Wednesday, June 22, 2011

 

R-E-F-O-R-M

It is with both measures of respect and a certain reluctance that I weigh-in on Parliament's current debate over Senate reform appearing as it does in the waning days of the session.

Early on in my career I was taught by, employed and worked with three men who subsequently served in Canada's Upper Chamber. At least three former colleagues with whom I was associated at my latter career with the CBC are serving Senators.

To some degree I know thus of what I speak. Nonetheless, in the case of the first three, I defer to their age, competence and wisdom. My university professor, a knowledgeable academic, currently serves as "Speaker in the Senate" and the other two (since deceased) had been well respected and experienced politicians in the maritime provinces before ascending the Red Chamber.

But with my equals and work colleagues from the CBC who currently sit on either sides of the Chamber, though doubtless they've acquired a certain level of wisdom and experience from their time in the "house of sober second thought" (So described by the Fathers of our Confederation in 1867) at least some have suggested, they may be less "Senate-worthy." I respect the office and position of their uncompetitive appointment. Since I worked shoulder to shoulder with them and at least shared in their competence and knowledge, I feel secure...Ahem! Well at least confident, that my own ascension to membership to the Senate's sinecure is just a few months away; a year or two tops! Which thus explains my reluctance, Nay - my near resistance; to weighing into this reform debate.

A throwback to the British class system of the pre-Victorian era, the Fathers of Confederation in their own obliged wisdom enshrined the Upper House into the British North America Act of 1867. The Senate is antiquated and out of touch. It's doubtful that the purpose for which it serves the denizens of the 21st Century is worth the annual cost to taxpayers of about $150-million. But so is another product of the same era: The railroads, of which elements are also enshrined in the articles of Confederation. I digress.

Substantive change or reform to the Senate of Canada requires amending the country's Constitution. The backdoor method now tabled by Mr. Harper's government seems on "sober second thought" (pardon the pun) just frittering along the edges of the issue. In fact so concerned is the Federal Government of a revolt from both sides of the Senate aisle that the combined legislation on term limits and the election of senators has instead been introduced for a quick push-through in the(lower)House of Commons. Lest I digress once more: Which seems to speak volumes about the Prime Minister's confidence in the more than 30 senators he has personally appointed since 2008; let alone the other Tories appointed to the upper chamber by Brian Mulroney.

In fact Mr. Mulroney's own well intentioned package of reforms for the Senate were enshrined in the Constitutional amendments which would have resulted from the Meech Lake and subsequent Charlottetown Accords. Both of which failed following unprecedented wrangling from the provincial partners of Confederation and damned near split the country apart in the Quebec referendum of 1995. No politician since has dared crack open discussions to another Constitutional conference. It is a lesson Mr. Harper has learned well. In fact though, he may nonetheless have unwittingly swung open wide the doors to Constitutional discord just as half-a-dozen provinces are gearing-up for fall elections and the five original signatories of the British North America Act are threatening to sue over this Harper plan.

It could indeed be a hot summer. Regardless of the outcome, as was noted this week by Ottawa Citizen columnist Kelly Egan: "After singing O Canada, our honourable senators should begin every session by falling on their knees and thanking their lucky stars. The base salary is $132,000, they get nice offices, a staff, breaks galore on the Hill, opportunities to travel."

Prime Minister, I've been good. Call me!

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