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Stephen Harper's Senate 'reform' scheme has nothing to do with democracy

'Democratic Reform' Minister Tim Uppal

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's bill to "democratize" the Canadian Senate has very little to do with democracy. Rather the opposite, in fact.

In this time before the Prime Minister's "reforms," which will be introduced into the (neo) Conservative dominated House of Commons by "Democratic Reform" Minister Tim Uppal, the Canadian Senate is certainly a relic of an undemocratic past. As such, of course, it richly deserves to be abolished.

However, once the legislation is passed, which it most certainly will be, the Senate predictably will play essentially the same role as that envisaged by our nervous Fathers of Confederation: that of a brake on the dangers of popular democracy, should such a thing ever arise in the quiescent former British North America.

Much has been made by political scientists of the role of the Senate as a guardian of regional interests, although there is precious little evidence it has ever done this effectively. Certainly, it is hard to imagine that this is much of a possibility under Harper's manipulative scheme in an era when so-called conservatives are more loyal to the ideology of international markets than to geographical or cultural nations.

Regardless, the principal function of the Senate as designed in 1867 was to protect the rights of property. The principal purpose of the Senate as redesigned by Harper in 2011 will be … you guessed it … to protect the rights of property, especially foreign corporate property.

It will do this first in the fashion of all legislative upper houses by introducing parliamentary gridlock to any attempts to introduce popular reform. One need only consider the pathetic case of the United States Congress to see how this works, and how it is intended to work.

Recall the attempts by presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama to introduce modest health care reforms that arguably are needed by the United States to survive the next century as a coherent political and economic entity and you can see where bicameral legislatures take a political system.

Of course, this can be a two-edged sword from the perspective of an anti-democratic politician like our prime minister, which is why he has introduced the risible provision that allows him to pick and choose which Senators get appointed from the candidates selected by voters in a sham provincial "election."

This should set the bar low enough that he can pack the Senate with neo-Con cronies -- as he has already done by traditional means -- to block any future attempt at progressive legislation by, say, an NDP majority government.

Sclerosis in the Canadian legislative pipeline should also serve the secondary goal of allowing further disillusionment with democracy among young and disengaged voters, upon whose election-day apathy so-called conservative governments depend to remain in power.

Finally, the bogus "democratic legitimacy" lent by Senate elections -- even of this particularly tortured sort -- will further justify the use of the House of Wealth as an activist roadblock to popular reform.

All this said, clearly voters who are committed to democracy need to organize to ensure progressive Senate candidates are at the top of the polls in their provinces either to force the government to allow progressives into the Red Chamber or to expose "Senate reform" as the fraud it is intended to be.

In the mean time, Canadians who care about democracy in more than name should remember that this prime minister only intends to "fix" the Senate in the tertiary sense of that word, and must continue to work for the abolition of this worse-than-useless chamber.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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