R27: Harper’s Senate, Reform

While doing the research for this series of posts, I’ve learned a lot about our ways of government: Canada as a country, the Prime Minister and the ways that we are governed. The more I’ve studied, the more I’ve been convinced that Harper is the wrong person to lead our country. I know he has a vision for where we can go as a nation: but I believe (and apparently plenty of others do as well) that Harper is leading us in the wrong direction. He knows all the right words to say, all the right things to promise. He knows what the national “buttons” are: and he uses them. But his promises are empty. I’m glad to see that the rest of the country is recognizing that.

As with the Senate. One of the things I’ve learned over the last few years is that change in the “upper house” is not easy, even once it’s been recognized (National Post, 2015). Indeed, since this body is not elected and has little oversight or requirement, once a problem gets established it will get worse and multiply: until something is done. That’s human nature. And Harper is unwilling to take the step of doing something, in spite of his promises (National Observer, 2015). He can claim to have tried, conveniently: but it is a major step that requires a change to the Constitution: and Canada’s provinces are notoriously difficult to herd together. An excellent example was the Charlottetown Accord, 1992, which tried to establish changes very similar to what Harper has proposed. It went to a referendum (popular vote) and was defeated.

So we’ve ended up with the Senate we have today. Given the opportunity, Harper decided to populate the chamber. And in spite of his criticism of the previous government, he used spectacularly partisan and shallow methods to determine who will be appointed. Some would say that this was “tradition”, but I think it’s worse in the last couple of decades, as illustrated by the scandals that are reaching international consciousness. And in spite of any claim to what others have done, Harper did not have to do it. A change in the way that Senators are appointed, as suggested by Justin Trudeau, manages to retain any good that was in the Senate and eliminates most of the bad: using an “open, transparent, non-partisan process” (Globe and Mail, 2015). But most significantly, it does not require the provinces to comment. The constitution says only that the Prime Minister makes the appointments; it does not say how that decisions should be made. It is a measure of Harper’s inadequacy that he never suggested a better method for choosing Senators (which might work) rather than abolishing them altogether (which, historically, possibly won’t).

Reform of the Senate has been talked about in Canada for decades. The direct route apparently won’t work; instead it will take creativity, flexibility and both a willingness and a desire to work with those who have different viewpoints. Stephen Harper is very talented in some areas, but those are some of this biggest weaknesses.

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