Canada: Senate Reform – A lack of political courage

By taking Senate Reform off the table, the Harper government has shown a lack of political courage. PM Harper argues that it would be divisive for the country and that there is no consent on Senate Reform.

The Supreme Court handed down a decision yesterday, which stipulates that Senate Reform requires the opening of the constitution and at least the approval of seven provinces, representing 50 percent of the population. The bar for abolishing the Senate is set even higher, requiring consent of all ten provinces. This prompted PM Harper to take Senate Reform off the table.

Reform of the Senate has been a major issue for conservative politics in Canada, going back to Reform Party days. After eight years in power, the Harper government has done nothing to move the issue forward. Taking this major plank of the Conservative Party off the table shows the lack of resolve and quite frankly a lack of courage to tackle this issue.

There is a high probability that there is consent among the majority of the population to abolish the Senate, but for some provinces, namely Ontario and Quebec it may not suit the political leadership.

In its current form Senators are appointed by the Governor General on the recommendation of the Prime Minister and gives the ruling political parties an advantage. Over time the Senate can be composed of Senators favoring the governing party. For some provinces the idea of an equal Senate, which proposes an equal amount of Senators for each province will never happen.

Currently there are 105 Senators with Ontario and Quebec filling almost half of the seats at 24 each. The Western provinces, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia have six each for a total of 24, while Atlantic Canada has 30 and the three territories fill the remaining three. Obviously these discrepancies will be difficult to resolve.

Thomas Mulcair and his New Democrats favour the abolishing of the Senate and has stated that the party will not raise the white flag on this issue. He is undaunted by the prospect of provincial unanimous support and the majority of the population probably supports the NDP’s sentiment.

“We’re not going to raise the white flag on this,” he said after a speech in Kingston, Ont.

“We’re going to keep fighting to get rid of the unelected, unaccountable Senate. We know it’s a tough job but, you know what? That’s why you apply for these jobs.” Source: CTV

The Liberals believe that their leader, Justin Trudeau, has the only realistic plan to reform the Senate. He removed all Liberal Senators from his party caucus. Some believe it was just a political stunt and changes nothing in the way Senators operate.

The Senate in its current form adds nothing to the functioning of Parliament and is just an extended arm for the governing political party to pass any legislation with few obstacles.

The Supreme Court’s decision should have been predictable to any constitutional lawyers working for the federal government and should have been predictable to PM Harper. His reaction to the decision was disappointing and shows a clear lack of political courage. While he says he states that he does not want to open the constitution, he has the out of scrubbing a major issue on his platform. The status quo is not acceptable.

About the Author

Karl Gotthardt - Politisite Managing Editor Maj. Gotthardt is a Retired Military Officer with 35 years service in the Canadian Armed Forces. He spent most of his time in the Military in Infantry Battalions. Karl took part in training for Afghanistan as an Operator Analyst with the Canadian Maneouvre Training Centre. Karl is a qualified military parachutist and military free fall parachutist. He earned his U.S. Master Jump Wings in Fort Benning, Georgia. Karl enjoys working with horses for the last 24 year. He owns six. He has experience in breeding, training and of course riding.Karl was born in Germany and is fluent in both English and German and he speaks enough French to "get in trouble". Karl has written or writes at NowPublic, All Voices, Tek Journalism and many others.

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