Listen Up! – Liberal’s idea of senate reform is merely window dressing – Opinion

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Hugh Mackenzie Huntsville Doppler

Hugh Mackenzie
Huntsville Doppler

It was a busy time in Ottawa this week.  Members of Parliament scurried to find their seats in the House of Commons. On Thursday, they elected their Speaker and on Friday they all marched over to the Senate Chamber to hear the Speech from the Throne, delivered by the Governor General Canada. There was much ceremony and history. Sunny days indeed!

On Monday however, the rubber hits the road, if only for a week!  Question Period will kick things off when the Opposition Parties get an opportunity to hold the Government’s feet to the fire on promises they made and legislation they plan to introduce. Question Period is an important part of our Canadian Parliamentary process, where tough questions are asked of the Prime Minister and his Cabinet and they are called upon to be accountable for their actions.  It was a bit of a worry therefore, to hear the Government House Leader on Friday, following the Throne Speech, suggest in an interview, that Question Period may be changed in a manner that would effectively allow the Prime Minister to be in the House less often and to be subjected to fewer questions from members of Parliament.

It is important that members of Parliament have every opportunity to question government policy and to separate substance from rhetoric. One such example is Senate reform, a much vaunted initiative by the Liberal Party during the election campaign and one that was also highlighted in the Government’s Speech from the Throne. In substance, however, there is little in the plans announced by the Government that will result in meaningful reform of the Senate.

While Senate scandals and improprieties have been part of its character almost since Confederation, events in the last decade or so, perpetrated by both Conservative and Liberal Senators, has made many Canadians question the role of the Senate in the our Parliamentary system. Polls have shown that they don’t want band aid solutions. They want genuine reform or many, notwithstanding the constitutional niceties, simply want to get rid of it.

Under our present system, legislation passed in Parliament must also be approved by the Senate before it can be proclaimed by the Governor General and become law. Senators are unelected and appointed by the Prime Minister of the Day.  Every Prime Minister from the beginning of time, has tried to ensure a majority of partisan members in the Senate to ensure that their legislative priorities are approved.

Our present Prime Minister is promoting an independent Senate, but in reality there can be no such thing. By its nature the Senate is a partisan establishment and always will be. The new Government’s proposal for appointing Senators, while different in style to what has happened in the past, in practical terms, changes very little.

A committee of “independent” individuals will be appointed by the Government to select candidates for the Senate. For each vacancy, they will identify 5 candidates from which a Senator will be appointed by the Prime Minister. At the end of the day this remains a partisan process where the Government appoints people of their choice to the Senate. They will expect loyalty and they will get it.

This process does little to change the character of the Senate or to enhance their accountability to Canadians. It is simply window dressing and does not address the hard question of how to reform the Upper Chamber.  If the Prime Minister really wanted to promote an independent Senate, why then, in one of his first moves, did he replace the current Speaker of the Senate with a member of his own political party? Not an unusual practise but it does appear to fly in the face of his rhetoric.

My strong guess is that two years from now, the 22-odd Senate seats that are currently vacant, will be filled by individuals who vote consistently with the Government on all important matters. That is the nature of politics but why would anyone suggest it is an independent process that changes the way the Senate operates? It will still be good old boys and gals, with patronage appointments, dancing to the will of their respective political masters. There will still be scandals and among some, there will still be a sense of entitlement. So when you get right down to it, what is really different?  It does raise the question for me, as to whether the Government actually prefers the status quo in the Senate, with just a few bells and whistles added or if they really want, as most Canadians do, real change.

The fact that the Senate has become somewhat dysfunctional cannot be fixed by simply changing the method through which the Prime Minister appoints its members. There is no easy fix. Genuine Senate reform will require the cooperation and agreement of the Provinces but our Prime Minister has pledged an effective relationship with provincial, territorial and indigenous leaders. As part of this initiative surely he could convene a panel of First Ministers to examine meaningful reforms to the Canadian Senate, which ensures accountability, effectiveness and legitimacy.  Some Provinces and some Canadians believe that an elected Senate is the answer. Others disagree. Whatever the answer, it would be a great accomplishment to bring the decision makers, our elected leaders, together to forge an agreement on meaningful Senate reform, no matter how complicated. All it takes is leadership.

AND TWO MORE BRIEF COMMENTS

The first is about Nannygate!  I do hope that the Opposition Parties, especially the Conservatives, do not make too big a deal of this. Sure, I understand the temptation, given Mr. Trudeau’s remarks during the election campaign that he didn’t need taxpayers to finance his children’s daycare needs. The reality however, is that all Prime Ministers are assisted with their household and family expenses. I can still remember pictures of Pierre Trudeau’s young children, including our current Prime Minister, being escorted and cared for by staff.  It’s what happens and it’s no big deal. Best to get over it. There will be bigger fish to fry!

And last but not least, I fully appreciate the importance of the issues we all face with climate change and the significance of the Climate Change Conference in Paris this past week. But seriously, did we really have to send 300 delegates to this meeting from Canada, at taxpayer’s expense? I am told this is more than every other country that attended with the exception of France and possibly the USA.  Was this all for show? What did they all do and what did they really accomplish that couldn’t be achieved by say 30 people?  I honestly believe that the rest of the world will judge Canada on this and other international issues by what we actually do rather than how many people we send on a tax paid gig to Paris. Just sayin’!

25 Comments

  1. That`s a pretty negative statement Bill!! How about we try the “power of positive thinking” for a change!!!!

    • All all we heard from the Anti Harper group was negativity to the extreme !Chicken Licken , the sky is falling , we are losing the right to free speech and our democracy is in peril ! What nonsense, what negativity.Please don ‘t lecture me on negativity or on being a sore loser.When you do it , you are a concerned citizen .Apparently when I do it I am wrong…Nanny , Nanny , Nanny !

  2. I am positive we did not need to send 300 people to Paris. i am also positive Bill is correct.
    On another note, I sense beginnings of some positive feelings in the retail sector. it is obvious everyone sees things differently. Right Val!

  3. The Campaign : ” I am wealthy……I don’t need subsidized child care . ”

    Now that Trudeau has been elected and has an income of $335,000 / year , he takes advantage of government subsidized child care.

    Isn’t that the definition of a hypocrite ? And on day 1 .

    As Brian said to John…..” You could have said no. ”

    Clouds the optics of our “Sunny Days ” P.M.

  4. What a bunch of sore losers Conservatives are!! Dave, all PM`s are entitled to have child care, even your robot, Steven Harper!! When you pick on this item to go after JT, you are scraping the bottom of the barrel!!! Conservatives better accept the fact that JT is here for 4 years, maybe even 8 years!! Tomorrow evening JT will be at Pearson to welcome the first plane with refugees, If SH were still PM he`d probably be hiding in a closet somewhere!!. For the first time in 19 years the Cdn PM is invited to the White House. All of this is a positive for Canada. So, suck it up!! By the way , am I the only Liberal reading Hugh`s column??

    • Larry Morrison on

      You may soon be one of the few lib’s wanting to admit they support Prime Minister Fluffy, like his mentor Mrs. Winnie he is loosing support at a fairly rapid rate. As far as meeting the migrants, just another photo op/selfie op for him, he doesn’t care what it is costing Canada, only he gets another opportunity to look pretty.
      As far as going to the white house, not a big deal to the yanks, they can’t stand their head of government either, but like us they are stuck with him, did I mention also another photo op for fluffy?

  5. I’m reading Val. I’m reading with dismay. Sorry for not engaging.
    I’m very disappointed and almost shocked at the negativity. I’m disappointed in the choice of major topics to criticize. As for the 300 delegates in Paris –I can think of no better way to kick-start the work that needs to be done to make up for the lost momentum of the last 10 years! Those people, many of them young people, will return to Canada informed and inspired and ready to work. For me it is a strong statement that we will tackle Climate change as a whole country together–or not at all. Not at all is not an option in my opinion.

  6. I have to thank Hugh for trying to put so called Nannygate into its proper place–part of the normal expenses of any household with young children! Of course many of those who are complaining about this are from the mindset that assumes that childcare involves the unpaid labor of women who are mothers.

  7. Thanks Meg for stepping in!! It really disturbs me that our Conservative neighbors are so full of vitriol. Did their mothers not teach them as children ” if you don`t have anything good to say, then don`t say any thing at all!!!! Having lived as long as I have, I`ve come to this conclusion, Liberals are people who have hearts while Cons concerns are money and power!!! ie complaints about the cost of sending 300 to the
    Paris climate meeting. Can you say “penny pinchers”?

  8. I reiterate that I’m not getting tired of Mr. Mackenzie, per se; just the fact that outside of the “Comments” section, there is no balancing opinion. I quite realize that even a substandard Tory candidate is electable in Parry Sound-Muskoka, and that it behooves a fledgling “paper” like the Doppler to toe the Party line to some extent: but I can read the venerable Globe & Mail for this brand of editorializing.

    Does anybody honestly believe that Mr. Trudeau could not command a significantly greater salary than $335,000 in the private sector? He has taken a relatively thankless job, in which a majority of the populace is gleefully waiting for him to fail. I say “good luck”, because it will not happen. Mr. Harper set the bar so low, that he is guaranteed to soar above it.

    Please give him just a few minutes to get his feet on the ground, before you continue with the ridiculous criticism. I’ll tell you when he makes his first misstep: Just continue to read this Section. Then you can commence the blood fest.

    P.S. – Only an elected Senate will ever be an accountable Senate.

    • Apparently you are not aware of a columnist by name of Ken Black who has had free reign in extolling all things liberal. Nice to have Hugh expose the warts !

  9. It seems our recent election did nothing to soothe the nerves of both the left and the right. Given our current election laws, the Libs gained the right to do whatever they want for the next 4 years at least. However the opposition – both Cons and NDP – also has the right to oppose (hence the name) those policies that they see as being wrong. It seems to me that the Cons have endured abuse of an unprecedented nature for quite a few years now at the hands of the media (mostly the Toronto Star) and letter writers of all stripes, calling the PM names that would not be allowed in polite company. Now that the shoe is on the other foot, the squealing of the Libs is astounding if not surprising, since they historically have considered themselves to be the rightful ruling party of Canada. Well, get used to it folks, because it is unlikely to get any better! And as far as Mr. Trudeau getting a job that paid more than $ 335,000 per year, I doubt there are many executives in Canada that would approve a salary like that for someone with his qualifications. If you find one, remind me not to buy stock in his company.

  10. So let`s talk about Rhona Ambrose. Anyone notice she went along with Harper and voted against an inquiry into” missing and murdered indigenous women” ??? Now she`s going along with the Liberals as the inquiry proceeds!! Can we say “flip flopper!! BTW I`m having fun with this and I hope all of you are too! To steal a line from Dr.. Phil ” If you let something anger you and get the best of you, the only person getting hurt is you” ! So SMILE while you write your comments!! I am!!

      • Did you have a point with your latest statement , Bill?? It came across as really snooty!!! Try writing something nice, and be sure to smile while doing it!! Did you read Tony C`s article in today`s local paper? He sees no point in negativity just for negativity`s sake. I fully agree with Tony.

        • I have a profound dislike of TV doctors who seek to influence other people lives all the while making millions of dollars.Hence the Quack remark.I guess I feel that TV Doctors are not worthy of quotes. If that is what you would prefer to as Snooty , then so be it.First time in 69 years , Birthday tomorrow , that I have ever been accused of Snooty !

          • So happy birthday Bill. If you are only 69 I still look at you as a youngster!! Take that as a compliment!! Since I just had my 80th on Nov.25 consider all the extra experience I`ve had!!!

  11. After much thought I am retracting my statement accusing Rhona A of flip flopping! I would now like to compare her to a butterfly, finally emerging from her cocoon! The cocoon ,of course, being StevenH. Find your voice Rhona and use it , now that you are free. Who knows , in future we may see some of the ” escaped” Cons. cross the floor to the kinder, gentler, side of our government!!!

    • I will GRIT my teeth , all of which are original and accept the fact you have realized that a Flip Flop may or may not be in the best interests of the Country.Never too old to learn or retract.You are a True GRIT !

      • It would have been nice if you had the grace to thank me for the Happy Birthday greeting! I think I will end our conversation. I detect a trace of bitterness in your comments and I would rather engage with people who have a brighter outlook!!! Good bye Bill, have a good life!!

        • Thank you for the Birthday greeting.Wasn’t aware areply was necessary in these matters.I will know better on my next B -Day.Not in the least bit Bitter.Hi Fran !

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