Reform it or scrap it? Elected Senate has supporters, others want it demolished

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By Andrew Robinson: The Telegram

A bill introduced to the House of Commons last year that would reform the Senate appears to have some support among people contacted by The Telegram for comment, although some think Canada should rid itself of the institution altogether.

St. John’s lawyer Ches Crosbie would like to see it scrapped.

“How can we go through the 21st century with a 19th-century institution unelected?” he asked. 

“It’s completely anachronistic. … I’d rather see the Senate abolished and nothing replace it and carry on with the present institution.”

Bill C-7, known as the Senate Reform Act, would let provinces voluntarily hold elections for senators, who would then be limited to serving nine-year terms.

While Crosbie does not doubt the Senate does good work, he said if given the choice between replacing it with a more functional entity or scrapping it all together, he would choose the latter.

“I still don’t think the good work they do justifies the existence of it.”

Carol Furlong would prefer the abolishment of the Senate if it cannot exist in Triple-E form — elected, equal and effective.

“I think they should just up and abolish the Senate,” said the president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees.

“First of all, it’s not a fair system, unless they’re going to have a Triple-E Senate to balance out the imbalance in the House of Commons. In all likelihood, that’s not going to happen.”

Furlong said given the federal government’s interest in cutting costs, she suggests it could save a significant amount of money by eliminating the Senate.

“It’s not a democratically elected group who are making decisions, and I just think it’s a total waste of taxpayers’ dollars.”

Broadcaster, writer and actor Peter Soucy believes that, as a level of government to offer sober second thought on legislation, the Senate does not function as it should.

“I think it’s really a place for patronage appointments,” said Soucy, who also supports the concept of a Triple-E Senate. Otherwise, he, too, would be inclined to see it abolished.

Soucy suggests the Senate does not need to be as large as it is — 105 members — and could instead exist with two representatives per province and one per territory.



St. John’s Deputy Mayor Shannie Duff would like to see a more transparent and accountable Senate, and believes elections would help solve that problem.

“I think if the body is to have justification, significance, weight and credibility, it should be a body that’s elected by the people,” she said.

Kelly Blidook, an assistant professor of political science at Memorial University, said having a body of unelected representatives in the upper house may leave Canadians feeling less connected to the work senators do.

“There’s a sense of illegitimacy,” he said. “Obviously, if you go from that and you make some kind of a link and give people a vote … that infuses legitimacy into the institution.”

With 30 of the 105 senators based in Atlantic Canada, Blidook notes the representation of the region is much stronger in the Senate than it is amongst the members of Parliament.

While having almost as much constitutional power as the House of Commons, Blidook said the Senate rarely flexes its political muscle by delaying bills. He said parliament only seems to single out the Senate when it does not like how it is operating.

“When Stephen Harper first became prime minister and it was still a Liberal majority (in the Senate), he was kind of looking at the Senate as something that was illegitimate and in his way when he was the newly elected prime minister. To Harper’s credit, he has tried to make reforms that have not gone through.”

On the other side, now that Harper has made his own Senate appointments, Blidook said opposition MPs have started to complain about the process of appointing politically partisan members.

“If it were suddenly elected, you’d actually have campaigns for parties wanting to get their senators into the Senate. So, in the same way the House of Commons is now, there would actually be a campaign (with) fighting. You’d probably start seeing televised coverage of debates in the Senate or newspaper coverage of insults.”

Thus, he said, the Senate would politicize itself instead of being politicized by other levels of government.


Organizations: House of Commons, Triple-E Senate, Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees

Geographic location: Atlantic Canada

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