Best Senate Ever

The Canadian Senate

Jack Layton is weighing in on Senate reform (again) today. What he’s doing, as election speculation turns to certainty, is reminding Canadians that Stephen Harper and the Conservatives talk a good game instead of playing one.

His motives are clearly political. If we weren’t in a minority government situation, if Layton thought the NDP would ever form government, maybe he wouldn’t say such things.

The Canadian Senate is not a useless institution like some parliamentarians would suggest. It has been abused in a partisan fashion and through these years of abuse has become a bad joke with bad carpeting.

Senators are friends of government. They pass whatever bill comes their way with geezerly glee. There is nothing controversial about the Senate save its lax attendance policies and colossal annual cost to the Canadian taxpayer.

Parliamentarians have three options, although each one presents unique challenges. But for the sake of argument and to avoid a constitutional crisis, let’s say these things can just happen overnight.

First, they can abolish the Senate outright. It’ll be gone, the House of Commons can set up shop there while the green-carpeted chamber is being renovated and the patronage appointments to the cushiest job in the land will stop.

The Senate could be elected. Just like in the good ol’ USA, Senators could actually be chosen by the people. I know, it seems strange for democracy, but it just might work. Or it might clog up the whole system with partisanship. How many Conservative bills would a Liberal Senate pass?

Or, parliamentarians could run with my option and create a First Nations Senate.

This is the way Canada’s Senate should have been from the very beginning. If the Senate is indeed intended to be a shrine of sober second thought, First Nations should be the ones making the decisions.

We don’t need a senate to pass every bill it receives. We need a senate that debates the worth of a bill, its value for Canadians and then pass sound judgment on said bill. First Nations are well suited to this. They have been pushed around so much since Confederation they know when to stand up and say no. It has always been difficult to run roughshod over First Nations and deny them their rights. If you want to find a group that consistently sticks up for the little guy, it’s them.

The Senate needs to be populated with free thinkers like First Nations, not yes men and women like the current chamber is.

I can fantasize about my First Nations Senate all I want because I know it isn’t ever going to happen. Senate reform is not anywhere near the list of issues on the minds of the electorate and it never will be. Which is a pity. The Senate is an outdated, bloated experiment in patronage and it could be a vital and integral part of our democracy. First Nations or not, the Senate needs to change, not be killed like Jack Layton suggests and not stuffed with partisan folk like Stephen Harper does.

Canadian Senate image taken from Flickr by scazon.

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