Should Canada Abolish the Senate? Why or Why not?
The frustration of the public with the Senate has reached new levels. Corruption and cover-up claims have kindled a healthy debate regarding the function of the Senate in the government institutions of Canada. The concerns of the public are real. The increased need of better accountability and lessons from past mistakes make it clear that status quo cannot be accepted and there is a need for reforms. Standards that were adopted decades ago are not tolerable today. Both the public and the experts are in agreement that the Senate should not continue to operate in its current form. There is a disagreement, however, over whether there should be substantial reform or abolishment of the Senate. Public support for the abolishment of the Senate of Canada has increased in recent years. An Angus poll conducted in 1998 revealed that almost as many people support the reforming of the Senate as want to get rid of it. Only five percent were of the view that the Senate should be maintained in its current state. The provinces and parliament just need to agree and a constitutional amendment can be done overnight to abolish such useless institution. It, therefore, should not be complicated for Canada to abolish and liquidate its unelected, undemocratic and ineffective Senate.
Irrelevance and Ineffectiveness of the Senate
It is a common notion that countries that are marked by the powers of the provincial, national or state governments which overlap should have Upper and Lowers Houses in their parliament. It is to make sure that there are effective representations of regions and prevention of power inequalities.
The Senate of Canada ought to be abolished, since the existence of the Senate in Canada is proved to be ineffective. Evidence shows that the Upper House is not useful or necessary. The Senate’s main aim is to ensure a balanced implementation of Canada’s regions. It has, however, been indicated to be an unnecessary role given to the senate. It is caused by the fact that it would be more feasible to add more House of Common seats from the relevant regions in Canada. It, however, may present a complication in the sense that there will never be the attainment of matching the population with representation in the House exactly. Also, a continuous chain of disgraceful behavior and scandals by senators has converted the red chamber into a state embarrassment. The functionality of the Senate in Canada has been reduced significantly with little expectations of change. It is the state of thing even with the claims from the Harper Government to advocate reforms of the Senate.
While the existence of the Senate may have been a good idea or maybe even a critical idea during Canada’s formation, it does not serve real functions now except disgracing itself. Canada has a single legislature from a practical perspective. The only thing remaining is officially pronouncing it as a unicameral legislature instead of living in denial. It occurs as a result of the little complementary roles played by the Senate, while the House of Commons does most of the work. The result of it is that the Senate gets paid simply to complement the House of Common’s role. It may be considered as a misuse of the state’s revenue, and many proponents of the Senate’s abolition argue that such funds be used in a better way. It has, therefore, been indicative that the functions performed by the Senate can easily be incorporated into a more compacted role for the House of Commons.
During the 1864’s Quebec Conference, which laid out Canada’s future political system, that time Attorney General, John A. MacDonald made some remarks. He observed that for the purpose of protecting the local interests and prevention of jealousies, there should be representation in the Upper House based on the principle of equality. The power and shape of the Senate were one of the key subjects of consideration a Quebec City, taking six out of 14 days.
It now appears outlandish to imagine the Senate should use even one hour of serious argument. Instead of being the venue for regional balance or sober thought as it ought to be, the Upper Chamber has resulted in being a fountain of political cronies. It also contains former media personalities and many other unserious characters.
The failure to observe and implement the power and shape of the Senate as envisaged by the Quebec Conference, however, may not be applied as one of the reasons for the abolishment of the Canadian Senate. It is due to the simple truth that the society is dynamic. The needs of any given society have a tendency to change depending on the community’s reaction to a variety of factors, such as the environment, population or even it social relations. In this way, therefore, the organizations that are found within a particular society ought to change in correspondence with such societal changes. The Canadian Senate, through such lens, may only need to be reformed so that to adapt to the existing needs of the Canadian democratic society.
Lack of Public Support
Among the main arguments for the abolition of the Senate of Canada is that it lacks support from the public. Such support from the Canadian public has been declining at an appalling rate of consistency. In any democracy, such as the republic of Canada, there is a crucial value placed in the people themselves. It occurs due to the fact that in such democracies most of the public offices and authorities continue holding their positions by virtue of being elected by the citizens of that country. Such situation, therefore, confers virtually all power upon the public that, in turn, confers it upon the public authorities. Such power conferment by the public may be done through such process as elections and the secondary appointments and delegation of duties to other offices by the directly elected authorities. The advantage of such means of power conferment is that the citizens decide whether to support public officers or not in case they are not performing their assigned duties. In this case, the Senate of Canada should be abolished, since it does not receive support from the public. Since it is for the benefit of the public that the members of the Senate function, the utter dislike and lack of backing are indicative of the Canadian public’s dissatisfaction of the Senate.
The Senate is said to be overwhelmed with an anti-democratic archaism with much of its attention paid to the perks that they claim to be entitled to rather than to the interest of the pubic that helped them obtain their positions. Through such philosophy, it is in the best interest of the people that the Senate of Canada is dismissed. It is the public that gives the Senate the power it wields to serve its assigned role. In case, therefore, the people feel that the same Senate does not fulfill the functions it has been given, it would only be proper if it were abolished, as a result.
It is a fact that the Canadian Senate has had a very long reputation of cronyism. It has become accustomed to impropriety. During the 1930s Beauharnois scandal is a case scenario. Two liberal senators individually profited from the construction of a hydro dam by the government on St. Lawrence River. Recently, however, the rate of scandal has increased at the same time with the Senate finding itself with even less work.
The dramatic concentration of power in Ottawa under the hands of the Prime Minister’s office is an indication that the Senate no longer plays any considerable roles in the mechanism of the political system of Canada. The Senate was once regarded as an avenue for the provision of inspection and financial oversight of the state business. The increase of public observers like the Parliamentary Budget Office and the office of the auditor have, however, taken over this role entirely. Also, the absence of democratic legitimacy in the Senate hinders it from expressing disagreement with state initiatives alleging regional fairness.
In addition to all abovementioned facts there is the famous notion supported by the expenses scandal that senators give the impression that they work harder when there is a possibility to take maximum form the public pocket. They develop new and creative ways of claiming costs of travel and living avoiding the rules. Such situation is disturbingly ironic, given that Stephen Harper, the Prime Minister, took authority in 2006 making promises of making the Senate respectable and relevant again. It was through putting an end to political appointments and implementation of electing new senators process.
As an example of Canadian Senate inefficiency and even absurdness, the legal problems of Patrick Brazeau, who was charged assault and sexual assault, can be taken. The sad affair of the resignation of Senator Joyce Fairbairn, after the declaration that she was not legally competent as she had Alzheimer’s disease but was still permitted to vote, should also be mentioned. Another consideration is the scandal of residency and travel expense involving high-profile Senators who were having problems ascertaining where they lived. The former senator’s Raymond Lavigne fraud conviction is another depressing example. The list of similar cases is very long.
Unfortunately, and even with the appointment of two senators from Alberta, Harper appears to have been tempted by the opportunity to reward his friends using his authority, to enable him unite his own political authority. It was exactly what his predecessors had done. It turned out to be like his once ridiculed of the Senate as a dumping area for the chosen cronies of the prime minister. Harper chose senators from among some of the failed Conservative Party candidates, few main party donors, his previous communication advisor and even his former newsman.
The Senate Reform Act presented by Harper in 2011 suggested appointing senators elected through provincial votes and also giving a limitation to a term of nine years that was not renewable. It was, however, just the other day after the number of sandals, that Harper approached the Supreme Court seeking for an opinion regarding the apparent constitutional issues associated with his proposed modifications. Some authors have regarded it as contempt for the whole institution. It occurred due to the fact that the reforms would need the approval of seven provinces, including at least half of the population of Canada, which was a very stiff requirement.
It is difficult to avoid the intuition that the passion for reform by Harper has been mainly compromised by his seven years in power. Harper seems to grind out senators who are appointed in some regions instead of encouraging elections by proposing to meet the costs. He also named Denise Batter as the Senator of Saskatchewan. Ironically, the husband of Denise Batter was Chief of Staff to the Minister of Provincial Justice during the passing of the Saskatchewan’s Senate Election Bill. Irrespective of any manifestation of idealism when in opposition, there is hardly any sitting prime minister who would want to create an actual equal, effective and elected Senate. It would be a Senate whose main function would be limiting or counterbalancing his own powers. Following such perspective, a reform of the Senate may be said to be a preoccupation of an outsider, destined to be abandoned once power is attained. It makes constructive Senate reform an absolute impossibility and not a mere remote prospect. There seems to be no way of trapping such hypocrisy.
It is important to note that referring the matter to the court by Harper also puts forth the possibility of abolishing the Senate. The Supreme Court has been called upon to consider three methods of realizing it: inserting an end date, elimination of all mention of it from the Constitution or taking away its powers. It is a strategy that is worth a serious consideration.
Proponents of the Senate may allege that its members regularly perform their work well, through reviewing and inspecting the lawmaking as the chamber of second clear-headed thought. In reality, however, the Senate does not do more than putting stamps on the legislative agenda. It basically exists as an institution where the rewarding of party loyalists for their unwavering support takes place. It is also a negative experience for taxpayers with over $100 million being incurred as costs on the Canadians annually. As an elected institution, the Senate undermines the fundamental principles of democracy.
There might have been a valid reason to include the Senate in a bilateral system of governance when the Fathers of Confederation entered into an agreement in the years that led to 1867. It may have been a necessity then to tackle regional fears of a central government that was too powerful. The Senate makes it vote in party lines and does little or nothing to ensure the protection of the regional welfares of any areas of Canada.
There is also a protection of the regional interests in the fields of social welfare, education and health. It is so due to the fact that the evolution of the powers division by the Constitution between the federal and regional governments. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms also avails a good check and balance against any state, federal or regional, that attempts to roughshod over the freedoms and rights of Canadians.
Abolition of the Senate seems to be constitutionally hard as a reform on paper. It, however, holds the promise of being eye-catching to the party in power, as it does not involve any political power or authority loss. It, thus, subsists within the realm of possibility. Also, with the continuing legacy of patronage, futility and scandal, abolishing of the Senate appears to be the best decision.
Duplicity of Functions
Another argument for the abolishing of the Canadian Senate is that it does not fulfill any meaningful purposes that are required of it. Among the original purposes of the Senate is the role of representing the interests of the Canadian provinces in the process of the formulation of legislation and policies at the federal level. It is considered to be the most fundamental function of the Canadian Senate. The Senate has also been mandated with the responsibility of issuing laws, debating them and enacting such laws. This role by the Senate, however, has been also given to the House of Commons. The House of Commons has been crucial in the general process of the legislation of laws in Canada. For instance, it is in the House of Commons that most bills originate. The reason for abolishing the Senate, in this case, would be that the roles it was made for are already transferred to the other governmental agencies and the House of Commons.
According to some commentators, the complexity that may arise from such an argument would be that Senate has been instrumental in its quest to ensure that all of the regions in Canada are represented equally. It may also be necessary to look at the role that Senate plays in the legislative process in Canada from a more objective perspective. In employing such kind of perception, one would realize that the Senate is of important use in debating and enacting the legislation of intricate subjects and general nature. It is more special for the Senate, since it has a more flexible schedule for debating matters and laws.
Another argument is that it is very hard to get the agreement requirement for the constitutional reform if that was the way to save the Senate. The provision of the Constitution Act of 1982 state that the amendments to the Senate need the support of Parliament and seven provinces, which represents at least half of the population. It is also the argument of proponents of the Senate abolishing that it may not accomplish the expectations of the proponents of reform.
Lack of Democracy and Ethics
The Senate ought to dismissed, since it has been considered by many people, both laymen and experts, to be lacking democracy, unaccountable and high-handed in a number of ways. The process of appointing Senators has proven to be one with many open questions. First, they are appointed by the Prime Minister of Canada, who is appointed by the Governor General of Canada. The flaw with such process of public office appointments is that it invites various issues in a way that the possibility of considering preference values as opposed to the merits of a person. Through appointments that are made without direct elections of leaders, there may develop setbacks, such as underperformance, corruption and even unaccountability.
The Senate of Canada furthers its unaccountability problem through the Board of Internal Economy. This Board is of a secretive nature characterized by weak standards of ethics. The Senate itself also suffers from weak ethical standards. Another problem with regards to the undemocratic nature of the Canadian Senate is its use of the power conferred upon it to enforce exorbitant expense rules. In the event that any scandal that involves the Senate is revealed, the already existing rules and penalties against such scandals do no serve sufficiently to cater for the particular scandal. It is so, since the penalties that have been formulated for the violators of any laws and ethical requirements are weak in themselves. The Senate Ethics Officer has become a kind of a sycophant of the Senate, since he operates under the regulation of the Senators Committee. Another complication with it is that if a particular scandal does not become public, it is more or less likely to be covered by the Senate. The result of it is that the perpetrators of the abuse and any other unethical practices are left to continue with their evils. It ultimately affects the society in various ways. They include the lack of sufficient funds for projects and the split and dysfunction of the government.
The Senate of Canada, since its formation, has been faced with several challenges and controversies. The challenges and scandals have dealt with a wide number of issues ranging from the basic roles of the Senate to matters that may appear moral from of the general Senatorial aspects. They have been mainly linked with the way the Senate has been perceived by the public and other opposing government bodies that appear to have the same functions as the Senate.
The various reasons for which the Senate of Canada should be abolished have been considered to range from the mere roles of which it was formed to the issues of lack of accountability. The Senate has been taken as a means for public authorities to engage in illegal actions but avoid punishment for them. It has been considered to be infested with the spirit of unaccountability and disregard of democracy. Such aspects include the unfairness experienced in the regional balance quests. It has also been proved by the fact that the Senate has a great failing in the ethical standards required of it.
It has been perceived as a government body that does not, in fact, carry out the purpose for which it was established. The Senate has been said to perform certain actions for its own benefit rather than for completing its key roles. It lacks the proper support from the Canadian public. It considered vitality in the way Senate ought to run, since any dissatisfaction from the public should be looked into and it has to be ensured that actions are taken in such respect. The mere reason that the mode of appointment into the Senatorial office is not democratic in nature makes it rational to raise questions regarding its accountability and performance.
It is for the various reasons stated and explained in the preceding paragraphs that the Senate of the Republican State of Canada should be dissolved.