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Alberta Politics

sitting out the senate election would be a missed opportunity for the liberals, ndp, alberta party.

Senate of Canada
Senate of Canada

Last week, Prime Minister Stephen Harper appointed Betty Unger to the Senate of Canada. Ms. Unger was chosen as one of Alberta’s Senators-in-Waiting in the 2004 election and is the third elected Senator to be made a member of Canada’s appointed Upper House.

This spring in conjunction with the 2012 General Election, the Province of Alberta will be holding another election to choose a new batch of Senator-in-Waiting candidates.

While Alberta’s previous Senator-in-Waiting elections quickly became quirky sideshows that attracted a crowd of unknown partisan insiders, the candidates lining up for the 2012 election may bring a higher level of seriousness to the contest. Seeking the nomination for the Progressive Conservative candidacy are lawyer Doug Black, Calgary Police Commission Chairman Mike Shaihk, businessman Scott Tannas, City of Leduc Mayor Greg Krischke, and past-President of NAIT Sam Shaw.

Long-time Conservative Party organizer Vitor Marciano has stepped up to carry the Wildrose Party flag and former Liberal MLA Len Bracko will run as an Independent candidate.

Hugh MacDonald MLA
MLA Hugh MacDonald

The Liberal Party, New Democratic Party, and Alberta Party have all declared that they will not participate in this election. I believe that not running a candidate in the upcoming Senator-in-Waiting election is a real missed opportunity for these opposition parties.

I have heard three main arguments by members of these parties against participating in the Senate election. Here are the arguments and the responses:

Argument #1: The non-conservative opposition parties do not have the resources to run a candidate in the Senate election. Having limited resources does not stop any of the parties from putting a name on the ballot. I believe it is a disservice to the voters not to have an alternative to the two conservative parties on the ballot. There is also political value in having a Liberal, NDP, or Alberta Party candidate on the ballot. These candidates will receive many votes, provide a natural opposition choice for thousands of Albertans, and they can generate positive media coverage for the parties (even if they don’t win).

Raj Pannu former MLA
Raj Pannu

I suggested in an earlier post that retiring Edmonton-Gold Bar MLA Hugh MacDonald could be an ideal candidate for the Liberals. Former NDP MLA Raj Pannu would also make an ideal candidate for the NDP.

Argument #2: The Prime Minister is not obligated to appoint the Senator-in-Waiting. True. If the elected candidate is not appointed it would showcase how serious the Prime Minister is about elected Senators.

Argument #3: [From NDP supporters]: The NDP has a policy supporting the abolition of the Senate. I believe this is a bad policy, but even so, this would not stop the NDP from running candidates in the election. What better way to promote the abolishment of the Senate than to run a candidate in the very election that could choose Alberta’s next Senators?

The NDP now forms the Official Opposition in the House of Commons and has no representation in the Senate, where the Liberals form the Opposition. The NDP in Ottawa have rejected previous attempts by their supporters to represent the New Democrats in the Senate. When Lillian Dyck was appointed to represent Saskatchewan in the Senate in 2005, the NDP refused to recognize her as a member of their Parliamentary Caucus. She now sits with the Liberal Caucus.

If these opposition parties do not step up to the plate, Albertans can once again expect a Senator-in-Waiting election dominated by conservative politicians. Candidates from these three parties would challenge the dominant narrative that the two conservative parties are the only contenders in the next provincial election. It would be a real missed opportunity for them to sit on the sidelines.

25 replies on “sitting out the senate election would be a missed opportunity for the liberals, ndp, alberta party.”

Genuinely curious about the PC and WAP’s selection processes for these candidates? Do you know anything about them Dave?

“I believe this is a bad policy, but even so, this would not stop the NDP from running candidates in the election. What better way to promote the abolishment of the Senate than to run a candidate in the very election that could choose Alberta’s next Senators?”

With all due respect, the above just doesn’t make any sense to me at all.

Our policy is abolition but you think it would make sense for us to run a candidate to promote this?

What if (highly unlikely) our candidate won and Harper chose to appoint him/her (even more unlikely)? Following past practise (not to mention the inevitable howls of outrage from our membership), the individual would be unable to take the seat as a member of the NDP caucus.

No offense, Dave, but your idea seems to me to be the logical equivalent of suggesting Ezra Levant go out and buy a truckload of Chiquita bananas to highlight his boycott or that I join the KKK in order to promote an anti-racism strategy.

Christel: Candidates for the PC Senate nomination must submit a non-refundable fee of $4000 and collects the signatures of 50 current PC Party members from Alberta’s five regions. Once they have gone through this process, they will be required to enter a special vote in February 2012, giving an indication about when then next provincial election may be called. Those participating in the vote will include constituency association presidents, nominated PC candidates, voting members of the party executive committee, and four elected delegates from each of the 87 constituency associations.

Here is a link to the PC nomination rules: http://www.albertapc.ab.ca/public/data/documents/senaterulesprocedures.pdf

I am not sure what process the Wildrose used to choose Mr. Marciano as their Senate candidate.

“No offense, Dave, but your idea seems to me to be the logical equivalent of suggesting Ezra Levant go out and buy a truckload of Chiquita bananas to highlight his boycott or that I join the KKK in order to promote an anti-racism strategy.”

Mimi, I don’t think it’s like that at all.

It just occurred to me that Raj Pannu is probably older than 75 years old, making him ineligible to serve in the Senate. Another rule that needs to change if we are going to elect Senators.

We also need to change the rule prohibiting people under 30 from being senators as well as requiring a senator to own property.

There are a number of excellent reasons for the Liberals and the NDP to boycott the so-called Senatorial elections. For New Democrats, the long-standing policy on abolition of the Senate means that no “Dipper” worth his or her salt would sit in the Senate, regardless of how he or she got there. For the NDP to participate in this sham process would be intellectually dishonest. As for Liberals, it is my understanding that their position is that Senate reform must take place in an above-board, negotiated process with provincial involvement, not this back-handed Tory-dominated half-assed job.

There is also the danger, however remote at this stage, that an elected Senate which has not otherwise been reformed would use its new-found legitimacy to block Commons legislation, leading to the kind of gridlock we see south of the 49th parallel. The Senate is not a chamber of confidence; defeat of a Government bill in the Senate would leave us in a real constitutional quandary without a ready solution.

The Wildrose has a nomination process similar to that of the regular candidate nominations. In my opinion, the initial race was held a little too early with perhaps too little promotion. Vitor was acclaimed but the process was open to others. There is now a second nomination running to fill the remaining slots and I think the nomination applications close this tuesday. I may be wrong on the timing though. I am a little out of the loop lately. I hear there will be a few vying for the senatorial candidate positions.

Betty Unger should not have been appointed. Those senate elections were a complete sham and no one actually ran a campaign from what I saw. The whole approach to senate ‘reform’ is an absolute joke. There should be constitutional discussions an idea of what Canadians want from the Senate and whether it adds any value. Next election, I’m going to spoil or destroy that ballot.

I must say that I’m with Jerry and Colin on this question. These senate “elections” are not truly elections, and they are not real senate reform, which is badly needed. It is a piecemeal approach, adopted without negotiation with the provinces, which is absurd when one thinks that reforming the Senate means changing the very nature of our confederation and constitution. No thought has been given to its consequences, and no time has been spent on debate about the kind of chamber we want and the kind of confederation we want going forward into the future.

I see your point, Dave, that the parties are losing some measure of publicity or exposure, but I think in this case it is more important to stand on principle than do something just for some good PR.

I agree with Dave on this one although for different reasons. I am in favour of a “non-partisan” Senate such as often spoken about by (now-retired) Senator Banks. On the issue of Senate reform, readers may find these two pieces of interest:

http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2012/01/09/stephen-harpers-really-bad-idea/?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter

http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2012/01/09/mike-smith-whats-behind-stephen-harpers-really-bad-idea/?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter

Jerry – thanks for the comment. I wonder how a federal NDP government with a majority in the House of Commons would function with no representation in the Senate and its important committees.

Even if the Senate were fully elected, legislative gridlock would be inevitable if the NDP formed a majority in the Commons and refused to participate in the Senate election (leaving the Senate composed completely of Opposition Parties). It sounds to me like a policy that was adopted when NDP members could not imagine forming Official Opposition, or even Government.

Even the Labour Party in the United Kingdom is represented in the House of Lords. 

As for the Liberals, at a federal level they accept the Senate. The provincial Liberals were advocates of an elected Senate in the 1980s and early 1990s. I believe that Liberal candidate Bill Code even placed second in the 1989 Senate election.

The Alberta Party could, frankly, use the media exposure and profile that would come with having their candidate mentioned and quoted in the news coverage.

The Senate is worse than irrelevant, it casts a destructive shadow over the effective functioning of parliament. Its a room full of hacks, making a mockery of parliament by aping the work that goes on in the House, but to no constructive purpose. Stephen Harper hit nail on the head, its a place to reward your friends with cushy patronage jobs, nothing more. In 2004 when Alberta tagged the Senate “election” onto the Provincial election in 2004 less than half of voters bothered to participate in the Senate election even though they were right there voting in the [provincial election! Regular people know the whole thing is a ridiculous. Things like this contribute to the overall low participation rate of citizens in elections.

What federal caucus will Wildrose and PC candidates join? Will they both just join the Conservative caucus? If so what’s the difference between electing a PC or Wildrose candidate if either will just join the same caucus and follow the same caucus policies?

I agree with Mimi. Your logic doesn’t make sense to me. In fact, I think your flogging of this concept diminishes the daveberta schtick. I am in favour of having a Senate as is practiced in many democracies including the US and UK. Saying it is a mockery of Parliament shows little knowledge of parliamentary functioning. Often the case with the ranters.
The few senators I have seen up close have been honourable and quite capable persons so as some posters sneer they are hacks and “…nothing more” this only reflects back on the speaker of this pious blather.
Senate reform is part of constitutional reform. We had our chance and the red necks blew it for now.

I’m with the NDP on this one. With 30 new seats in Ottawa, and already a shortage of day care spaces, the senate chamber could have a really useful purpose if we just got rid of the bodies. They all have already got their rewards for kissing whatever it is necessary to kiss to get the job. Waste of time, space and money

Maybe by the time another Alberta senate vacancy opens up you would be of age, Dave? It seems that only your age at appointment should matter. I don’t think the senate should be elected, but if we are reforming the senate to become an elected body it should be done systematically. In the interim, no harm having candidates other than PCs and WAPs on the ballot.

c’mon seriously: In 2004 when Alberta tagged the Senate “election” onto the Provincial election in 2004 less than half of voters bothered to participate in the Senate election even though they were right there voting in the [provincial election!

Wrong. 80% of voters (714,709 out of 890,700) cast valid Senate ballots in 2004.

The Senate is a joke – and an offensive one at that. But not because it is composed of hacks. I suspect that most Senators (including the most recent appointees) are sincere in their motives.

But the senate was set up under the belief that “the people” and their representatives simply untrustworthy, and needed oversight by wealthy middle aged (white) men.

I work for United Nurses of Alberta, an organization of about 25,000 nurses. Most are female. Until the late 1920’s most of them would not be eligible to become senators. Even today, a number of my members and my staff – including myself – are not eligible. Dave is too young. Since I sold my house and moved to an apartment in the city, I am no longer a land-owner, so am not eligible. I know of several nurses over the age of 75 who are still working and paying taxes.

Any governing body that excludes individuals eligible to vote is offensive and I would hope that people’s principles would cause them to avoid any involvement.

I agree, David. Perhaps this election (or future one’s) will prompt some kind of legal action or movement to have the outdated age and property ownership requirement changed.

An approach the NDP could take is something akin to the approach used by, I believe, Sinn Fein wherein they run in the elections but then refuse to be seated (or, in this case, more likely just never attend or refuse to vote).

This would both deprive Harper of a sympathetic appointment (assuming he was willing to appoint them) and also act as a protest against the senate they want to abolish.

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