The Canadian Senate Followup / I Pity B.C.

Ancarett comments in her comment to my recent post on Senate reform "The stranglehold that traditional parliamentary politics has on Canada will not easily be shrugged off. Rather than the Senate emerging as a chamber of sober second thought and provincial expression within federation, I would expect to see the Senate continue to operate as an extension of the lower house's political system, right down to a rough mimicking of the party divisions within the Comons. (In my mind, this would maintain, if not increase, senator's accountability to their party leadership, rather than to their provincial constituencies)".

I'm not sure I fully agree. For one thing, an elected Senate would probably be chosen through proportional representation or some semblance thereof. The Senate seats are assigned by province, not riding, and a Senate election within a province would force us to choose multiple candidates, not just one.

Even if we just took the votes cast for the 2000 election to the House and divided up the Senate seats by the popular vote of the provinces, the two houses would look as follows:

Canadian Alliance6623
Bloc Quebecois3810
Progressive Conservatives1317
New Democrats1210

...a minority Senate, with a Canadian Alliance opposition, and the balance of power held by either the Progressive Conservatives, the Bloc Quebecois or the New Democrats. Compare that with the current Senate standings of 62 Liberals, 30 Conservatives, 1 Alliance member, 4 independents and eight vacant seats.

The last time anybody in Ontario has experienced a minority government was the mid 1980s. The country was last in a minority situation in 1979. Minority governments have the reputation of being more attentive to the people and more willing to listen to criticism, because their hold on power is tenuous, and they have to rely on another party's support in order to continue to govern. The Senate opposition would have a real influence on Liberal policy, with the Liberals looking for support from the NDP or the Progressive Conservatives on a bill-by-bill basis. To prevent the legislative process from grinding to a halt thanks to a particularly obstructionist (and surprisingly united) Senate opposition, other measures could be taken -- such a statement that the government can only fall if non-confidence motions pass both the House and the Senate. Or if we say that any Senate decision can be overruled by the House in a 66% majority vote (incidentally, the Liberals don't have 66% of the House seats).

The Senate does have a handful of non-politicians contributing good things to the political process, and it would be a shame to lose them. However, perhaps this can be maintained by allowing the party leaders to appoint Senate members according to the number of seats they're awarded after an election, or name their slate of candidates before the election. Senators are not Members of Parliament -- they're not supposed to campaign locally. Let the party leaders campaign for the Senate instead. True, this virtually eliminates the possibility of independent Senators being elected (outside of the territories), but perhaps independents would be more at home in the House instead?

The devil is always in the details, but simply electing the Senators we have would bring substantial changes to the Canadian democracy, and I believe that most of these changes would be for the better. I'm for it. Are you?

Not to belittle the seriousness of his drunk driving charge, but I pity B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell. Confronting a family history of alcoholism is not fun, and I suspect that it's several times less fun to do that while fifty or so cameras are on you.

But I also pity the people of British Columbia. Gordon Campbell may survive this controversy with his premiership intact, but the previously clean record of the governing Liberals now has a speck of dirt. Any further scandal, any political contretemps within the party (and, remember, Gordon Campbell is governing a loose coalition of centre-right Liberals, hard-right former SoCreds and one or two looney right MPs as well), is going to be traced back to this. The first controversy is what starts the ball rolling. Gordon Campbell now has a cloud dogging him.

But if he ends up having to retire under a cloud, he will have a lot of company. The last B.C. Premier to complete a single term in office was Bill Bennett, son of seven-term premier W.A.C. Bennett. Bill's successor, Bill VanderZalm, controvened conflict of interest guidelines and faced criminal charges for his mismanagement (a judge said that his mistakes were "sheer foolishness" rather than criminal behaviour) and is now a political joke. His successor, Rita Johnson, was the prototype Kim Campbell that saw the removal of the Social Credit party as a viable political alternative in the province.

B.C. voters replaced what was arguably the second most corrupt government in the history of Canada with what turned out to be the most incompetent government in the history of Canada. Scandals and mismanagement flew everywhere under the N.D.P., with miraculously appearing deficits, Bingogate and a badly built deck forcing the departures of Mike Harcourt and Glen Clark, until Ujjal Dossanjh oversaw the near demise of his party just over a year ago.

Even the opposition in B.C. has been a mess at times. Gordon Campbell replaced Gordon Wilson, who was forced to quit as leader of the B.C. Liberals (and quit the Liberals) due to an extra-marital affair. Gordon Wilson went on to form a separate party, and then crossed the floor to become an NDP cabinet minister before being drubbed in the Campbell landslide.

So, if Gordon Campbell himself has to resign, perhaps it's not his fault. Something in the air, something in the water, something in the interstices of the fabric of time (to crib a quote from Erin), or just a plain old voodoo curse is preventing British Columbians from electing a normal government. And for that, I'm sure B.C. residents are thoroughly sick and tired.

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