Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Harper Introduces Senate Reform Four Years After Becoming PM

"The Senatorial Selection Act would allow the provinces to establish a system under which  voters determine nominess for the 105-seat upper chamber." (The National Post, 27 April 2010)
In other words, this Act, which the Conservatives are putting on the agenda as they approach the fast-coming end of their minority mandate, would allow Canadians to elect Senators. So long as the Premiers decide to hold such elections. Only Alberta does so at the moment, and Saskatchewan has pledged to do so in the future. Rest aren't thrilled.
"Tuesday's legislation follows a bill introduced by the Conservative government on March 29 that, if passed, would set a term limit of eight years for senators, who earn a base salary of $132,300." (The National Post, 27 April 2010)
These elected -- or old-style appointed -- Senators would be able to serve for 8 years max, but any Senator appointed (or elected) before October 2008 could continue to serve until their 75th birthday. I'm not sure why Prime Minister Stephen Harper chose 8 years; it's very American Presidential.

But I'm reminded of New Brunswick Premier Frank McKenna who stepped down after 10 years. As I remember, he did so because he felt that was the optimum time to serve, after which power would go to his head and he'd become less productive and more entrenched. Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher served 11 years, but it was in her 10th year that her leadership was first challenged. And lastly, the maximum time a federal Canadian government can serve is 5 years. Two mandates like that equals 10 years.

For the Canadian political landscape, I believe 10 years is better. It's exactly double the maximum mandate length (appeals to my need for nice patterns); gives enough time for true experience to build up and to provide for a long-term perspective, so necessary with more and more MPs looking only as far as the next election; but stops short of going into power-to-the-head territory (notwithstanding the fact that Harper got there much sooner).

I wonder though why the Harper government waited so long to put forth these two pieces of legislation, legislation that was central to the Reform Party of Canada's platform and ostensibly to the new Conservative Party. I'm even more puzzled because he put off appointing Senators before suddenly appointing a bunch in a flurry of power-feathering last January during Prorogation Part II. Yet he could've avoided the whole flurry -- assuming provinces allowed elections -- by introducing these Acts to the House back in 2006, when he was first elected or even immediately after Prorogation Part II ended instead of waiting a month or so. It's even more puzzling because Harper campaigned on transparency and accountability of government. The Senate plays a role in the passing of legislation, it affects the governing of Canada, yet it remains mostly appointed. Elected representation -- not appointed -- is the best way to create a foundation of accountability.

So why so long?

At this point, the odds are more in favour of these Acts dying due to an election call -- or Prorogation Part III -- than passing both the House of Commons and Senate, assuming the other parties are persuaded to vote for it through reasoned debate (hahahaha). There just isn't enough time. Mind you, the Liberals have shown themselves not to be in a hurry to truly confront the Conservatives, to prefer being in lockstep with the Harper government while giving the obligatory squawk or two. So who knows.

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