In Defence of an Elected Canadian Senate
Answering the Senatorial Abolitionist
Having been incensed by a piece of trash decrying the usefulness and necessity of an elected senate, I had to write this. While I despise the fact that the senate is unelected, unequal and hardly of any use, I equally despise the concept of abolishing it altogether. The inflammatory piece, called No Rational Case For An Elected Senate, was penned by Gerald Caplan, the author of the soon-to-be-released book The Betrayal Of Africa. He writes in support of abolishing what is essentially a necessity to any federated state ~ the senate. What he does is tremendous damage in appealing to the masses’ impulses and not their intellect, proving to us that not all academics are that bright or deserving of their credentials. Abolishing the Senate would give far more power to the office of Prime Minister than it already has and would allow further division of the country. Caplan’s rag references Tunisia, Egypt and Afghanistan — all countries that have no need for a senate because they are unitary states, meaning they are singular entities without any autonomous subdivisions, which differs from a federation. Equal representation is necessary for any federation, that while equal portions of the entire population must be represented, every province must also be given equal representation, thus a House of Commons and a Senate. Even his grasp of the concept is wrong, which makes one wonder whether or not he really deserved (or earned) his MA in Canadian history and Ph.D. in African history. He’s a history major, not a lawyer, political philosopher or political scientist (then again, neither is this author). Let us examine paragraph after paragraph Caplan’s attempt to comment on a system hardly anyone bothers to understand, appealing to people’s base instincts to not work or spend money on the right things. He even closes his piece with one of the most common excuses for political laziness and defeatist apathy, but we’ll get to that in a moment.
“I suppose I could begin by denouncing the travesty that more seats will be added to the House of Commons to reflect changing population patterns in Canada. I could argue that need, logic and common sense all dictate doing exactly the opposite — leaving the total number of members the same but decreasing seats where population warrants. Canada needs more members of Parliament like I need more cavities.”
Let’s begin by somewhat agreeing to the idea that changes in the total number of seats to reflect the changes in population growth is somewhat of a bad idea. More Canadians must be represented and there should be more seats to provide greater representation to all Canadians, but adding or subtracting seats where population warrants within a set number of seats is just as good of an idea. However, that should be reflected only in the HOC.
“But there’s really no point in beating this forlorn drum. There’s as much chance of stopping the increases from going ahead as there is in expecting integrity from Tony Clement or a strong, democratic, central government in Afghanistan. Some things are simply not on. So let’s get to what should be possible — putting the kibosh on the absurd notion of reforming the Senate by electing it.”
An elected senate is not absurd but essential to a democratic country, to an open society (or, in Canada’s case, “democratic” and “open”) to make the Senate more accessible to the people, and allows people greater say in who should represent their province in the Senate. But since most leftists and all royalists alike agree that elections are a waste of time and money, why then have any elections at all for any position and allow people say in who should be representing them? Let heredity or cronyism take place, as dictatorships do.
“That we have no need for a second house of Parliament of any kind is the first proposition here; in today’s world, no persuasive case for such a chamber, elected or appointed, can be made. There is no role for it that can’t be better played by others, whether the House of Commons or the provinces. If Canada was being created today, no one would think it needed two chambers, just as no Egyptian or Tunisian rebel has pleaded for a bicameral parliament.”
What a load of garbage. The reason that a second house in Parliament is needed is to provide equal representation of each province, regardless of population. Granted today’s senate is unelected, and certain provinces are given more representatives than others, and it hardly does anything. Yet having a senate that has equal representation per province would start things on the right track. We are a federation. The reason Egypt and Tunisia has a unicameral parliament is because they are unitary states, and in any case that could change considering the recent revolutions Caplan seems to not have noticed. Yet.
“What makes most sense in terms of both democratic theory and Canada’s needs is to get rid of the damn place entirely before it scuppers more useful legislation. But abolition requires a constitutional amendment, which is also as likely as getting Tony Clement to show integrity. Still, the way forward is remarkably simple: Impose stringent term limits on sitting senators — I’m thinking Labour Day at the latest — and then just stop appointing new members. Before you could curse Mike Duffy, there’d be no more senators in the Senate.”
Here a historian is talking about democratic theory and reason. Because it is unelected, unequal, and unaccountable like monarchy and dictatorship, it has rarely turned down legislation, yet despite refusals being rare, legislation that could damage the country has been turned down since the current system of government gives a Prime Minister only so much power, with an unstable House of Commons and a rubber-stamping useless puppet that happens to be a monarch, a subject Caplan doesn’t seem to bother with in the slightest. In plain language, the Senate is there to not just provide a sober reconsideration but to counter the abuses of the HOC and vice versa. Sadly, hardly anyone has noticed these moments because they’ve been blinded by the populist rhetoric of abolitionists. As for these weak proposals, they demonstrate Caplan’s lack of understanding of the institution.
“This of course will not happen, since the Prime Minister seems determined to leave behind an elected Red Chamber. Why he’s obsessed with this notion is, like so many of the other dogmas in his catechism — prisons good, Israel good, corporate taxes bad, long-gun registry and long-form census awful, coalitions evil — quite obscure. He asserts his articles of faith but never troubles to explain the reasons behind them. Arguably, there are none; dogmas disdain reason.”
There is nothing wrong with an elected senate, since it gives people a say in who should represent their respective province, and that if a senator wanted to stay in office, they’ll have to appease the people and keep their promises under pain of losing the next election. This, alas, is not noticed by the many who have been blinded by abolitionist rhetoric, and has even forced those on the left who are in favour of an elected, equal and effective senate (one of the only good ideas that Harper has expressed until recently in his bill) to shut up or pretend to join the crowd out of fear of being branded a right-winger and treated like a pariah.
“There is, in fact, no rational case to be made for an elected Canadian Senate in terms of democratic practice. But I want to make a more practical if equally damning objection. Consider the simple logistics of electing a senator. Each senator is said to represent or be associated with a region, each region more or less being a province. So when a Senate seats comes open, a senatorial candidate would have to present herself to the entire province and be elected by the entire province.”
On the contrary, the senates in different countries usually have more than one senator for each state or province represented, which promotes equality and differs from the lower house that’s supposed to represent equal portions of the population. In the United States, for example, each state is represented by two senators, regardless of population. In Australia, each state is represented by six senators. Yeah, this is what happens when you have a history major attempting to offer political solutions. They’re as credible as relying on the rhetoric of a philosopher to determine whether or not the Twin Towers on September 11th collapsed because of controlled demolition, or a neurosurgeon to conduct a heart transplant.
“Anyone who’s ever worked in an election campaign will immediately see the staggering organizational implications. In our parliamentary system, like Britain’s and unlike that of the United States, no politician ever directly faces an entire province or region. No individual, whether provincially or federally, runs anything more than a riding campaign. Provincial and federal leaders each run in their own ridings but each heads a larger provincial or national campaign. The main parties have machinery that makes these campaigns possible. More to the point, the parties alone have such machinery.”
Yes, our system is much like Britain’s, and nothing Canadian or workable in the least since we in reality, contrary to Caplan’s perception, are a British colonial outpost that pretends to be a country while preserving a foreign, unelected, elitist absentee dictator as our head of state. As for the so-called staggering organizational implications, look at what the party leaders do. They campaign for their party beyond their riding.
“No individual in Canada has anything remotely like it. In fact no individual, unless she were a member of a party and had that party’s support for her senatorial campaign in, say, Alberta, or New Brunswick, has any campaign machinery of any kind beyond her own riding. So how do you run a region-wide campaign? Where do you get the money, the advisers, the organizers, the volunteers, the polling, the offices, the computers, the signs, the bus and plane, the ads, the war room, the strategists? What are Stephen Harper’s answers to these questions? Maybe his cat Stanley knows, but we the people do not.”
There are many ways his questions can be answered that, unfortunately, Canadians are not bright enough to notice, so what better way than to advertise yourself and your policies and beliefs to get elected to change or preserve things. And don’t party leaders campaign for Prime Minister across the country, even though that would have absolutely no effect on the people in their riding?
“Seems to me there are only two possibilities. Certainly no ordinary citizen pining to be a senator would have the slightest hope of putting together a province-wide campaign of any serious kind. So the first, and most obvious, possibility is also the most likely. The parties will choose their own candidates and organize a full-blown, single-province election campaign each time a Senate seat has to be filled. How can that help any aspect of Canada’s governance? How much will each run cost? Who pays? Do Canadians want an endless series of mini-me election campaigns for the rest of eternity? In this year’s dramatic, exciting national election, only 61 per cent of Canadians took the trouble to vote. Who’s going to care, or should care, about a campaign to elect a single Senator from one of the parties? The winner would be seen as yet another party functionary elected by a handful of party activists with little recognition and less legitimacy.”
This is elitist, to tell the ordinary person that they can’t achieve the impossible, despite history debunking such a myth time and time again. Get creative. Democracy is based on the rule of the people, or popular involvement in the government of their country.
“The only other remotely plausible possibility, so far as I can see, is that some high-profile figure, temporarily off her rocker, might jump in. We’ve just seen this phenomenon in the United States, when the egregious Donald Trump threatened to run for the presidency based on racist innuendo about Barack Obama — only in America, thank heavens. Could Canada throw up (you should pardon the expression) a Donald? There’s Conrad Black (what a perfect campaign slogan: ‘Who knows more about institutions than I do?’) Rick Mercer? Senator Romeo Dallaire? Céline Dion (yes!!!)? Uncle Albert? Justin Bieber? Hazel McCallion? The Canucks? (Okay, not the Canucks.)”
For a man who talks a lot about reason and common sense (out of his ass), he, the holder of an MA and a Ph.D., is appealing to people’s inclination for celebrity and not to the necessity for education or intelligence. This is what happens when education is left to the devices of the provinces, to create and present a distorted history of the country for their own ends. To him, fame is more important than policy. He especially is a whore of celebrity culture since he added a “yes!!!” to Celine Dion as his personal endorsement, despite the fact almost all creators of pop culture are never intelligent. Look at the garbage they produce. He also does this to mock what should be one essential part of the legislature of a federated country.
“What a useless bore the entire discussion is. Here’s what I just don’t get. Stephen Harper has so many really awful things he’s dying to do to this country, as one of his ministers forthrightly put it this week. Why clutter the agenda with a complete waste of time like an elected Senate?”
What a useless bore his article was. Repeating the same utterly ignorant drivel that appeals to instincts rather than challenge minds of the people who know nothing about government or how it works or why it works. Plus how is making Parliament more democratic with an elected senate such an aweful thing? Is Caplan communist, since communists (and royalists and anarchists) despise democracy, which is a fundamental and ancient tool for the people to control their country’s rulers and to keep them in check? What is a complete waste of time are other matters no one cares about, such as child poverty, gay rights or the environment. They are a waste of time no one and no government takes seriously. How does it feel for a believer in democracy and in a republican form of government, especially those on the left who are forced to keep quiet thanks to the momentary popularity of an idea, however bad it may be, to have their cause marginalized and belittled while other causes get the attention they don’t deserve (or, in the matters of child poverty, gay rights and the environment, don’t get the attention they deserve) and are completely unrelated to the concept of democracy?
If he’s going to babble about democracy at all, he should start going after what is imminently and essentially the prime enemy of democracy and democratic ideas: the monarchy. He should be aware of the horrors of Empire that afflicted Africa wherever colonies sprouted, especially British colonies and client-states, considering that he’s got a Ph.D. in African history.
Indeed Harper is corrupt. Indeed Harper has abused his power. And despite this author’s defence of an elected senate, no way is this same author going to defend Harper, or the recent mockery of democracy legislation that Harper introduced, which left the provinces to decide on whether or not senators should be elected, and allowed the Queen (or, in the bill’s wording, the Governor General) to continue appointing Senators, which is never the case in practice since every candidate nominated by the Prime Minister has always been appointed by the Queen, and that never in the history of this country has anyone other than the Prime Minister’s choice been appointed to any civil office. That being said, this does not excuse the abolition of the senate, nor defends Harper’s proposal as anything remotely democratic.