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Canada stuck with unelected Senate?

An unelected Canadian Senate always looks more appealing – as long as you’re not living at 24 Sussex Drive.

Just ask Stephen Harper. Yesterday he appointed two more senators to the upper chamber, giving the conservatives their first majority in the senate since 1997.

Harper has gone on a bit of an appointing binge since becoming Prime Minister in 2006, tapping 37 people to the chamber of “sober second thought.”

This is highly ironic, due to his firm stance on a triple-E senate even just 6 years ago. When he worked for Preston Manning under the Reform Party banner, and then as leader of the Canadian Alliance. Harper continually touted his desire to see Canada’s Senate as an elected body.

“I will not name appointed people to the Senate,” Harper said in 2004. “Anyone who sits in the parliament of Canada must be elected by the people they represent.”

Canadians, especially those that voted Harper’s government into power, were confident that this would change with the ousting of the Chretien/Martin Liberals. And why not? If asked what Canadians knew about Harper at the time, most would say he was an advocate of a triple-E Senate.

Unfortunately, Harper changed his tune when he took the reigns of power. At first, he said he would appoint Senators that were elected by their province. But when that opportunity came up to appoint an elected Senator from Alberta, he flip-flopped and appointed someone more partisan to his conservative ideology.

To Harper’s credit, there were 21 prime ministers before him that didn’t do a thing about the Senate. Also, the Harper government did attempt to introduce term limits for appointed senators, although it failed. This was just as much for optics as well as power, with any sitting government able to shift the power within the Senate while in office.

We have a body within parliament that gives consent to the laws of this country, and they are completely unaccountable.There is no confirmation process, and no term limits. They spend billions of taxpayer’s money, and taxpayers are getting very little in return for their investment.

The upper chamber has become an ineffective piece in our constitutional monarchy, where Canadians do not take notice of what goes on there.

They don’t take notice because the Senate is like the Governor General – love it or hate it, there is nothing that can be done about it. Canadians pay attention to the House of Commons because we have the power to decide who represents us there, and because that is where the real governing is being done.

The Senate serves as window dressing on our system of government, because its their appointment that makes them weak.

This weakness can become strength through an elected Senate. But this will not change because those that have the opportunity to change it also have the power to appoint Senators.

To change the Senate to an elected body would mean opening the country to a constitutional debate, where Quebec sovereignty would no doubt become a central issue. There is no political desire within the parties to undergo such a debate, and few Canadians have an appetite for it either. Although some reform has been attempted, partisan politics have stopped it from having any success.

It has become fairly clear that Harper has turned from his triple-E senate convictions. The dream he had of a U.S.-style system for the Canadian Senate is just that, a dream. Canada will forever be stuck with the current undemocratic Senate because no one has the political will to change it.

As long as the governing party has the power of appointment, and there are no checks and balances on that power, partisan politics will always play king to democratic reform and accountability.

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About Greg Markey

Greg is a social media and digital marketing consultant who loves writing about business, technology, innovation and startups. He holds a degree in political science and history from St. Francis Xavier University, as well as a diploma in Journalism from Algonquin College. He lives in Edmonton with his wife and three kids..

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