Published by Senator Joseph Day on 13 June 2012
I was disappointed to read that Premier David Alward is introducing legislation in support of the Harper government's senate reform agenda.
I have stated in multiple speeches and interviews that while I support Parliamentary reform, including Senate reform, electing senators would undermine the role of the Senate as that of an independent institution of sober second thought.
The appointment process is intended to allow senators to be free to consider legislation from the House of Commons, unhindered of any political, partisan implications. This means that senators can make decisions based on what is good for Canadians, with a focus on their home province, rather than what is good for any party's political fortunes. This is most apparent in the work of Senate committees, where highly regarded, in-depth reports on the issues of the day are regularly produced. An elected Senate would simply mirror the House of Commons, becoming a redundant arena for dueling political interests, and would inevitably lead to a deadlock between the two houses. What is needed is a more transparent appointment process, not another House of Commons!
Some have argued that the appointment process is undemocratic. Those same individuals would argue that legislation is delayed and bogged down once it reaches the Red Chamber. This latter complaint is however a compliment to the Senate for taking the time necessary to do its job in considering a specific Bill's potential impact on our provinces and minorities, rather than rubber stamping the legislation in the name of political expediency. "Democratic" does not mean "elected;" it implies the concepts of accountability, transparency and independence to perform its intended role.
Historically, the Senate does not kill legislation it receives from the House of Commons, but rather makes amendments after close study; more amendments to proposed legislation are made in the Senate than the House of Commons. The exception occurred last year when the Conservative majority in the Senate killed Bill C-311, an independent members Bill that would require Canada to cut our greenhouse gas emissions. The Bill was voted down in the Senate before any study could be done, any debate could be had or any amendments could be made. The Bill made it past the Conservative minority in the House of Commons at the time, but was defeated by a Conservative majority in the Senate because it did not fit with the governing party's agenda. If the Conservative senators had followed the Senate tradition of independent study and thought, this would not have happened. This process illustrates what a partisan Senate would look like.
This leads to another concern, which is that Premier Alward believes the Conservative government's Senate reform agenda is democratic in the first place. Prime Minister Harper has complained of a Liberal dominated Senate in the past, yet this is no longer the case. Currently, Prime Minister Harper has appointed 48 of the 105 Senators currently in the Red Chamber. He has even re-appointed those who gave up their Senate seats, ran in Parliamentary elections and were rejected by voters. With his appointees in control of the Senate, we have seen little interest on the part of the Prime Minister in moving the bill forward. Premier Alward is proposing legislation in New Brunswick in reaction to a bill in Parliament which may never be passed.
Closer inspection of Bill C-7, the Senate Reform Act, reveals that Senate elections would simply serve the purpose of suggesting names for the Prime Minister to "consider" for appointment. Whether the Prime Minister would abide by the electorate's decision is another matter. This would mean that New Brunswickers would spend the time and money holding elections that would not be legally binding. Similar legislation in Alberta has been boycotted by many of the voters in that province.
Let us give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that the Premier read the fine print of Bill C-7. We must ask the question then, why would he move to support piecemeal Senate reform in this guise? The Senate, as it exists today, is of great benefit to New Brunswick and the Atlantic region in general, given that population and development is shifting the western portion of our country. Any move to fully reform the Senate or the House of Commons would surely see our region lose seats or our share of the overall seats. The current structure of the Senate ensures a louder voice for Atlantic Canada in Ottawa. Therefore, there must be a hidden motive behind the Premier's recent decision to introduce this legislation. If it is to curry favour with his political companions in Ottawa, there are better ways to go about that, so as to benefit our province.
I strongly believe the appointment process for senators as well as judges, though not perfect, is to the benefit of all Canadians. That being said, I would support real moves to see the Senate's democratic legitimacy increased, such as a vetting process for appointments that would see the input of more than just the Prime Minister's Office.
Instead, the Senate Reform Act proposed by Mr. Harper and supported by our Premier would see millions of dollars spent on a questionable voting process. Why the Premier thinks such a process would benefit New Brunswick is confusing at best.