Reform the Senate

WEB-Senate-scazon-flickr copyMike Duffy, Mac Harb, Pamela Wallin, Patrick Brazeau.  A year ago, only the most politically knowledgeable Canadians would have been able tell who these four people were, let alone what they had in common. Now, being involved in what is commonly called the Canadian Senate expenses scandal, they are rapidly becoming household names.

Former Senator Harb is perhaps the least known out of this group, as he both quickly resigned from his position and repaid outstanding money to the Senate. The remaining three, however, are determined to fight the accusations that they wrongfully claimed over a quarter of a million dollars collectively. While unrelated, it is noteworthy that Senator Brazeau has already been barred from the Senate due to a criminal arrest in an unrelated matter.

This scandal has erupted into a political brawl in Ottawa. A faction led by Senate government leader Claude Carignan — and heavily influenced by prime minister Stephen Harper — called for the three Senators to be suspended without pay. Another faction claimed this act tantamount to declaring the three guilty without due process. Harper responded to this, stating that he wants them off the public payroll. He justified the suspensions to the radio station Newstalk 1010 on October 25, stating “if you did that in your work, your boss wouldn’t wait for you to be convicted of a crime.”

It is time for some serious Senate reform The Senate polices itself. The House of Commons has no legal ramifications on it.

One of the biggest problems with the entire situation is the fact that the Senate is responsible to no one.  While representatives in the House of Commons are responsible to Canadian voters, who can refuse to vote for them if they fail in their responsibilities, members of the Senate of Canada are appointed by the governor general on the advice of the sitting prime minister, and may serve until the age of 75.  Effectively, therefore, the Senate polices itself. No raging debate in the House of Commons can have any legal ramifications on it.

It is ridiculous that Canada, as one of the oldest democratic nations on the planet, has a branch of government that is both not elected by its people and has access to their money. It is just as ridiculous that these three accused of taking over a quarter of a million dollars from the Canadian people are still on the taxpayers’ payroll. It is time for some serious Senate reform. Canadians apparently agree with this: a recent poll from Angus Reid suggests about 40 per cent of Canadians favour Senate reform, with about 36 per cent favouring abolition.

So why can’t it get done?  The Harper government, elected with a promise to reform the Senate, recently introduced Bill C-7, proposing limiting senators to nine-year terms and having provinces hold Senatorial elections. The Supreme Court will hear this bill next month, but the provincial government of Quebec already made noise, pointing out that such reform requires the approval of seven provinces with half the country’s population. Such support seems unlikely, as our provinces already find it difficult to agree on anything.

It looks like we’ll be stuck with appointed senators for the foreseeable future.  As for the current scandal, those involved need to stop the mud-slinging, accept their punishment, and allow a proper investigation to occur.  Accusing the prime minister of a conspiracy to destroy your reputation is not doing anything to help it, and I believe I speak for all Canadians in saying that we want to see this episode behind us. We want to see our government get back to governing the country, not dealing with a few senators who couldn’t keep their hands out of the proverbial cookie jar.