Guest Commentary

Prof. Desmond Morton

The Senate’s Chosen

Voter anger and outrage at the Canadian Senate  is not new. From the outset, prime ministers used their power to appoint to the Red Chamber as a reward for party supporters and faithful allies in the Cabinet and caucus. It took years to legislate pensions for Canadian senators despite the obvious embarrassment of filling the House of so-called “sober second thought” with senescent octogenarians.

However, designing effective reforms is much easier said than done.

Yes, Canadian senators should have to seek election as do their counterparts in Australia or the United States. Would an elected Canadian Senate have more or less prestige than a House of Commons elected earlier or later than the current Upper House? Who would get elected?

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s reforms, already endorsed by Alberta, would have senators elected by all the eligible voters in a province. Imagine the cost of mounting a campaign from end to end of Alberta or Saskatchewan, not to mention Ontario or Québec. Unless taxpayers want to be tapped for the cost of election signs, advertising and even leaflets for scores of candidates and millions of voters, we all know where the money will be found, and the rope-like strings attached.

Defenders of the Senate often use that phrase about “sober second thought”. It is no joke.

One of Blacklock’s own specialties has been pointing out how contradictory, silly and, above all, dangerous the features of the government’s infamous omnibus bills have often been.That is the fault of a lot of people, from cabinet ministers to the prime minister’s own inexperienced staffers.  Above all, it is a failure of the Senate to perform a critical and demanding role in our government.

Senators should be chosen, not as beneficiaries of taxpayer largesse but because they have the brains and the practical experience to see the flaws in proposed laws.

(Editor’s note: the author is Hiram Mills Professor of History emeritus at McGill University).

Back to Top