Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Canadian Senate Is Unelected And So Is Our Prime Minister

For anyone suggesting lack of democratic representativeness is a fatal flaw for a Canadian governmental institution, as most often do in arguing for some fundamental change to the Canadian Senate, one must point out that we mustn't forget our highest institution, that of Prime Minister. Our highest office is not directly democratically elected, indeed that person isn't even decided by elected officials.

In a general election one does not see Stephen Harper's name on the ballot, nor will one see Stephane Dion's, Jack Layton's or Gilles Duceppe's. Each Canadian's vote only goes towards electing their local MP. So in the words of those who wish to have an elected Senate, our very own Prime Minister, like the Senate, is therefore undemocratic. The PM is decided not by each vote, but by which Party has a majority in the House of Commons, and whichever Party does, its leader becomes Prime Minister.

Now a Party Leader is not chosen by elected officials like Senators are, instead such a position is purely filled by that Party's members. So a Conservative Prime Minister, like the one we currently have, was chosen to be Prime Minister not because Canadians voted for him, but because Conservatives chose him, and his Party just happened to win the most seats.

What this means is, that not only is the office of Prime Minister not chosen through a direct democratic election (like our Senators aren't), but our Prime Minister is actually selected solely by his or her own Party members (similar to how our Senators are selected). Therefore for anyone to suggest our Senate is unelected and not representative, they must remember that so is our Prime Minister.

I should counter the obvious objection to be leveled against the above, for some will say, 'Yes we may not directly vote for our Prime Minister, but we know who each Leader of each Party is, and therefore can take into account that voting for a Conservative, Liberal, Green, etc. in our riding is at least indirectly voting for the Leader of that Party to be PM.' Now this is true, but just as it applies to our PM so does it apply to our Senators. As voting in a riding could be seen as indirectly voting for a Party to pick Senators.

One could continue to argue that one would at least know the Leader of the Party and not the Senators to be chosen when voting in a general election; so those two situations are not the same. Well I would agree they are not the same, but both are still not democratic. This argument suggests that because there is a difference in the extent of undemocratic elements that one institution should be preferred over the other (ie the office of PM over the Senate); however that really devalues the original criticism that the Senate is undemocratic. For if the Prime Minister's office is undemocratic, following the similar criticism against the Senate, we should abolish the office of PM or make it directly elected as well.

Indeed because the PM wields such power, if anything a greater pressure should be exerted to make that office democratically elected, if one is to value the undemocratic criticism aimed at the Senate in the slightest.

I should note I am not arguing for the Senate to stay the same, I am arguing against those that want to make it elected.

In the end, anyone who suggests the Senate should be directly elected must either explain why the Prime Minister is not to be directly elected or why democracy is to be preferred in one circumstance but not the other, especially considering the Prime Minister has far more power then any other body in our Government.


Anonymous said...

"I want it to remain appointed, just like chief bureaucrats are, and for it to represent the Provinces like it was always intended to."

By remaining appointed, it will remain partisan forever.

This statment is blatantly anti-democratic with the assumption that the same elected bureaucrats that you malign can make a better decision than the electorate. I would much prefer an elected, fixed-term senate that would keep the prime minister and government in check.

Your claims are weak at best, and very argumentative and difficult to prove at worst.

Anonymous said...

I don't get what you meant by this: "By remaining appointed, it will remain partisan forever."

Our Prime Minister is Partisan. Our House of Commons is Partisan. Our very Government is Partisan.
What's so bad about having partisan elements in government?

Having an appointed Senate is anti-democratic? "Anti-" means against, in this use you would suggest the Senate would go out of its way to destroy other democratic elements, yet it does not. I agree the Senate is non-democratic, but so is our Prime Minister.

I think the electorate is important and necessary however if it was pure democracy (everyone voting on every issue) government would be in chaos. That's why we have a government, to moderate and enact the will of the people.

If my claims are weak please point out where they were. Please provide criticism instead of writing a comment that is more like a blogpost.

WesternGrit said...

Beautiful post. Beautiful argument. You get it (unfortunately some of your readers don't).

You could have further added that Senators are chosen for "life" appointments (at least until retirement age), and hence there is a really good chance that all parties have Senators (which they do - even the NDP). Being "life" appointees means that they certainly do have a chance to be around when the next government is in. This is why there are still dozens of Mulroney Conservative Senate appointees in the chamber. PMs Cretein and Martin also appointed PCs and NDPers. PMs with a conscience have ensured that the Senate is used to help "balance" representation for those who are under-represented. This is why there are so many farmers in the Senate, artists/musicians, Northern residents, First Nations, etc.

I have watched the process unfold from "the inside" and know for a fact that in the 90s and start of this century, non-political persons, as well as members of all parties were considered for posts.

It is indeed ironic, how people jump up and down and scream about the Senate - an institution that is critical for the operations of committees on the Hill (Senators tend to outnumber MPs in committees, by far - with the exception of the "hot" televised ones) - when they don't even realize how partisan and "undemocratic" (to use their definition) the PM's post is.

Good one!

WesternGrit said...

Undemocratic indeed... LOL... I can't stop chuckling about the beautiful simplicity of your argument...

BlueBerry Pick'n said...

which explains why **self-government** isn't the responsibility of OTHER PEOPLE... but a moral mandate to be directly involved with one's local party & party efforts.


if you aren't involved, you're abdicating your own responsibilities for democracy.

quit whinging & participate... How American can you get? whinging because your party doesn't represent your interests or preferences?

puhleeeeeze... let's remember that the American fashion for blaming others for an unresponsive or unrepresentative government is cancerous... & note how well its *worked* for Americans.

They've become a fascist state based on the very principles that they're exporting...


come on... how much more of this are we supposed to swallow as a harmonization or democratic process?

"I don't see the Prime Minister on the ballot!" are you freaking kidding me?


This Canadian whinging & snivelling to become 'more American' is repugnant & self-destructive.

If you wanna be American, go pack your bags, if not... pick yourself up & go participate in the government of the nation in which you live.

put up or shut up.

...& the POINT of a Canadian Senate is to have the finest (Dallaire, for example) citizens be chosen who will be more than a simple 'four to eight year fashion' or the quick ascendancy of a criminal/foreign element with lots of money & power to sling about & change public opinions to their benefit...
The Senate is *superbly crafted* to provide *long-term social insight & stability*... provided that people pay enough effort to maintaining a strong & ethical government which is responsive to an attentive populace.

I mean... take a long, hard look at the Harper gov't & ask yourself... "who do these people represent... & why do they do nothing for Canadian citizens that doesn't benefit a corporation more than it benefits flesh & blood Canadians?

Whinging about 'representation' doesn't bloody pass the smell test when the problem is the abdication of moral mandates & imperatives to participate as individuals in one's local representation & processes.

Let's start with ourselves & maybe the rest falls into place as designed?

BlueBerry Pick'n
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"We, two, form a Multitude" ~ Ovid.
"Silent Freedom is Freedom Silenced"