In the minds of many Canadians, the purpose of the Canadian Senate is a bit of a mystery.
It’s a body that’s not elected, what it accomplishes is less than clear, and news about it only erupts when politicians talk about reform, or more recently, when senators play fast and loose with the purse strings of taxpayers.
The original purpose of the Senate was to give a sober second thought to bills passed by elected Members of Parliament, and, according to its website, to bolster underrepresented groups, such as women, aboriginal people and minorities.
When it comes to being a champion of aboriginal, women’s or minority rights, the Senate is perhaps the last organization that leaps to mind.
As well intentioned as the Senate was when created in 1867, today the body is effectively a patronage system for the ruling party to reward loyal and often high-profile Canadians with prestigious well-paid jobs. A more cynical interpretation is the Senate acts as no more than a slush fund to carry out political favours.
This week B.C. Premier Christy Clark reiterated her stance that the Senate should be abolished. She said if that’s not possible, B.C. will start electing its senators in an attempt to bring some validity to the body which cost Canadians $106 million in 2012 (minus the $90,000 paid back by senator Mike Duffy).
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has long advocated reforming Senate terms and appointment procedures, or even doing away with it altogether.
That hasn’t stopped Harper from appointing 56 Conservative senators (and two elected in Alberta) over his time in office.
If Parliament can’t abolish the Senate or it accepts that it has a reason to exist, change is desperately needed. The number of senators per province isn’t based on population and it’s not supposed to be, but the current distribution is all over the map.
Does it make sense that New Brunswick and Nova Scotia have 10 senators each and Quebec has 24, while Alberta has six and B.C. has five?
For the Senate to have credibility, rather than act as a vehicle for patronage and self-serving party loyalty, each province should have an equal number of elected senators, perhaps two or four each.
Senators themselves should not be sitting silent, and should be seeking to reform an institution that has no accountability or credibility in terms of working in the interests of Canadians.