper were actually serious about it (as it happens, his hair-brained doomed-to-fail approach demonstrates his lookiing for a wedge issue more than anything…)

Here’s the formula:

1.) Keep current distributions.
2.) Make the elections nationally Proportional Representation.
3.) Have the HoC leaders/party leaders submit lists of prospective Senators before an election.
4.) Empty Senate seats are filled round-robin based on the proportional vote.
5.) Put a low-cap minimum PR vote at 7-10% to keep out the crazies.

This way, the lesser-populated regions STILL have the protection of extra representation,

BUT every voter has an equal voice in the election. There may be more seats in NFLD, but they’re being elected with Quebec and Alberta votes as much as Atlantic.

Finally, this would ensure that the Senate is not just a byzantine added layer of useless politicos. In Harper’s plan, the Senate is essentially a redundant extra HoC, whose only purpose will be to suck up time and money with no added benefit.

His a national PR Senate, there’s a real difference in the type of input given.

There could and would be Liberal Senators from Alberta, Conservative Senators from NFLD and a Green from somewhere (at 13.4%, they deserve ONE person, at least.)

This means a different perspective on local problems, and a voice for people who right now voted for the government (or major opposition party) but have no representation in them.

No province would ever again be entirely left out of cabinet.

Best of all, because there’s no FORMAL change to the system (we’d just be changing the convention on advice to the GG on appointments) everyone could take their demands for a constitutional reform and shove them.

But, again, this assumes one actually wants an elected Senate. With Harper, I’ll believe it when I see it.

Me too Jim. I’m not a huge proponent of Senate reform because I worry about the deadlock that plagues the American system. But this is the kind of reform I could get behind. It would introduce PR on the national stage, it would reduce the democratic deficit felt by also-ran parties across the country, it would add a check to the unbalanced power of a majority parliament (if we ever get one again) and if done right it should heal some of the East vs. West wounds by adding something to the fabric of our nation that the West is so passionate about.

Along these lines I have another proposal that wouldn’t require constitutional changes but would remove the reckless power of the PM to prorogue parliament whenever he feels uncomfortable.  Hold a national election to select the next Governor General.  We could use the same process as we do now with a committee to generate a list of nominees and there would be no changes required since the PM would still be appointing the GG.  The only change would be that there would be a law that says the PM must adhere to the advice of the electorate when choosing the GG.  This could be a single nation-wide vote, no ridings, no electoral colleges, just plain and simple vote counting.  The Governor General would retain the same rights that they do now except now they would be able to actually make a decision if needed.

In the recent request of the PM to prorogue parliament for the second year in a row in the middle of a contentious opposition investigation, the GG could honestly look at the situation and decide if proroguement were appropriate.  They could refuse the PM what now is an implicite right and force him to face the opposition in an open vote in parliament, possibly handing control of parliament to another party or coalition of parties who can command the confidence of the House.  This is how our democracy works, and it should work this way except that the anachronism of an appointment head of state makes it impossible for that head of state to really take legitimate action.  A simple election would solve that and avoid all the constitutional hand wringing about becoming a republic or abandoning the monarchy.

Wouldn’t it be refreshing if one of our opposition parties actually proposed something constructive such as the above proposals? Maybe then Canadians would get interested in politics, would pay attention to the possibility of a real change in how our government functions and represents us.

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