Why the NDP is Right to Want to Abolish the Senate

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jerrym
Why the NDP is Right to Want to Abolish the Senate

Brachina

 I think you forgot this http://rolluptheredcarpet.ca/

 This is our opportunity, not only to fight to abolish the Senate, but to use this fight to help remind Canadians of the Liberal and Tory Corruption.

onlinediscountanvils

I got excited for a moment when on first glance I misread 'Senate' as 'State'.

jerrym

There are a wide variety of reasons for abolishing this undemocratic institution of bagmen, party hacks, defeated candidates and hangers-on, that have been well outlined by Mulcair in his comments on why the NDP wil push hard to abolish the Senate. This is something that I have wanted since I read of a Senator who never said a word in the Senate or was involved in any notable activity during more than 25 years in the Senate and was highly thought of for those very reasons when I was in Grade 10, fifty years ago. 

After all that I have seen both in the past and now I did not think my opinion of the Senate and Senators could possibly sink any lower. However, I was wrong. An interview on Power and Politcs with Gordon Barnhart, former Clerk of the Senate (1989-1994) and a former Lieutenant-Governor of Saskatchewan, is extremely revealing. 

He said a common phrase in the Senate was "What a Senator wants, a Senator gets". He was appointed to reform the Senate and make it more accountable. Barnhart was involved in the administration of the Senate but the Committee of Internal Economy had the power over expenses and he and others were not allowed to do their jobs. With up to 64 trips a year Senators could travel to their province, say BC, from Ottawa to meet constituents by first travelling to Europe and claim all of that on their expenses. This continues until today. When he told them you cannot do something because it is amoral, unethical or illegal and they could end up on television having to respond to questions why they did that, they would say it doesn't matter because the people and the Prime Minister cannot remove us. In the end he gave up the job. I realize that he probably cast his role in the most favourable light, but still his comments are revealing. 

The Senators' sense of entitlement is mind-boggling. They are en-titled with the name Senator and all its perks. Maybe we can at least get back the word entitlement as a word that refers to the very privileged and their arrogance from this scandal rather than having the word continually used by the right to pour derision on the poor and others who need a social safety net. 

Unfortunately, I have to agree with him that it will be extremely difficult to abolish the Senate constitutionally, but if this is not the time to try this, what is?

Here is the video of Barnhart's comments. 

http://www.cbc.ca/player/News/Politics/Power+%26+Politics/ID/2386869547/

mark_alfred

Brachina wrote:

 I think you forgot this http://rolluptheredcarpet.ca/

 This is our opportunity, not only to fight to abolish the Senate, but to use this fight to help remind Canadians of the Liberal and Tory Corruption.

Thanks for the link.  I signed it.

6079_Smith_W

I think the NDP would do better to spend their time on bigger priorities.

In fact, I think a well-functioning senate is a good thing.

But we have had this discussion before.

 

knownothing knownothing's picture
Catchfire Catchfire's picture

onlinediscountanvils wrote:
I got excited for a moment when on first glance I misread 'Senate' as 'State'.

Exhibit #36,796 on why we need a like button.

Michael Moriarity Michael Moriarity's picture

6079_Smith_W wrote:

I think the NDP would do better to spend their time on bigger priorities.

In fact, I think a well-functioning senate is a good thing.

But we have had this discussion before.

 

Regardless of whether a well designed senate would be a good thing theoretically, it seems to me that abolishing the senate is turning into an excellent wedge issue for the NDP, and Mulcair intends to use it to pry away Conservative and Liberal voters who may disagree with the NDP on other policies. Of course, it won't be the centre piece of the platform, but it will be a popular idea that neither the Cons nor Libs will be able to steal.

 

6079_Smith_W

@ Michael

Yes, I remember it was that for Harper too, and that he tried it again yesterday, though no one takes him seriously anymore.

It's an excellent wedge until Mulcair realizes what a sisyphean task it is. Then it will come back to haunt him when he realizes it's not going to get done, and even if they managed it, what they replaced it with would be just as much of a balls-up, and probably cost more than it does now.

JKR

Maybe it's time to support holding a national referendum on abolishing, reforming or maintaining the Senate? A preferntial ballot / instant runoff vote could ask people to choose between a few options including abolishing the Senate, having an elected Senate, having senators selected by a non-partisan panel, having senators selected by a representative multi-partisan panel, or maintaining the status quo whereby the prime ministe continues to select senators.

6079_Smith_W

Creating a second elected house would be a nightmare, because it would give them a legitimate reason to deadlock on legislation. And presumably you'd have the executive branch spread across two houses where they can't talk to each other (not that they do that even now).

But I think the perks and the abuses overshadows the fact that the Senate actually serves a purpose, and there are people there who really do work. If it wasn't there someone would have to get paid to do that.

And I know that plenty don't agree with me.

Easier than abolition (and something which is actually possible) would be doing what the British did 100 years ago - take away the upper house's power to quash and stall legislation, and ensure that all power stays with the elected house:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parliament_Act_1911

And of course, reining in those abuses. I know Harper is abusing the senate because he will take any step to consolidate power, but I can't help but think he is also doing it to force its destruction, or turn it into some U.S.-style frankenstein.

 

NorthReport

To suggest Harper wanted all this negative publicity is a stretch. 

The Senate is just a playground for rich Liberals and Conservatives, and they are not going to give it up.

Do voters care about this stuff? I doubt it.

This is just "gotcha" politics.

6079_Smith_W

@ NR

For the most part I agree with you, and I don't think it was a conscious plot. But after pushing for an elected senate It looks like he at one point just said fuck it and decided to pack the senate and use it in the way he uses everything else.

And I especially agree with you about the gotcha, and how much the public cares.

 

socialdemocrati...

The senate is going to be a much tougher battle than proportional representation, if only for legal reasons. But supporting a referendum on abolishing the senate? That would be a much easier policy to achieve (we just want to pose the question), and I think that asking the question would almost inherently get the answer we want. (Who really likes "more politicians with higher salaries"?)

jerrym

6079_Smith_W wrote:

@ Michael

Yes, I remember it was that for Harper too, and that he tried it again yesterday, though no one takes him seriously anymore.

It's an excellent wedge until Mulcair realizes what a sisyphean task it is. Then it will come back to haunt him when he realizes it's not going to get done, and even if they managed it, what they replaced it with would be just as much of a balls-up, and probably cost more than it does now.

I agree that abolishing it is going to be very difficult (an understatement) but if it is agreed to, the solution is simple - a unicameral Parliament consisting of the House of Commons. In terms of effectiveness for the people of Canada, the House of Commons is the only one of the two currently having any effective role ( whether it is effective in a positive or nagative sense is another question). Creating a new second house would be much more difficult than simply abolishing or reforming the Senate. It would create a new power struggle in the country between these two institutions if it was effective, often making the passage of social and other legislation more difficult. 

janfromthebruce

JKR wrote:

having senators selected by a non-partisan panel, having senators selected by a representative multi-partisan panel, or maintaining the status quo whereby the prime ministe continues to select senators.

So we are going to have "an unelected panel" select "an unelected senate". Egads, it would be handpicked by the govt of the day and be totally partisan with all the perks & patronage available for their faithful servants of the party.

Just ask if they want it abolished or not.

Catchfire Catchfire's picture

socialdemocraticmiddle wrote:
Who really likes "more politicians with higher salaries"?

This should be exactly the wording on the referendum ballot.

knownothing knownothing's picture

You know how people shouldn't question a woman's right to choose or the right to form unions on rabble? I think we should add that people can't question abolition of the Senate. I am so tired of arguing with people about why the Senate is bad...

 

 

modernsteam

On:

jerrym wrote:

....  it doesn't matter because the people and the Prime Minister cannot remove us....

I don't agree with abolishing the Senate. Just elect them for the usual period of four years. Then they'd have to stand for office like everyone else.

But when we do vote for them, it should be on the proviso that they do not run to push a political party agenda. They could be members of a political party outside the senate, and have their usual discussions and chats on political issues there, but they'd be elected, and would perform, strictly as independents, ie., partyless!

 

 

Aristotleded24

modernsteam wrote:

On:

jerrym wrote:

....  it doesn't matter because the people and the Prime Minister cannot remove us....

I don't agree with abolishing the Senate. Just elect them for the usual period of four years. Then they'd have to stand for office like everyone else.

But when we do vote for them, it should be on the proviso that they do not run to push a political party agenda. They could be members of a political party outside the senate, and have their usual discussions and chats on political issues there, but they'd be elected, and would perform, strictly as independents, ie., partyless!

That's exactly how we currently elect municipal governments in most municipalities in this country. Despite the fact that they are officiall "non-partisan," anyone who pays even slight attention can determine the political and partisan leanings of the elected officials. It's actually worse than an entrenched party system that we find at the provincial and federal levels, because unlike the municipalities, at least the federal and provincial partisan affiliations are transparent for all to see.

Nope. Down with the Senate. We don't need it.

6079_Smith_W

knownothing wrote:

You know how people shouldn't question a woman's right to choose or the right to form unions on rabble? I think we should add that people can't question abolition of the Senate. I am so tired of arguing with people about why the Senate is bad...

Hear! Hear!

That's the way to take a stand for democratic principles!

 

Sean in Ottawa

One purpose of the Senate is to provide extra representation to provinces with lower populations that might otherwise be swamped in a a single rep-by-pop chamber. If we are to abolish the Senate we have to replace this balance. That said, since the Senate is weak compared to the House, there could be several ways of doing this. If this issue is not dealt with there will likely not be sufficient support for abolition among those provinces. There is also a purpose in reviewing legislation. This can be addressed in two ways: first it is already in the growth of the Commons which has more people than it did in the 19th century when the constitution established the Senate. The second could be accomplished through some kind of consultative body or employees of the House.

On the other hand radical reform of the Senate could create Senators with a real purpose in reviewing legislation. I do not have trouble with this provided the reforms make it functional.

I do not support an elected Senate which would compete with the House and is unnecessary. I do not support PM appointments either. Alternatives could be lists approved by all parties, provincial appointments (if we want to give power to the provinces-- perhaps in exchange for provinces ceding other power).  A review of the actual work of the Senate could identify good work that could be done by such a body. I don't think another body with political parties in it would be helpful so not allowing those who are in the Senate to have direct ties to a political party could be a good thing. The Senate could provide additional representation to First Nations, and other groups who have reason to oversee and advise on the work of the government but who are currently underrepresented.

knownothing knownothing's picture

Sean in Ottawa wrote:

One purpose of the Senate is to provide extra representation to provinces with lower populations that might otherwise be swamped in a a single rep-by-pop chamber. If we are to abolish the Senate we have to replace this balance. That said, since the Senate is weak compared to the House, there could be several ways of doing this. If this issue is not dealt with there will likely not be sufficient support for abolition among those provinces. There is also a purpose in reviewing legislation. This can be addressed in two ways: first it is already in the growth of the Commons which has more people than it did in the 19th century when the constitution established the Senate. The second could be accomplished through some kind of consultative body or employees of the House.

On the other hand radical reform of the Senate could create Senators with a real purpose in reviewing legislation. I do not have trouble with this provided the reforms make it functional.

I do not support an elected Senate which would compete with the House and is unnecessary. I do not support PM appointments either. Alternatives could be lists approved by all parties, provincial appointments (if we want to give power to the provinces-- perhaps in exchange for provinces ceding other power).  A review of the actual work of the Senate could identify good work that could be done by such a body. I don't think another body with political parties in it would be helpful so not allowing those who are in the Senate to have direct ties to a political party could be a good thing. The Senate could provide additional representation to First Nations, and other groups who have reason to oversee and advise on the work of the government but who are currently underrepresented.

Cmon, parliamentary committees can review legislation. Or, even better, put it online in a "wikipolicy" so that all Canadians can review it and edit it.

As for the regions, the HOC seats already take that into account. Look at PEI. They get 4 seats for almost the same population as Jason Kenney's riding. Do it through the boundary process.

 

No more excuses

6079_Smith_W

Could the NDP’s roll-up-the-red-carpet” campaign to abolish the Senate come back to haunt the party?

http://www.canada.com/mobile/story.html?id=8426070

Kara

knownothing wrote:

You know how people shouldn't question a woman's right to choose or the right to form unions on rabble? I think we should add that people can't question abolition of the Senate. I am so tired of arguing with people about why the Senate is bad...

Abolition of the senate is in no way equal to a woman's right to choose - do not equate the two issues.  Having control over one's body is the most basic human right and should not ever be up for discussion.

Unions are important to all workers, regardless if one is unionized or not.  Most of our employment rights exist only because of the hard work of unions in the past - but for them, we would probably all work in sweat shop conditions.  The war on unions is a threat to all workers in terms of working conditions, safety, remuneration, etc.

 

Debating senate reform is completely reasonable, especially when people like Sean present ideas seeking to address the chronic underrepresentation of First Nations, people of colour, women, etc. in our government.  I don't have to agree with him to find his ideas interesting and worthy of discussion.

6079_Smith_W

Why sober second thought matters:

http://www.thestar.com/opinion/commentary/2013/04/24/senator_shows_why_s...

Be forewarned: the writer uses the pejorative term union boss. Otherwise, it is a good article. And although she makes it sound like a one-off, it's not the first piece I have read which points out that a lot of legislation comes under far greater scrutiny in the senate than it ever does in the commons.

Fidel

Crooks, liars, and crooked-liars. We're paying for their booze and massages. And the bastards moonlight as campaign fundraisers for either wing of "the party."  I doubt they are sober very often.

socialdemocrati...

"Sober second thought" might protect the status quo. And yeah, when the Conservatives are in power, the status quo seems preferable to whatever reforms they have planned. But if we're going to change and improve this country, the current senate is going to entrench right-wing actors. And a reformed senate? It will entrench regional interests, reducing the federal government's power to do anything on issues that increasingly can't be handled by provinces alone: namely the environment. There's a reason why the right-wing pointy heads want a triple E senate (one of the key words being "equal").

6079_Smith_W

@ socialdemocraticmiddle

Except that's not what Senator Cowan was doing.

Is the senate in need of reform? Certainly. I wouldn't even rule out abolition as an option. But the notion that it has no purpose, based on those who have abused the system, is willful blindness. Do you think there are no other areas of governmnent where appointees play an important role? Nobody complains about the auditor general or the parliamentary budget officer when they call the government to task, even though they are no more democratically elected than members of the senate.

The difference is that when senators choose to do their jobs they can't be muzzled or fired in the same way as civil servants.

 

kropotkin1951 kropotkin1951's picture

The Senate should be abolished but it appears that at minimum that would mean the approval of all the provinces. I would consider a revamped Senate but only if it loses its power to override the HoC.  An elected Senate with its current power to block HoC legislation would merely be another impediment to making progressive changes in this country.

The constitutional file is one that is impossible to open just a little bit to tinker with one area. Do we really want to reopen the constitutional debate is the better question.

Kara

6079_Smith_W wrote:

Is the senate in need of reform? Certainly. I wouldn't even rule out abolition as an option. But the notion that it has no purpose, based on those who have abused the system, is willful blindness. Do you think there are no other areas of governmnent where appointees play an important role? Nobody complains about the auditor general or the parliamentary budget officer when they call the government to task, even though they are no more democratically elected than members of the senate.

The difference is that when senators choose to do their jobs they can't be muzzled or fired in the same way as civil servants.

Your last sentence is a very important point.

One of the biggest problems with the senate is the manner of appointing senators.  Under the present system, it is abused as a reward for party hacks by whichever party is in power.  Given that abolishing the senate may be next to impossible due to constitutional issues, is changing the means of appointment a more realistic goal.  i.e. - a committee on which each party with an MP has equal representation (perhaps 2 reps?).

janfromthebruce

modernsteam wrote:

On:

jerrym wrote:

....  it doesn't matter because the people and the Prime Minister cannot remove us....

I don't agree with abolishing the Senate. Just elect them for the usual period of four years. Then they'd have to stand for office like everyone else.

But when we do vote for them, it should be on the proviso that they do not run to push a political party agenda. They could be members of a political party outside the senate, and have their usual discussions and chats on political issues there, but they'd be elected, and would perform, strictly as independents, ie., partyless!

So think about it - only the well connected and those with deep pockets would be able to launch a province wide campaign. We would get the same elites and nothing would change.

And even though the "party affiliation" would be hidden from view, make no mistake the elected member would have party affliation. The rest of the "theory" is just that and not based on real life.

janfromthebruce

Kara wrote:

6079_Smith_W wrote:

Is the senate in need of reform? Certainly. I wouldn't even rule out abolition as an option. But the notion that it has no purpose, based on those who have abused the system, is willful blindness. Do you think there are no other areas of governmnent where appointees play an important role? Nobody complains about the auditor general or the parliamentary budget officer when they call the government to task, even though they are no more democratically elected than members of the senate.

The difference is that when senators choose to do their jobs they can't be muzzled or fired in the same way as civil servants.

The NDP would not be a part of this committee because the NDP federal policy is to abolish the house of patronage appt. The unelected council would be just another patronage appt.

Your last sentence is a very important point.

One of the biggest problems with the senate is the manner of appointing senators.  Under the present system, it is abused as a reward for party hacks by whichever party is in power.  Given that abolishing the senate may be next to impossible due to constitutional issues, is changing the means of appointment a more realistic goal.  i.e. - a committee on which each party with an MP has equal representation (perhaps 2 reps?).

Fidel

Fire them all and maybe offer to train them for real jobs. I think Ottawa needs more bus drivers, ditch diggers, sanitation workers, helpdesk support agents, Walmart greeters, sandwich assembly personel  etc. With some training they could be useful members of society.

https://seekers.jobbank.gc.ca/commun-common/connection-login.aspx?redire...

6079_Smith_W

@ kropotkin

Exactly. The diffficulty in getting rid of it (and the possibility of things being made far worse if that box is opened) is a good reason to focus on other means of reform.

And there are some straightforward ways to fix the problems that are there. Really, many of the same accusations could be levelled against members of the house of commons. Frankly I think some of the criticisms here are over the top

Kara

janfromthebruce wrote:

 The NDP would not be a part of this committee because the NDP federal policy is to abolish the house of patronage appt. The unelected council would be just another patronage appt.

I never referred to a committee comprised of appointed personnel - appointed personnel reviewing other appointments seems like it could continue to infinity.  The committee could be comprised of MPs (like other parliamentary committees), except not stacked in favour of one party or another (unlike other parliamentary committees).

And, if abolishing the senate is not possible due to constitutional issues, etc., what is NDP policy then - do nothing?  The status quo cannot continue so even if one's ideal solution cannot be implemented, other options may be acceptable and, more importantly, realistic.

jerrym

Kara wrote:

And, if abolishing the senate is not possible due to constitutional issues, etc., what is NDP policy then - do nothing?  The status quo cannot continue so even if one's ideal solution cannot be implemented, other options may be acceptable and, more importantly, realistic.

I think other options are even less likely than abolishing the Senate. BC has six senate seats reflecting its small population more than a century ago. It wants more to reflect its importance. Provinces like New Brunswick want to keep their 10 Senators in order as compensation for their small population and small number of MPs. Quebec would see any decrease in its Senators as another decrease in the French fact. I could go on and on indefinitely with the problems and counter-problems with all reforms. However, every province has managed to eliminate its second parliamentary house and not one of them is suggesting it should be reintroduced despite the fact there are provincial regions with small populations etc. 

Yes the odds are against the Senate being abolished. Its odds are low but still better than those of reform. However, every reform will engender new problems and the creation of an effective, elected Senate is more than likely to lead to legislative paralysis as has occurred in the US. If appointed representatives are to be anything more than figureheads, then one is violating the principle on which democracy is built. Furthermore, the Senate as an institution of sober second thought was created because the sober second thought was to be carried out by members of the elite. Such a new appointed Senate, however it is made up, will simply involve the creation of a new elite, even if initially chosen in part from formerly under-represented groups, because those doing the appointing will ensure the appointed do not stray far from the belief system of the elite.  

 

bagkitty bagkitty's picture

Sean in Ottawa wrote:

One purpose of the Senate is to provide extra representation to provinces with lower populations that might otherwise be swamped in a a single rep-by-pop chamber. If we are to abolish the Senate we have to replace this balance. [...]

 

@Sean: What on earth makes you think that we have anything resembling rep-by-pop in the first place?

I have done some number crunching, and have come up with a little table (see below, and my apologies for the formatting, but trying to get columns line up properly on babble is a complete nightmare) to illustrate how distorted the Commons already is.

There are three scenarios: the first deals with the current 308 seat configuration of the Commons and is made up of the first three columns - the first indicates the current distribution of seats, the second column indicates how many seats would have to be added or removed from each province to have ridings in proportion to a stricly averaged rep-by-pop (approx 113K per riding), the third column indicate how many seats that would be.

The second scenario assumes that the median riding size is the standard (approx 76.5K per riding), this would mean a 455 seat commons, and indicates how many ridings each province would have (also assumes that each of the territories would continue to have a representative, although, strictly speaking, only the NWT has more than half the population of a strictly applied rep-by-pop formula would require).

The final scenario demonstrates what true rep-by-pop would look like after taking into account constitutional guarantees that  provinces will a) never have fewer MPs than they do Senators and b) never have fewer MPs than they did at the time that the constitution was repatriated (and is based on a 36.5K population in each riding). In light of existing constitutional guarantees, rep-by-pop would require 952 MPs, more than triple the current number.

I have argued elsewhere on babble that there are two conflicting principles at play here: the one that underlies rep-by-pop (all votes should be equal) and the one that recognizes the importance of regions and that there should be rough equality amongst them. I have also argued that the the only way to reconcile those is with a bicameral legislature, one that is based on rep-by-pop and one that takes into account regional representation - and that reform of the Senate has to go hand in hand with reform of the Commons so that at least one of these bodies treats all voters equally... 'cause that sure as hell isn't the case now, and I am amazed that anyone would think that the Commons is not already severely distorted in its composition to accomodate "regional" interests.

 

 

                                      308                           455                   952

                                           SEATS                      SEATS            SEATS

ONTARIO                     106    +13    119               176              369

QUEBEC                         75      -4       71              104              220

B.C.                              36      +4      40                60              126

ALBERTA                        28      +6      34                50              105

MANITOBA                      14      -3       11               17               35

SASKATCHEWAN              14       -5        9               14               29

NOVA SCOTIA                 11       -3        8               12               26

NEW BRUNSWICK            10       -3        7               10               21

NFLD & LAB                      7       -2        5                 7               14

PEI                                 4       -3        1                 2                 4

NWT                                1                 1                 1                  1

YUKON                             1                 1                 1                  1

NUNAVUT                          1                 1                 1                  1

 

Sean in Ottawa

knownothing wrote:

Sean in Ottawa wrote:

One purpose of the Senate is to provide extra representation to provinces with lower populations that might otherwise be swamped in a a single rep-by-pop chamber. If we are to abolish the Senate we have to replace this balance. That said, since the Senate is weak compared to the House, there could be several ways of doing this. If this issue is not dealt with there will likely not be sufficient support for abolition among those provinces. There is also a purpose in reviewing legislation. This can be addressed in two ways: first it is already in the growth of the Commons which has more people than it did in the 19th century when the constitution established the Senate. The second could be accomplished through some kind of consultative body or employees of the House.

On the other hand radical reform of the Senate could create Senators with a real purpose in reviewing legislation. I do not have trouble with this provided the reforms make it functional.

I do not support an elected Senate which would compete with the House and is unnecessary. I do not support PM appointments either. Alternatives could be lists approved by all parties, provincial appointments (if we want to give power to the provinces-- perhaps in exchange for provinces ceding other power).  A review of the actual work of the Senate could identify good work that could be done by such a body. I don't think another body with political parties in it would be helpful so not allowing those who are in the Senate to have direct ties to a political party could be a good thing. The Senate could provide additional representation to First Nations, and other groups who have reason to oversee and advise on the work of the government but who are currently underrepresented.

Cmon, parliamentary committees can review legislation. Or, even better, put it online in a "wikipolicy" so that all Canadians can review it and edit it.

As for the regions, the HOC seats already take that into account. Look at PEI. They get 4 seats for almost the same population as Jason Kenney's riding. Do it through the boundary process.

 

No more excuses

You are very, very wrong here. You cannot balance size in the House of Commons and the House does not do this.

The House already, as you point out over-weights the votes of voters on PEI. But still in the end they are less than 5% of Ontario. If you are a person in Ontario-- forget that there are millions of others in the province as well for a moment-- your province has 20 times the power in the House. If Ontario wants consideration for something in Windsor-- the whole province uses its power to get it-- 20 times the power. At times small provinces can also be forgotten-- not attacked but not even remembered in the detail of policy. Small provinces would have to be concerned about the removal from influence they would suffer without the Senate. And they collectively have the power to stop it. This is not an excuse-- it is a reality that too often people in Ontario, BC and Alberta forget.Look at your Constitution and amending formula and remember that the issue of the Constitution in the 1970s and 1980s was as much that formula as it was Quebec.

The work the Senate does in committee is often regional. If you dump the Senate and leave everything else the same-- perhaps the Maritime provinces even with Newfoundland and Labrador on board could try to come together into a union. That way they would have clout. Saskatchewan and Manitoba have no immediate options-- they would be dominated in a union with Alberta and just the two would still be far too small. One option some have proposed before would be to split Ontario giving the North to Manitoba. If you don't talk about creating more equal provinces then you have a huge problem with a single House. I think it would be hard to do but I think adjusting the size of provinces would help as outlined but don't be thinking each seat works independently so you can compare one PEI seat (or four) with any one or four in Ontario in terms of clout. Politics never worked that way in Canada and PEI is not getting that much extra for its extra seats by Pop. It needs its senators in Ottawa-- even without the power as the Senate is weak-- they are there at the table and that is important. A lot of government goes on outside of Question Period.

While I am critical of your point of view it is worth remembering that the PM himself is already damaging this influence. The way this PM works certainly damages the influence of the Senate in the preparation of legislation. He does reduce regional as well as any other kind of input but his solution is not a good one. The reform we need is to put the PM's office back in check then the Senate will have room left to have a purpose-- reform to how it is filled and what it does is critical.

If the Senate is abolished (and with the right changes I could potentially support abolition) other changes will have to be made to the way the legislative body works. PMO power is the biggest problem now and abolition of the Senate without addressing this will make that worse.  You can't just take things out without considering what they were originally and what functions they have now. We can do without the patronage and we can do without party politics in the Senate. The regional input and formal consideration it provides must be replaced somehow and to the satisfaction of enough small provinces to get abolition approved. I suspect they could be more easily replaced in a reformed Senate than elsewhere especially considering the politics of the country.

Unfortunately the Senate reform debate has been dominated by those who want to make it more partisan and more of a challenge than a support to the House. But these are not the only things that can be done with the Senate. And some reforms can make it  less expensive but its cost is not the biggest factor here. Properly reformed the Senate could actually be the best counterbalance we could get to the PMO-- you have to take its appointments away from the PM to start that. And don't try to say that the House of Commons in our party system is any counterbalance to the PMO as it clearly is not. I wish the NDP would propose such significant reforms to the Senate rather than pursue abolition without stating how these other issues get dealt with.

I can promise you one thing. If you abolish the Senate the part of government that will get the extra power will be the PMO and not the House. Every change in the national government so far has led to increased power to the PMO and the Senate does have some power-- power doe not go away -- it goes somewhere and that is where it will go unless the Senate is reformed to prevent that. At this point in the national development of the Canadian federal government power has been tilting to the PMO and any more will lead to much reduced democracy even from what we have today. The NDP historically hates the Senate but it needs to get over this to see what is happening in Ottawa and how this body could be reformed to reverse that. I'll add one more thing. The Senate's abolition would be so difficult that a fight to abolish it could leave the status quo. A properly thought out reform might be the only policy that could actually come to something.

Redesign the Senate to become a real counterpoint to the power of the PMO and guardian of public access to information and government. Put everything on the table to that end. Make that the real criteria. You would get public support for this more than for the status quo or for abolition and you would be nation building rather than institution destroying. Like a real house-- you have to be careful with renovations because if you take down a load-bearing wall that you thought was nothing, bad things will happen.

Sean in Ottawa

bagkitty wrote:

Sean in Ottawa wrote:

One purpose of the Senate is to provide extra representation to provinces with lower populations that might otherwise be swamped in a a single rep-by-pop chamber. If we are to abolish the Senate we have to replace this balance. [...]

 

@Sean: What on earth makes you think that we have anything resembling rep-by-pop in the first place?

I have done some number crunching, and have come up with a little table (see below, and my apologies for the formatting, but trying to get columns line up properly on babble is a complete nightmare) to illustrate how distorted the Commons already is.

There are three scenarios: the first deals with the current 308 seat configuration of the Commons and is made up of the first three columns - the first indicates the current distribution of seats, the second column indicates how many seats would have to be added or removed from each province to have ridings in proportion to a stricly averaged rep-by-pop (approx 113K per riding), the third column indicate how many seats that would be.

The second scenario assumes that the median riding size is the standard (approx 76.5K per riding), this would mean a 455 seat commons, and indicates how many ridings each province would have (also assumes that each of the territories would continue to have a representative, although, strictly speaking, only the NWT has more than half the population of a strictly applied rep-by-pop formula would require).

The final scenario demonstrates what true rep-by-pop would look like after taking into account constitutional guarantees that  provinces will a) never have fewer MPs than they do Senators and b) never have fewer MPs than they did at the time that the constitution was repatriated (and is based on a 36.5K population in each riding). In light of existing constitutional guarantees, rep-by-pop would require 952 MPs, more than triple the current number.

I have argued elsewhere on babble that there are two conflicting principles at play here: the one that underlies rep-by-pop (all votes should be equal) and the one that recognizes the importance of regions and that there should be rough equality amongst them. I have also argued that the the only way to reconcile those is with a bicameral legislature, one that is based on rep-by-pop and one that takes into account regional representation - and that reform of the Senate has to go hand in hand with reform of the Commons so that at least one of these bodies treats all voters equally... 'cause that sure as hell isn't the case now, and I am amazed that anyone would think that the Commons is not already severely distorted in its composition to accomodate "regional" interests.

 

 

                                      308                           455                   952

                                           SEATS                      SEATS            SEATS

ONTARIO                     106    +13    119               176              369

QUEBEC                         75      -4       71              104              220

B.C.                              36      +4      40                60              126

ALBERTA                        28      +6      34                50              105

MANITOBA                      14      -3       11               17               35

SASKATCHEWAN              14       -5        9               14               29

NOVA SCOTIA                 11       -3        8               12               26

NEW BRUNSWICK            10       -3        7               10               21

NFLD & LAB                      7       -2        5                 7               14

PEI                                 4       -3        1                 2                 4

NWT                                1                 1                 1                  1

YUKON                             1                 1                 1                  1

NUNAVUT                          1                 1                 1                  1

 

 

It is designed ot be rep-by-pop with modifications. It is indeed distorted but it is based on a rep-by-pop model. Each time we do a census we review it and bring it as close as it can be given the constitutional constraints and deal-making.

Look at your model-- imperfect as it is you can see that there is except for the extremes for deals -- there really is a strong correlation between population and power in the House. The differences are marginal in practice even as your math suggests otherwise. Big provinces have clout-- small ones have little. Do you think PM Harper would have ignored Newfoundland and Labrador the way he did a couple elections ago if they had a lot more than 7 seats?

The problem is not just regional it is provincial and we need to put it that way. Regions are defined as provinces when it comes to power. There is pressure on the federal government by premiers, by MPs acting together for their province, by provincial media etc. The difference in the sizes of provinces make a person in PEI (or any other small province) have a lot less representative power in spite of their extra MPs. If there is something wrong in a single riding in PEI you can afford to ignore it-- irritating a small premier and 3 other MPs loyal to their province. But when you have a problem in Ontario with a whole whack of potentially loyal to their province MPS and a premier with a lot of clout you can't ignore that. Those who think that the distortions in the House address the differences in sizes of provinces to the point of protecting the smaller provinces don't understand the dynamics of federal-provincial politics and how provincial loyalties work. Provinces make direct deals with the Feds and this PM wants it more that way. Provinces that are small have little clout in the federation. With abolition of the Senate they would have even less.

6079_Smith_W

I don't actually care about, nor do I entirely buy the regional argument. But I do think the senate offers a different, and (when it's not being abused by people like Harper) potentially less partisan review process.

And your load-bearing wall comparison. Perfect.

As well, this just in: Brad Wall jumps on the NDP bandwagon.

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatchewan/story/2013/05/24/sk-wall-call...

 

 

jerrym

Premier Brad Wall of Saskatchewan announced he is in favour of abolishing the Senate. 

Quote:

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall says people in his party, himself included, want to take another look at abolishing the senate.

The Saskatchewan Party's official policy supports maintaining the red chamber, but reforming it by electing senators.

Wall has said before that he personally supports abolishing the senate, and he reiterated that view Friday.

But he also said in the last week three Saskatchewan Party constituency associations said they want the party to change its policy and get behind abolition.

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatchewan/story/2013/05/24/sk-wall-call...

 

Sean in Ottawa

The regional argument is quite important-- or at least provincial. Provinces bring collective weight to advocacy so being in a larger province gives you more clout even in a local project or issue if your province gets behind it. The Senate was long stated as a balance of the more rep by pop house with greater balance between provinces that otherwise had very different populations. You also have to consider history and the bargains made to enter Confederation. Provinces like NB, NS, PEI this was important to even thought they did not enter at the same time. Sask and Manitoba were created in Canada as opposed to joining.

6079_Smith_W

@ Sean

It's a good argument; I just think it is bogus in that I don't think the senate has any more of a regional focus than the commons. That does not mean that I don't think senators work, or that the senate doesn't play an important role in government.

Plus  provincial senate blocs do not always reflect the politics of the provincial government of their home province.

I think a far more important function comes from the fact that (in theory at least) senators aren't as constrained by partisan politics, and the need to temper their judgment by thinking about the next election.

(edit)

If they REALLY wanted to tailor the senate to give voice to under-represented constituencies... how about minimums for immigrant Canadians, First Nations, low income, the disabled and other groups.

 

knownothing knownothing's picture

Kara wrote:

knownothing wrote:

You know how people shouldn't question a woman's right to choose or the right to form unions on rabble? I think we should add that people can't question abolition of the Senate. I am so tired of arguing with people about why the Senate is bad...

Abolition of the senate is in no way equal to a woman's right to choose - do not equate the two issues.  Having control over one's body is the most basic human right and should not ever be up for discussion.

Unions are important to all workers, regardless if one is unionized or not.  Most of our employment rights exist only because of the hard work of unions in the past - but for them, we would probably all work in sweat shop conditions.  The war on unions is a threat to all workers in terms of working conditions, safety, remuneration, etc.

 

Debating senate reform is completely reasonable, especially when people like Sean present ideas seeking to address the chronic underrepresentation of First Nations, people of colour, women, etc. in our government.  I don't have to agree with him to find his ideas interesting and worthy of discussion.

I would respond but I fear I would be banned

bagkitty bagkitty's picture

Sean in Ottawa wrote:

 

It is designed ot be rep-by-pop with modifications. It is indeed distorted but it is based on a rep-by-pop model. Each time we do a census we review it and bring it as close as it can be given the constitutional constraints and deal-making.

Look at your model-- imperfect as it is you can see that there is except for the extremes for deals -- there really is a strong correlation between population and power in the House. The differences are marginal in practice even as your math suggests otherwise. Big provinces have clout-- small ones have little. Do you think PM Harper would have ignored Newfoundland and Labrador the way he did a couple elections ago if they had a lot more than 7 seats?

The problem is not just regional it is provincial and we need to put it that way. Regions are defined as provinces when it comes to power. There is pressure on the federal government by premiers, by MPs acting together for their province, by provincial media etc. The difference in the sizes of provinces make a person in PEI (or any other small province) have a lot less representative power in spite of their extra MPs. If there is something wrong in a single riding in PEI you can afford to ignore it-- irritating a small premier and 3 other MPs loyal to their province. But when you have a problem in Ontario with a whole whack of potentially loyal to their province MPS and a premier with a lot of clout you can't ignore that. Those who think that the distortions in the House address the differences in sizes of provinces to the point of protecting the smaller provinces don't understand the dynamics of federal-provincial politics and how provincial loyalties work. Provinces make direct deals with the Feds and this PM wants it more that way. Provinces that are small have little clout in the federation. With abolition of the Senate they would have even less.

Sean, your argument would be more convincing if the most populous province would be the one most affected by the distortions the modifications you appear to be championing cause. It is not the most affected. Under the current (308) framework, it averages 127K per riding. Alberta, which is not the most populous, nor second most, nor third most but actually fourth in terms of population, averages 137K per riding. [The disparity is even more extreme in reference to the Senate - BC the most extreme case with 685.5K per Senator, Alberta with 548.4K per Senator, and only then Ontario with 506.7K per Senator].

Perhaps you can explain to me why the distortions don't follow the population. I can see a special case for Quebec, where at least the "regional" distinctiveness is obvious to all but the most obtuse, but it seems neither proportionate nor reasonable for the effects to be felt mostly keenly by Alberta and British Columbia when these are not the most populous provinces. That Ontario is not the most affected by these modifications does not make your defence of the status quo particularly convincing, at least in my mind. [Feel free to call me "another" damn Western populist...]

The principal behind rep-by-pop is that all votes should be equal. My vote here in Calgary should be as influential as that of someone in Charlottetown or Sydney or Saskatoon - it isn't, by up to a factor of four. My access to the individual elected to represent me should be equal to that of someone in Summerside, or Chicoutimi or London - again, it isn't, not when my elected representative is tasked with representing a population of up to four times the size of others. Of course, I am not demanding absolute mathematical equality, I am quite willing to accept that each composite jurisdiction should have at least one representative... and I am willing to accept rounding out to the nearest whole number - but that is as generous as I feel about the matter.

I understand the way in which regional interests can be "swamped" by more populous regions... but I have also pointed out that that the elimination of the Senate is not my preferred option, I think the only way that the conflicting principles of A) all votes being equal vis a vis B) regional interests being properly accomodated, is with a bicameral legislature. However, if I am forced to pick between two "distorted" chambers or just one, I will gladly watch them tip the most egregiously distorted body (Senate) into the Ottawa River (without or without lifejackets for those still inside) and cheer along as the wreckage floats away.

[Late addition: I will point out that even with the 30 seats being added for the next election, Alberta will still, on average, suffer the most from the distortions, although the margin vis a vis Ontario is reduced from an additional 10k per riding to something more like 2.5K assuming, of course, that the population growth in the two provnces is exactly the same, a very questionable assumption given that the rate of growth in Alberta has averaged 10.8% whle that of Ontario has been only 5.7% during the 2006-2011 period). Reducing the distortion, however, is not the same as eliminating it - and the distortion seriously undermines the premise of democratic societies that all votes should be equal.]

Fidel

We still haven't read one coherent argument for propping-up a bunch of political rejects with taxpayer handouts. They should get in line for taxpayer handouts with the rest of the corporate welfare bums in Canada.

I have no idea whatsoever what patronage and gold-plated pensions for old line party hacks has to do with promoting progressive discussion.

Why not open-up basic rights and women's right to vote or universal health care to "healthy" debate while we're at it? There is nothing progressive about Canada's old line party political clique aka the senate. This is ridiculous.

Either the 21st century or the senate should go gently into that goodnight,  one or the other.

Sean in Ottawa

6079_Smith_W wrote:

@ Sean

It's a good argument; I just think it is bogus in that I don't think the senate has any more of a regional focus than the commons. That does not mean that I don't think senators work, or that the senate doesn't play an important role in government.

Plus  provincial senate blocs do not always reflect the politics of the provincial government of their home province.

I think a far more important function comes from the fact that (in theory at least) senators aren't as constrained by partisan politics, and the need to temper their judgment by thinking about the next election.

(edit)

If they REALLY wanted to tailor the senate to give voice to under-represented constituencies... how about minimums for immigrant Canadians, First Nations, low income, the disabled and other groups.

 

To use the PEI example again-- they have slightly over one percent of the HofC and almost 4 percent of the Senate. The difference between smallest to biggest province is 6 times in the Senate while it is 30 times in the next House.

The regional argument does not require the Senate blocks to match the House and in fact is aided by that. Frequently this gives representation of a province on either government or opposition side where there may have been none.

I have suggested exactly that -- representation for First Nations, Immigrants, I did not complete the list but low income and disabled should be on that list.

Sean in Ottawa

knownothing wrote:

Kara wrote:

knownothing wrote:

You know how people shouldn't question a woman's right to choose or the right to form unions on rabble? I think we should add that people can't question abolition of the Senate. I am so tired of arguing with people about why the Senate is bad...

Abolition of the senate is in no way equal to a woman's right to choose - do not equate the two issues.  Having control over one's body is the most basic human right and should not ever be up for discussion.

Unions are important to all workers, regardless if one is unionized or not.  Most of our employment rights exist only because of the hard work of unions in the past - but for them, we would probably all work in sweat shop conditions.  The war on unions is a threat to all workers in terms of working conditions, safety, remuneration, etc.

 

Debating senate reform is completely reasonable, especially when people like Sean present ideas seeking to address the chronic underrepresentation of First Nations, people of colour, women, etc. in our government.  I don't have to agree with him to find his ideas interesting and worthy of discussion.

I would respond but I fear I would be banned

That's sad that you would have nothing constructive to say there.

Sean in Ottawa

bagkitty wrote:

Sean in Ottawa wrote:

 

It is designed ot be rep-by-pop with modifications. It is indeed distorted but it is based on a rep-by-pop model. Each time we do a census we review it and bring it as close as it can be given the constitutional constraints and deal-making.

Look at your model-- imperfect as it is you can see that there is except for the extremes for deals -- there really is a strong correlation between population and power in the House. The differences are marginal in practice even as your math suggests otherwise. Big provinces have clout-- small ones have little. Do you think PM Harper would have ignored Newfoundland and Labrador the way he did a couple elections ago if they had a lot more than 7 seats?

The problem is not just regional it is provincial and we need to put it that way. Regions are defined as provinces when it comes to power. There is pressure on the federal government by premiers, by MPs acting together for their province, by provincial media etc. The difference in the sizes of provinces make a person in PEI (or any other small province) have a lot less representative power in spite of their extra MPs. If there is something wrong in a single riding in PEI you can afford to ignore it-- irritating a small premier and 3 other MPs loyal to their province. But when you have a problem in Ontario with a whole whack of potentially loyal to their province MPS and a premier with a lot of clout you can't ignore that. Those who think that the distortions in the House address the differences in sizes of provinces to the point of protecting the smaller provinces don't understand the dynamics of federal-provincial politics and how provincial loyalties work. Provinces make direct deals with the Feds and this PM wants it more that way. Provinces that are small have little clout in the federation. With abolition of the Senate they would have even less.

Sean, your argument would be more convincing if the most populous province would be the one most affected by the distortions the modifications you appear to be championing cause. It is not the most affected. Under the current (308) framework, it averages 127K per riding. Alberta, which is not the most populous, nor second most, nor third most but actually fourth in terms of population, averages 137K per riding. [The disparity is even more extreme in reference to the Senate - BC the most extreme case with 685.5K per Senator, Alberta with 548.4K per Senator, and only then Ontario with 506.7K per Senator].

Perhaps you can explain to me why the distortions don't follow the population. I can see a special case for Quebec, where at least the "regional" distinctiveness is obvious to all but the most obtuse, but it seems neither proportionate nor reasonable for the effects to be felt mostly keenly by Alberta and British Columbia when these are not the most populous provinces. That Ontario is not the most affected by these modifications does not make your defence of the status quo particularly convincing, at least in my mind. [Feel free to call me "another" damn Western populist...]

The principal behind rep-by-pop is that all votes should be equal. My vote here in Calgary should be as influential as that of someone in Charlottetown or Sydney or Saskatoon - it isn't, by up to a factor of four. My access to the individual elected to represent me should be equal to that of someone in Summerside, or Chicoutimi or London - again, it isn't, not when my elected representative is tasked with representing a population of up to four times the size of others. Of course, I am not demanding absolute mathematical equality, I am quite willing to accept that each composite jurisdiction should have at least one representative... and I am willing to accept rounding out to the nearest whole number - but that is as generous as I feel about the matter.

I understand the way in which regional interests can be "swamped" by more populous regions... but I have also pointed out that that the elimination of the Senate is not my preferred option, I think the only way that the conflicting principles of A) all votes being equal vis a vis B) regional interests being properly accomodated, is with a bicameral legislature. However, if I am forced to pick between two "distorted" chambers or just one, I will gladly watch them tip the most egregiously distorted body (Senate) into the Ottawa River (without or without lifejackets for those still inside) and cheer along as the wreckage floats away.

[Late addition: I will point out that even with the 30 seats being added for the next election, Alberta will still, on average, suffer the most from the distortions, although the margin vis a vis Ontario is reduced from an additional 10k per riding to something more like 2.5K assuming, of course, that the population growth in the two provnces is exactly the same, a very questionable assumption given that the rate of growth in Alberta has averaged 10.8% whle that of Ontario has been only 5.7% during the 2006-2011 period). Reducing the distortion, however, is not the same as eliminating it - and the distortion seriously undermines the premise of democratic societies that all votes should be equal.]

I am not defending or explaining a particular distortion. I am explaining that smaller provinces have less clout in a rep by pop chamber. Removing the Senate will only create more pressure to leave the distortions alone in the House. If you want a strict rep by pop chamber then a counterbalancing one where smaller population areas have more weight makes some sense. Alternately, the other approach would be to bring the relative weights of Provinces much more closely in line. Creating one Atlantic Province, one province from Saskatchewan to Northern Ontario inclusive would go a long way to making rep by pop a workable principle regionally. However as I pointed out there are issues with other equity seeking groups that the Senate could then focus on. Having a large aboriginal presence in a national legislative body for me would be progress including having it have the ability to propose amendments-- having science, medicine, low income, immigrants, disabled, youth and other groups represented would improve the way legislation is viewed and make the government more answerable to the people being governed.

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