Assignment 3 The Canadian Senate By: Courtney Marie Lester. What role does the Senate play in terms of Canadian democracy, and in light of that role, should the Senate be retained in its current form, reformed in some way, or abolished entirely?
The Canadian Senate has often been referred to as the sober second thought. The house of commons was originally set up to have two chambers, the upper and the lower, to carefully decide Canadian laws. The Senate, in the upper house, reviews proposed legislation and ultimately decides whether a bill becomes a law. They are responsible for protecting the interests of Canadians, in all regions, and of all minorities.1 Recently however, there has been a big concern for more accountability. Many Canadians believe the senate no longer seems necessary, or acceptable, while others still see its need of approval. Which leaves Canada with some very diverse decisions; to amend it, abolish it, or leave it as is. This essay will explain why the Senate should be amended in order to show more accountability and transparency, as well as having an elected body instead of appointed, while ending on the important benefits the Senate still holds in Canada´s democracy.
Let's start by looking at how the Senate functions. After the House of Commons passes a bill, it then goes to the Senate where they must vote on whether or not it becomes a law. Originally, it was intended to allow the elite, wealthy Canadian representatives to veto legislation. Today, the senate consists of 105 members, who have all been appointed by various Canadian prime ministers and their terms last until their 75th birthday. It´s quite clear then that when selecting people for the senate, the prime ministers usually appoints them from their own political parties. Senators are divided by various provinces biased on how long they have been a part of Canada, meaning Quebec and Ontario each get 24 senators, and the rest of the provinces have anywhere from 1 to 10. It becomes very controversial when the Senate doesn't approve a bill from the House, so they usually tend to send it back with a list of recommendations on how to improve it; consequently acting as a second pair of eyes, which is why it´s received the nickname “sober second thought.”2
Recently however, this sober second thought has been the centre of corruption and cover-up allegations and has provoked a heavy debate about the role of the Senate in our government and whether or not it should be amended or abolished. It outlines a lot of undemocratic examples of the role of the senate. The most recent scandal started when conservative senators, Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau were suspended for allegedly fraudulent travel and house expense claims. They were originally caught by the Auditor General of Canada, and although they have paidmost of it back, have rightfully raised a lot of concerns from Canadians. All three have been suspended from the Senate, without pay. Since all three senators were appointed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and are part of the conservative party, he has been directly linked to the scandal. In fact, Harper’s former chief of staff, Nigel Wright, paid Mike Duffy’s invalid expense claims, giving Duffy nearly $90,000 of his own money to reimbursethe Senate. Harper is taking no responsibility, even after Duffy has publically declared Harper’s involvement in the matter.2 Harper was hoping to quietly dismiss the issue by suspending the three senators and by vaguely repeating himself in saying “We don't assure Canadians that everything will be perfect. But we do assure Canadians that when anything goes wrong people will be held accountable, the misuse of expense accountsis not appropriate and will be dealt with appropriately.''3
But, the scandal doesn’t end there, as the details of their suspension have not been properly defined; will they be taken off the public pay roll, or if there two years of suspension will count...
References: 1. Jackson, Robert J., Jackson, Doreen., “Politics in Canada” Toronto, Ontario: Pearson Education Canada, 2009.
2. Jackson, Robert J., Jackson, Doreen., “Politics in Canada” Toronto, Ontario: Pearson Education Canada, 2009.
5. Mackrael, Kim, ¨Red Chamber should open the books on travel expenses,¨ The Globe and Mail, Aug.20th, 2013: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/red-chamber-should-open-the-books-on-travel-expenses-senator-says/article9333457/
9. Alghabra, Omar ¨Should Canada elect, abolish, or reform the Senate?¨ The Huffington Post, Nov.16th, 2013: http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/omar-alghabra/senate-reform_b_4268401.html
2. Whittington, Michael., Williams, Glen. “Canadian Politics in the 21st Century.” Toronto, Ontario: Thomson, Nelson, 2004.
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