Sunday, June 06, 2010

Potential Liberal Policy: An Elective Senate

In light of the upcoming Liberal Policy Convention in Vancouver I will be posting potential policy proposals for criticism. All comments are welcome and encouraged.

POLICY RESOLUTION – An Elective Senate

WHEREAS that the Dominion Senate, as at present composed and constituted, is not consistent with the genius of the present age;

WHEREAS the Upper Chamber is utterly useless as a legislative body;

WHEREAS the Senate has completely failed to realize the hopes and expectations of those who, at Confederation, believed that a second chamber composed entirely of life members, would prove a non-partisan body, which would prove a check upon hasty or imprudent legislation by the House of Commons;

BE IT RESOLVED that the Liberal Party recommends to the Government of Canada that
steps be at once taken – without interfering with the present proportionate representation of each Province in that body – to reform or reconstruct the Senate in such a manner as to make it a representative or elective chamber.


This resolution is almost word for word copied from a resolution passed 125 years ago by the Liberal Party at a convention in Toronto. I think it is important to reintroduce such a motion into the liberal consciousness as a reminder that practically since confederation there have been calls for an elected Senate and no proper response, no real action taken or explanatory discussion provided.

Below is a picture of the Globe newspaper text from September 18, 1885 that reprinted verbatim the Senate reform resolution passed just a few days prior at a Liberal Convention in Toronto.


Koby said...

The Canadian and US senates were both modeled after the Britain’s House of Lords. Having a second house was designed to serve two purposes; the first was to serve as an "elitist check" against the will of the people. The other purpose, of course, was to provide regional representation. Smaller states and Provinces wanted their interests protected before agreeing to form a Federation. For example, the Southern States wanted to make sure the Northern States, were most Americans lived in and live now, would not be able to abolish slavery.

Unelected ineffective senate is preferable to effective and elected one.

First of all, seats in the House of Commons are supposed to be assigned on basis of population, but in actuality that is not the case. Consider the 905. There are currently 4 plus million living in the 905 and there are currently 32 seats for an average of just over 127,000 people per riding. There are 6 ridings with over a 140,000 people in the 905, Bramalea - Gore - Malton (152,698) Brampton West (170,422) Halton (151,943), Mississauga - Erindale (143,361) Oak Ridges - Markham (169,642) and Vaughan (154,206). By contrast there are 4.5 million people in Sask, Man, NWT, Nuv, Yuk, PEI, NS, NFLD, and NB and there are 62 seats for an average of 72,000 people per riding. Moreover, there is but one riding in the 9, Selkirk Interlake (90,807), with over 90,000 people. Given current growth trends, there will be more people in the 905 than the aforementioned provinces and territories by 2011. Given population growth, Harper would have to give Ontario alone another 70 seats to make things half way equal.

Second, the people living in Canada’s less populated provinces already have a mechanism to assure that regional concerns are addressed; it is called provincial jurisdiction and provincial representation. By the very nature of living in a province with a small population, the 135,851 people in PEI have plenty of ways of addressing regional concerns that are not available to, for example, the 136 470 people living in Mississauga - Brampton South.

Third, while one person one vote is bedrock principle of any democracy, one province one senate vote is something else entirely. People, not provinces, deserve equal reprsenation. A province is no more or less than the people that make up that province. Giving the 135,851 in PEI the power to determine everything under provincial jurisdiction, provincial representation and 4 MPs well all the while giving the 170, 422 residents of Brampton West one MP is bad enough as it is. Piling on and giving the 135,851 people in PEI the same number of “effective” senators, as per the American Triple E Senate model, as 12,160,282 Ontarians is beyond stupid and grossly undemocratic. Equally silly is having one "effective" Senator for every 72,997 New Brunswick residents (10 senators in total) versus one Senator for every 685, 581 BC residents (6 senators in total). And that is what the current configuration gives us.

Robin said...

What a great find! And such melodic language (Genuis of the present age).

I sympathize with Koby. I agree that the House of Commons has some drastically misaligned seat allocations. You can see the actual breakdown in this handy wikipedia page (it's not as bad as Koby suggests - but it is bad).

Living in Saskatchewan, I would be in favour of giving up 5 seats.

On condition of an equal, elected senate.

Koby says: "People, not provinces, deserve equal representation."

This is only true to an extent, because the actual political reality is that Canada is a federation. And that federation is composed of provinces, not people.

Robin said...

Whoops, forgot the chart: