If appointing partisan senators is wrong, stop doing it

Peter Jackson
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Now that we know Fabian

Manning, thankfully, came out of his moose encounter relatively unscathed, I would like to join the chorus of those who find his reappointment to the Canadian Senate a disgustingly cynical and opportunistic turn of events.

It’s not his doing, of course, but he is the one who accepted the plum after appearing to gamble it all for a shot at an elected seat.

There are those diehard fans of Manning who see nothing wrong with this.

He could be drowning kittens and still be “standing proud for Newfoundland” as “our man in Ottawa.”

Poor records

Our men in Ottawa have not all had stellar records, notably Manning’s Liberal predecessor, John (The Deal is Done) Efford.

Manning aside, however, the real story here is Stephen Harper’s unending legacy of hypocrisy and broken promises. His shameless manipulation of the Senate — a chamber he has steadfastly promised to clean up and reform — is unprecedented.

All prime ministers have stacked the Senate. It is almost a treasured tradition. But Harper’s zeal in doing so has been especially unfettered. And to use it as a bullpen for candidates in waiting — in total, three were reappointed following May 2 election defeats — is a new low.

Lest anyone doubt Harper’s undying commitment to put the Senate on a nobler path, here are a couple quotes from his early days as a minority prime minister:

• “It has become a right of passage for aspiring leaders and prime ministers to promise Senate reform — on their way to the top. … But once they are elected, Senate reform quickly falls to the bottom of the government’s agenda. … Nothing ever gets done. And the status quo goes on.” (September 2006)

• “This institution should be reformed to better reflect the modern and democratic needs of Canada’s regions. A 21st-century legislature cannot remain dominated by appointees who may sit for decades, without a democratic mandate and with the ability to thwart the elected government.” (May 2006).

Use and abuse

When you vow to close a loophole that’s considered a major sore point with the public, you don’t keep abusing it with abandon. This is hypocrisy defined.

Senate reform usually conjures the term “triple-E Senate,” an idea promoted ad nauseum by former Newfoundland premier Clyde Wells. The premise, which actually originated in Western provinces, is that the Senate should be equal, elected and effective.

That means an equal number of senators elected in each province and given greater power of governance. It’s not a term you’ll hear Harper mention much, and for good reason. It’s a ludicrous idea.

In the West, it’s popular as a means to shore up power to prevent interference from Ontario and Quebec in provincial affairs. Ironically, it would have an opposite purpose for smaller provinces, such as Newfoundland and Labrador, which would be able to hijack the federal agenda for their benefit. One pushes the feds away; the other pulls them in. Ontario and Quebec, meanwhile, would likely have none of it.

A triple-E Senate works in the United States, where each of the 50 states elect two senators. There is a much broader range of economic and political agendas at play, and the result is more homogenous and democratic.

 In Canada, the dynamic is considerably more problematic.

Harper wants to fix the Senate. So far, a handful of steps have been put forward — setting limited terms for senators, for example. But the broader picture is still unclear, since a true triple-E chamber is likely a non-starter.

One thing is clear, though. If the prime minister is so intent on eliminating the practice of partisan appointments, he should put his money where his mouth is.

Because his actions right now speak volumes.

Peter Jackson is The Telegram’s

commentary editor. He can be contacted by email at pjackson@thetelegram.com.

Organizations: Canadian Senate

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Ottawa, Canada Ontario Quebec United States

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Recent comments

  • David
    May 27, 2011 - 08:31

    This is a case of the ends justifying the means. The place is a cess pool that needs to be cleaned, and whoever has the chutzpa to start is gonna have to get quite filthy. Get over it.

  • Joe drociuk
    May 25, 2011 - 21:21

    It does not bother me that these three losers were sent back to the Senate. People dont seem to understand, they are there for the Conservative vote, hopefully to change the Senate. Frankly, I wouldnt care if Steven Harper apointed three green Men from the Vancouver Canucks as long as they vote for Senate Reform as thats is most important at this time in history. Harper has no choice but to use the rules as they exist and apoint Senators in the same way the liberals stacked the Senate. Its not Democracy the way the Senate is formed and needs the Tripple E formula to function as best as it can. I just hope Harper goes all the way with the Tripple E...Right now as I see it, he is fighting fire with fire, cant the people, including columnists , not see that?.....Joe

  • disgusted voter
    May 25, 2011 - 13:06

    mr. manning must be laughing his head off. stephen harper has again shown his disregard for nfldrs. twice we decided that we did not want to be represented by mr. manning. twice we voted him out . he resigned his seat, had the band all ready to play for his victory party. he lost but when you look at it, he won. why does he think he can represent us people who have told him we dont want him. its amazing but at least now the moose population may be looked at.

  • David Clark
    May 25, 2011 - 09:21

    The only way to reform the Senate is to make sure that the majority of Senators will agree with the reforms. Your solution won't achieve that goal but Mr Harper seems to be on his way to actually having enough support to accomplish his goal. Do you have a hidden agenda to make sure that nothing changes in the Senate until the Conservatives are voted out of office? Bias anyone!