Brad Wall’s governing Saskatchewan Party has announced that they will be introducing a Bill into that province’s legislature allowing for the election of Senators in that province. Similar elections were held in Alberta in 1989, 1998 and 2004, with only two Senators having been appointed – Stan Waters in 1990 and Bert Brown in 2007. Before I continue, let me preface my comments by stating that it boggles my mind that in 2008 – the 21st century – a 19th century style appointed Upper House of Parliament continues to exist. It also continues to boggle my mind that the Liberal Party of Canada – by their lack of action on an issue of democracy – continues to support the current-Senate style.
With 14 vacant seats in the 105 member Senate (and 29 expected by the end of 2009), the movement towards electing Senators is only one move that I believe should be taken towards reforming the Upper House.
Though some politicians are afraid of the reopening Canadian constitutional debates (something that the Federal Liberals are happy to call for now that they are in opposition), I think it is something that is needed, whether it be now or a decade from now. One only has to read Section 23 of the Constitution Act to see just how politics was done in 1867:
23: Qualifications of Senator
(1) He shall be of the full age of Thirty Years:
(2) He shall be either a natural-born Subject of the Queen, or a Subject of the or a Subject of the Queen naturalized by an Act of the Parliament of Great Britain, or of the Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, or of the Legislature of One of the Provinces of Upper Canada, Lower Canada, Canada, Nova Scotia, or New Brunswick, before the Union, or of the Parliament of Canada after the Union
(3) He shall be legally or equitably seised as of Freehold for his own Use and Benefit of Lands or Tenements held in Free and Common Socage, or seised or possessed for his own Use and Benefit of Lands or Tenements held in Franc-alleu or in Roture, within the Province for which he is appointed, of the Value of Four thousand Dollars, over and above all Rents, Dues, Debts, Charges, Mortgages, and Incumbrances due or payable out of or charged on or affecting the same:
(4) His Real and Personal Property shall be together worth Four thousand Dollars over and above his Debts and Liabilities:
(5) He shall be resident in the Province for which he is appointed:
(6) In the Case of Quebec he shall have his Real Property Qualification in the Electoral Division for which he is appointed, or shall be resident in that Division.
First of all, the idea that qualifications to being appointed to the Senate include owning property and being over the age of Thirty hurts my brain. What implications will this have for those running in Senate elections? As someone who is under Thirty Years old and doesn’t hold over four thousand dollars of personal property, would I be excluded from participating as a candidate?
I support the move by Stephen Harper’s Conservatives to allow for more elected Senators, but there is a broader discussion that is needed to be had. Does the constitution need to be reopened? Absolutely. The Canadian Constitution is a living document. This discussion should include discussing what purpose the Senate actually serves. Will an Upper House of elected politicians be any more effective than an Upper House of appointed politicians? (a cursory glance at the House of Commons would certainly have most Canadians asking this question). Is abolishing the Senate a more effective use of taxpayers dollars? Is there really a need for an Upper House?
How about the effectiveness of our current Parliamentary Democratic system of government? Would a change in the electoral system good enough? What sense does it make to still have the British Monarch as our Head of State? Does the Governor General actually serve a modern purpose? I’m not going to oppose current reforms, but as someone who sees an array of problems in the current political system, I’m having a hard time believing that anything less than a complete overhaul is actually going to make a real difference in the long run.
UPDATE: For more thoughts on the Senate debate, check out AGRDT, ES, and Wells.