A lot of people share Ms. Loiselle’s opinion but, in my view, abolition of the Senate would be a very bad idea.
Every modern industrial democracy that I know has two houses of parliament. The writers of these countries’ constitutions wisely established upper and lower houses for a very good reason: They feared that a one-house, or unicameral, legislature was an open invitation for a power-mad president or prime minister to pass bad legislation with no checks or balances.
And for that reason alone, we need our Senate.
Unfortunately, the Senate has done a poor job of communicating with the public, so most of us don’t know about the very good work it does in reviewing and amending legislation.
Much important research into public policy issues has been done and continues to be done by the Senate. We need that.
Unfortunately, the Senate has become the subject of national ridicule recently because of some very bad apples, but that by itself is no reason to abolish our upper house.
That being said, some changes really are needed. A number of responsible political scientists have suggested altering the way senators are appointed — namely, to set up an independent panel of distinguished Canadians to make appointment recommendations to the prime minister.
Another idea would be to limit senators’ terms of office to a fixed period of perhaps 10 or 15 years with a decent pension when they complete their terms.
Still another “doable” change would be to televise all Senate proceedings and to require all senators to post all of their expenses, including receipts, online every month.
Sir John A, Macdonald’s original intent when he wrote our constitution was to have the Senate serve both as a body of sober second thought and a means by which regional interests could be represented and accommodated.
But, as the Senate has evolved, senators now vote pretty well along party, not regional, lines. Perhaps the residential requirements could be relaxed a bit.
One hopes the abolitionist sentiment subsides before the issue is put to a referendum. That would be an expensive and disruptive exercise that, even if it passed, could not be implemented without the constitutional amendment that I referred to earlier.
Perhaps Ms. Loiselle and others of similar opinion should focus their attention on some real problems: The growing gap between rich and poor; the dramatic decline of good jobs in the resource and manufacturing sectors; the atrocious conditions on many isolated Aboriginal reserves; Canada’s crumbling infrastructure — any of these would be a good start.
William E. McLeod is a writer and retired Cambrian College business professor who lives in Greater Sudbury.