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Reforming Canadian Senate

Credit: The Ottawa Citizen

Senator Mike Duffy being investigated along with two others for issues around spending.


Victor De Jong | Interrobang | Opinion | February 18th, 2013



Editorial opinions or comments expressed in this online edition of Interrobang newspaper reflect the views of the writer and are not those of the Interrobang or the Fanshawe Student Union. The Interrobang is published weekly by the Fanshawe Student Union at 1001 Fanshawe College Blvd., P.O. Box 7005, London, Ontario, N5Y 5R6 and distributed through the Fanshawe College community. Letters to the editor are welcome. All letters are subject to editing and should be emailed. All letters must be accompanied by contact information. Letters can also be submitted online by clicking here.
A relatively unknown figure in Canadian politics has made headlines recently for being charged with assault and sexual assault. While these accusations alone were enough to put Senator Patrick Brazeau in the spotlight, it was the news that the Senate had asked for an independent audit of Brazeau and two other senators that got the media wheels turning.

Regions of the country are proportionally represented in the senate based on population. The Senate has called for an independent audit of Senators Mike Duffy, Mac Harb and Brazeau to determine their residency status and some expenses. Senators are required to maintain a residence in the region they represent, but attention is now being drawn to some of the loopholes that these three are alleged to have utilized.

It doesn't take long talking about the Senate before the phrase "sober second thought" is mentioned. It's the Senate's unofficial slogan, coined by Canada's first prime minister John A. Macdonald, as the Senate is purported to be a more objective, thoughtful branch of parliament. Senators are appointed in every province — other than Alberta, where elections are held — and they must serve until the age of 75 barring removal or retirement. All 105 Senators receive a minimum annual base salary of $132,000, coupled with the benefit of job security.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has made it clear that the Senate appointment system is not satisfactory. To that end, Bill C-7 was introduced to mandate elections for Senators and to introduce nine-year terms. While this addresses concerns about the legitimacy of appointing public officials in favour of elections, it does so by taking away the Senate's stability. Regardless of where the truth lies relative to the usefulness of the Senate in its current manifestation, limiting the term of Senators will only serve to create a more fractured environment filled with petty rivalries and alliances. All of these considerations remain purely hypothetical as no action has been taken on Bill C-7 in months. It doesn't take a crystal ball to anticipate the re-emergence of C-7 in the near future if the audits of the accused Senators continue to make headlines.

The Senate is a bulky, cumbersome beast that needs to be reimagined or rejected. The sociological and political evolution between 1874 and present day has rendered many functions of the Senate redundant. The role of sober second thought has been adopted by many charities and advocacy groups and individuals with vested interests. The opposition parties in the House of Commons regularly question every aspect of the government's actions. These are just two of the roles that the Senate is no longer required or capable of fulfilling.

There was an excellent piece written by John Geddes for Macleans recently where he outlines how the short-terms goals that motivate senate appointments allow for underqualified or unsuited individuals to become Senators. Geddes points out the foolishness of allowing an individual like the prime minister, who is in power for a relatively short time, to appoint individuals who will potentially perform the duties of the Senate for decades.
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