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Harper's Plan to Elect Senators
16/01/2006

One of the odder parts of the Conservative's platform is the idea of electing senators.

This is a throw-back to early Reform party days and calls for a Triple-E Senate. If you don't remember, that means "Equal, Effective and Elected".

Any substantive change to the structure of the Senate would require a constitutional amendment, and that is just not on. That means that the formulae that determine how many senators we have from each province, their term in office, and how they are selected can't be changed.

However, since the Governor General appoints senators on the advice of the Prime Minister, there is nothing stopping the PM from appointing a person who has won a provincial election. Alberta has held elections like this in the past. Stan Waters was appointed by Brian Mulroney, but subsequent candidates were never appointed by the Liberal Prime Minister.

If Harper does this it doesn't mean that subsequent Prime Ministers will be bound to continue his policy. (Just as Liberals didn't continue after Stan Waters.) However, if it is popular it could theoretically become entrenched as the norm.

The result would be a bit strange, at first. We'd have a mix of appointed senators and elected senators. Would they have the moral authority to veto bills, or not?

If the Senate became an active body, being elected senator would be quite a thing. You'd be in a position of trust until the age of 75, regardless of changes of power in the House. You'd be free from the influence of any political party, and essentially be truly left to your own sober second thought.

The number of senators per province is locked into the constitution, and would be difficult to change. As it stands, we have:

  • Newfoundland, 6 (5.7% of the senate, 1.6% of our population)
  • Nova Scotia, 10 (9.5%, 2.9%)
  • New Brunswick, 10 (9.5%, 2.3%)
  • PEI, 4 (3.8%, 0.4%)
  • Quebec, 24 (22.9%, 23.6%)
  • Ontario, 24 (22.9%, 38.8%)
  • Manitoba, 6 (5.7%, 3.7%)
  • Saskatchewan, 6 (5.7%, 3.1%)
  • Alberta, 6 (5.7%, 10.0%)
  • British Columbia, 6 (5.7%, 13.2%)
  • NWT, 1 (1.0%, 0.1%)
  • Yukon, 1 (1.0%, 0.1%)
  • Nunavut, 1 (1.0%, 0.1%)

We'd probably be locked in to this formula, so it means Atlantic Canada would be permanently over-represented in the Senate, even more than it is in the House. The arrangement hurts Ontario, and, ironically, in the long run it will probably hurt the West most of all. It some ways it is bizarre that Stephen Harper would want to build the legitimacy of the Senate when it would only reduce the influence of the West. I think the underlying intent is to have a counter-balancing force for those years of Liberal majorities, but it seems like a lost cause.

Anyway, I think it would certainly be interesting to be elected senator. Once elected your position is safe until the age of 75. It brings all the philosophical and practical enjoyment of being a representative in government without having to pledge allegance to a particular party, or worry about being a salesman everytime a new election rolls around. I'd be happy to be Ontario's first elected senator!


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