The Canadian political landscape can be one of many hills and valleys, winding twists and turns…and few more tortuous than our senate. For American readers, the Canadian Senate is an unelected group of men and women who are appointed for a life-long term (at a significant and assured salary) who “consider government business and… study public policy issues” (CTV, 2013). It’s a bit difficult to figure out exactly what they do, and that is exactly why the Senate has been under fire for so long. Very much a remnant of old ways to govern, its members are a modern-day reflection of a time when government perspectives did not reflect the general population, changed very slowly, and were more in line with the rich and the privileged.
Back in the days before Harper was PM, I used to respect his ideas on the Senate. He used to talk about Senate reform; back in 2004 he said that (in reference to his predecessor), the Senate “remains a dumping ground for favoured cronies of the Prime Minster” (Montreal Gazette, 2012). We all knew it was true; it was one of those things we just accept as one of the inequalities about living in Canada. In most respects, our country is wonderful; but there are a few aspects of our government that are a bit, well, democratically embarrassing. But Harper talked a good game. If he became PM, he would reform the Senate. Or at least he would do his best to improve the standards for appointments. I thought he had said he wouldn’t do appointments until the Senate was reformed: but I couldn’t find a direct comment. I did, however, find a recent quote from Tom Mulcair: “Way back in 2004, Mr. Harper promised to never appoint a senator. Today, we heard the same promise. Only problem is that in between those statements, he made almost 60 Senate appointments” (The Star, 2015). Now the Senate is controlled by Harper’s appointees: who are just as much his “cronies” as those previously appointed. One example is Norm Doyle, who used to be a minister for Newfoundland… but decided not to run after he voted with the PM and against the overwhelming desire of his province on key legislation (Canada.com, 2012). There are plenty more examples (Montreal Gazette, 2012) which illustrate that although Harper might recognize the weaknesses of the Senate and call for its repair, he is not above using it to his advantage. At tone time a case of hypocrisy that makes democracy in Canada that much more elusive.