Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Coming To Terms

Piecemeal Senate reform will neither satisfy those who want the Senate either abolished or made triple-E yesterday, but given the constitutional constraints barring full-out reform, this may be the best the Conservative government can do:

The federal government will unveil legislation today to reform the Senate, but will not go so far as to include a program for electing senators.

Sources told The Globe and Mail that the bill, which will be accompanied by House of Commons legislation calling for fixed election dates, will not include a timetable for when Prime Minister Stephen Harper will call the first election to the Senate.

That leaves the possibility that he will introduce changes that would limit the amount of time a senator can sit in the chamber, a move for which many Tories and members of the former Reform Party have clamoured and that could pave the way for elections in the future.


Establishing a term limit may well pave the way for elections themselves.

Mr. Harper has already said he would never appoint a senator, meaning that, as senators leave the Red Chamber, numbers would shrink and vacancies would remain open.

Such a move also promises to be controversial, as senators would essentially be voting to limit their time in office.

I'm not so sure about the idea of forcing the provinces to endorse Senate reform by this form of attrition. Leaving seats vacant for years on end, thus denying provinces their full representation and hampering the work of the Senate, seems no less an abuse of the prime ministerial power of Senate appointment than stuffing the Senate full of cronies or giving out short-term appointments to reward old pals before they turn 75.

But political reality may dictate otherwise. Ontario and Quebec want no check on their domination of the House; the Atlantic provinces want no change to their over-representation; the West wants some way to register its disapproval of the current situation.

The Liberals will kill this bill in the Senate, of course, thus handing Harper a public relations victory and a reason to call for more thoroughgoing reform--keep the Grits from frustrating the will of the people!

In any event, the Red Chamber will never be the same.

Source: Globe and Mail

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