Home > Musings, Political Goings-On > Senate Reform

Senate Reform

Of all the “reform” topics in politics, Senate reform seems to get the most attention. Some people call it elitist and want an elected Senate, serving set terms. Some people like it just the way it is. Some people want it abolished completely. Most Canadians, displaying our stereotypical amount of political involvement, are ambivalent.

One of the reasons I think it gets so much coverage is the fact that it is, and has been for the past 20-some-odd years the pet project of Stephen Harper. And the prevelance of right-leaning papers and organizations in Canada combined with the Conservative party’s media-control tactics (i.e. their recent attempt at controlling the press gallery in Ottawa) means that whatever Harper says makes big news.

My question is this: does Harper even really care about Senate reform? My guess is no – he is using Senate reform as a plank with which to beat the Liberals in the polls and at the polls, like the “wedge issue” tactics displayed by the Republican party in American politics.

Furthermore, the idea that the Senate needs reforming now is absolutely ridiculous. The real target of Parliamentary reform should be the House.

Think about it: are Canadians’ views being truly represented by their MPs? Are the MPs held accountable to their constituents? Is it even currently possible to pass really meaningful legislation through the House?

The answer to all these questions is a resounding NO. Our voting system means we vote for a person, not a party. But in reality, we vote for their party’s platform, not the MP’s platform, as MPs are forced to stand with their party by the party whip. However, at any point, an MP can cross the floor and change parties. So we vote for a position that can be completely ideologically shifted at any point in time. Our views and beliefs are not being represented by our MPs.

As for accountability, while MPs do have to worry about elections, they need to worry far more about the whip of their party than their constituents. Going against the party line has consequences, ranging from not getting the corner office to being booted out of the party. Additionally, by and large, the elections in each riding are decided by the actions of the party as a whole, not how each MP has acted during his term. That doesn’t make much sense, now does it? We vote for an individual, but base our choice on something he has little to no control over (unless our MP should be the leader or a minister of a party).

And as for the passability of legislation, the bullsh*t partisan politics that are going on today are ruining our democracy. How can we even claim to be a democracy if the leader of the Government and the leader of the Official Opposition, two people, are deciding policy based on ideological whims and whatever will make them look best/make the other party look foolish? Furthermore, in a majority government, the Prime Minister decides everything, because he controls his party’s position and the whip coerces MPs into lining up and saying “aye”. Canadians’ views are not being represented by the policy of the government, and important things that many people are calling for, like meaningful environmental protection legislation, are not being tabled. Democracy my ass.

So here’s my idea:

  • abolish the position of whip;
  • require free votes on every single piece of legislation tabled;
  • and require MPs to hold “town-hall” meetings, preferably monthly, and actually bring those views to Parliament as their own

When, and only when, these reforms are put in place will we have meaningful representation in Canada. The political apathy Canada is famed for is due, in my opinion, to voter alienation. If people saw that their representatives in Parliament were *gasp* representing their views, issue solved.

Evidently, it’s the House that’s broken and not the Senate. In Parliamentary reform, the House of Commons comes first.



PS – curious about the Senate? Here.

  1. Notagingerman
    15/03/2010 at 1:26 pm

    If we were to remove the whip, lobbies would become the new force of power behind the MP’s (just like what we see in the US, and who wants that?).

    Would “free votes” really happen? Not likely because of what you call “not getting the corner office.” If parties still existed, then party loyalties would still exist. I don’t think the whip is really the most “democratic” thing, but I do think it’s superior to some kind of free voting systems.

    This is really because people vote for the party, I really don’t believe that people look for individual regional representation from their MP in the federal government; we vote for the party who fits our ideologies best. That is why the whip makes sense. Also, this is why some form of proportional representation makes sense, because no one gives a damn about regional representation.

    (And yes, the Bloc Quebecois represents a “region”, but the Bloc are more about Quebecois culture and society, not as much about the “region”)

    I do agree with you that the whole Senate reform thing is bullshit. Just another one of Haper’s crusades for apparent “accountability.” If anything Harper is just bitter about it being traditionally controlled by the Liberals (as if that really matters though).

    About crossing the floor, yes, this needs to be changed. Again, people vote for the party.

    • Tim
      15/03/2010 at 2:33 pm

      Why would the lobbies become the new force behind MPs? It is also worth mentioning that Canada’s lobby system is completely broken and grossly unfair to anybody that isn’t a major industrial interest.

      Party loyalties can exist all they want, but when an MP is forced to vote against his conscience that is completely undemocratic. A “free vote” is defined as a vote in which the parties do not require their MPs to vote a certain way – how the MPs actually vote is irrelevant.

      A lot of people “give a damn” about regional representation. The West, the Maritimes, and Québec. The Bloc represent the region of Québec, not just society and culture. It is largely thanks to the Bloc that Québec gets the reparations payments that it does, for example. This is why there is such a kerfuffle
      over the constitutional amendment process – one of Ontario of Québec must sign on or it doesn’t pass.

      People vote for the MP. That is how the system works, by the “letter of the law”, as it were. Only in reality are they voting for a party platform. Crossing the floor would be completely acceptable if MPs campaigned on their beliefs, not as party mouthpieces, because then they would be siding with the party that most accurately represented their beliefs, which is what they would have been elected upon.

  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: