Selling the Senate

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A federal access to information request by the Canadian Press has obtained the training manuals for tour guides at the Senate. And no, this is not a joke.

The Senate hires 25 bilingual university students to bring tourists through the Red Chamber, and the students are expected to know of the Senate and its workings.

But the documents themselves have some fascinating and curious statements.

Like: “Senate investigations are usually non-

partisan, in that they do not suffer from excessive media exposure, and that senators … have the time to dedicate themselves to exhaustive research and analysis, often over long periods of time without having to meet the demands of the electoral process. … The lack of partisanship … is one of the positive results of the much-criticized appointment system.”

Read just a handful of pages of the Senate’s question period (yes, there is a question period in the Senate) and you’ll realize that any claim about non-

partisanship is a figment of someone’s imagination.

Then, there’s this little chestnut: “The Canadian taxpayer may feel that the Senate’s achievements do not merit its cost, yet a 1991-92 review of its cost … showed that the Senate costs $1.61 per capita, while the House of Commons cost $8.49 per capita,” the documents say. “All Canadians must be made aware of its many achievements.”

Well, thanks to the current crop of abuses, we know more about those “achievements” every single day.

There’s more in the training materials: “Don’t get defensive … remember that most people can’t be convinced of its utility or practicality.”

Quebec separation? “We do not suggest that you initiate a conversation on this topic …”

That’s all well and good — but it seems likely that the current crop of guides may face considerably more challenging questions than, “What did you think of the Meech Lake Accord?” After all, the current training materials seem as out of touch as the Senate itself has seemed to be to average Canadians. It even goes to great lengths to tout the value of Canada’s two-party system, saying “In a multi-party group system the voter is liable to be confused by a variety of competing issues and solutions. … The two-party

system has acted as a great unifying agency in countries such as Canada and the United States, which have not any very deep underlying unity to begin with.”

Guess the Senate’s so out of touch they haven’t heard of that NDP thing yet. We’d suggest that the training materials be a little more rigourous — and a little bit more on topic.

Maybe the guides should be tested on answering questions like these.

“If Mike Duffy doesn’t know where he lives, how does he know where he sits?”

“How many senators does the Red Chamber sleep?”

“How could an unelected group of senators ever claim that they don’t need to allow the auditor general to review their spending and expenses?”

“When is this place closing, anyway?

There might even be a question from the trainees themselves: “How exactly can we be expected to put lipstick on this pig?”

Organizations: Red Chamber, Canadian Press, House of Commons

Geographic location: Canada, Quebec, Meech Lake Accord United States

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