Canada's House of Commons, otherwise known as the lower house, presents bills that have been put forward by its elected Members of Parliament to present, discuss, debate, and ultimately reject or pass a bill by vote. The bill, if passed, moves to the second chamber, the upper house of our appointed senators, where they too discuss and debate and must vote in favour of a bill for it to become law.
The Senate provides the "sober second thought” where they review any bill and ensure it is appropriate and would not be detrimental to any given region of the country. Their purpose is to provide an elite veto on potentially harmful legislation.
The problem has now become that of patronage appointments, made by the Governor General based on the advice of the Prime Minister. They are appointments that reflect spectacular wages and benefits, often rewarding loyal ministers or friends and allies. Some have been appointed without any requirement of being elected to hold any office — like news personalities who reported favourably for the prime minister who recommended them. Mike Duffy comes to mind. Pamela Wallin would be another. Others were wealthy donors.
If you explained how the Canadian Senate works today to someone from any other country, it would bring a laughable response combined with a twinge of skepticism. Senate seats were originally doled out to provide each of the four “regions” equality. The regions were originally identified as Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick (combined as the Maritime Provinces), and the West, each with 24 seats. It was then expanded to include six seats for Newfoundland and Labrador, and one seat for each territory bringing the total to 105.
The carbon tax and regulations surrounding it came into play and were supported by the Senate committee on climate. A panel of 10 Canadian senators who looked at and voted on the presented concepts and ruled in its favour. If you are thinking that this is what the senate is for, you’re right. The Senate looks at legislation that can come from the House of Commons or the Chamber before it becomes law, the "sober second thought.”
So why was the Senate committee allowing this to pass when it would impact one part of the country more than another, and be so detrimental to a province or part of the country substantially united in resource development? Could the Senate be skewed in its opinion?
Let’s look at the committee: Nine Senators from Eastern Canada and one single senator from the West. How well do you think the West was represented? How well do you think the business community was represented? The energy sector, the oil and gas industries, the hundreds of thousands of employed, the hospitality industries, hotels and restaurants, the infrastructure for Canadian prosperity? They were all let down. You were let down, because now we need to find the revenues that support our services elsewhere, like out of your pocket.
When the checks and balances, or the sober second thought, are no longer effective, what do we do? A change, like any other to the constitution, would require the approval of 7 out of the 10 provinces and must include at least 50% of the country's population. With the Senate becoming a soft landing for cronies and supporters of the appointee, its relevance is completely diminished. Change is needed now more than ever.
It is highly unlikely to have the appointed senators reflect the opinion, or properly represent the province or area, when they have been appointed out of proportion to the base. For example, 12 of the senators representing the West have been Liberal appointments, while only seven have been appointed by a conservative, and there are a number of vacancies. This is not representative of the political landscape.
At its inception, population was not originally used as a criteria for adjustment of the number of Senate seats. This added to the lack of proportionality when Nova Scotia and New Brunswick were included in the original British North American Act as Maritime Provinces and were awarded 24 seats combined. Over time, Canada has formed more provinces, but the division of seats poorly reflects this and is exacerbated by the appointment process being controlled by the government of the day.
To cite an example, Saskatchewan currently has four senators, two of whom were appointed by our current Liberal PM Justin Trudeau, and two by former Conservative PM Stephen Harper. There are currently two vacancies which will likely be filled by Liberal appointees. How likely is it that these Liberal-appointed senators will properly represent a staunchly conservative population? Very unlikely.
Supposed Liberal reforms to the Senate have been an absolute failure and cronyism persists, to the detriment of us all. The senate is out of date and desperately needs an overhaul.
Dave Jeffers lives and works in Fort St. John and the North Peace, and is the Maverick Party candidate for Prince George-Peace River-Northern Rockies.