July 29, 2015

The Great Canadian Senate Sweepstakes: How to save the upper house, one seat at a time

Richard AndersonRebel Blogger

The sad sorry Senate saga takes another pointless turn:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall are expected to appear together Friday to call for the abolition of the Senate, according to a source familiar with their plans.

Harper is scheduled to hold a press conference at the Saskatchewan Legislative Building in the afternoon, where he will be joined by Wall.

Neither the Prime Minister’s Office nor the office of the Saskatchewan Premier could be reached Thursday evening to confirm the announcement.

Rumours are as yet unconfirmed that Premier Wall and Prime Minister Harper will also be issuing a joint statement calling for warmer weather in February, that the Leafs win the cup and that the CBC finally replace Peter Mansbridge. Their respective communications directors could not be reached for further comment.

The Senate is our great constitutional appendix. It gets a bit inflamed from time to time but, a hundred and fifty years in, we've generally come to the conclusion that it's too much of a hassle to get rid of. In other countries, normal nation states, amending a constitution is just one of those things. There's a convention, people argue about it and eventually some words get swapped in and out of the country's basic law. The Americans might go so far as to fight a civil war over such things, but for most countries it's routine stuff.

Having successfully avoided civil wars, insurrections, coup d'etats and other assorted public disturbances, the Canadian project has retained one bizarre character flaw: Our inability to amend the constitution in anything like a sensible manner. For those old enough to have lived through the constitutional wars of the 1970s and 1980s the very mention of the C-word induces terrible flashbacks. Sometimes when I close my eyes I can see Joe Clark talking about amending formulas. In those moments I question the existence of a merciful God.

The latest idea to drift out of the PMO is that Stephen Harper will stop appointing Senators. This is actually quite similar to how the PM approaches maintenance on 24 Sussex Drive. The official residence is almost as old as Canada itself. Unfortunately so is much of the plumbing. The building is literally falling to bits and requires millions in renovations.

Being a politician first and a government tenant second, Stephen Harper knows that doing more than the bare minimum to keep up his Ottawa home will provoke shrieks of outrage from the Opposition. Only when the building finally collapses will anything really be done. And at three times the original price. 

This same logic will now be applied to the Senate. The PM will stop appointing senators until there is no more Senate. Sounds neat, eh? Except that the Senate is ensconced into the bedrock of our constitutional order. If the number of living breathing Senators drops below quorum the Supreme Court, the real rulers of our fair Dominion, will order the PM to appoint more. Then the PM of the day, perhaps Mr Harper or Mr Mulcair, will shrug their shoulders and do as their bosses tell them. 

The only way to get rid of the Senate is to amend the constitution. Like going to the dentist this would be both painful and expensive. Unlike going to the dentist it would also be interminable. Dentists, you see, have golf games. Constitutional lawyers don't play golf. It would interrupt from their fascinating work of discussing whether or not the power of disallowance is genuinely obsolete. If you don't understand what that means don't worry - neither do they. 

Problems, my old father used to say, are really opportunities in disguise. While I suspect he said that as I way of tricking me into mowing the lawn it does contain a vital truth. We've been looking at the Senate as a problem, as a waste of the taxpayers money. Let's think outside the red lined box for a moment. Let's us begin to realize what the Senate truly is: A money making opportunity!

Since we can't stop appointing Senators all we can do is change their method of appointment. Various suggestions have been mooted over years. Holding Senate elections and then, as a gentleman's agreement, the PM appoints the winner. Only Alberta really took this idea seriously. In the rest of the country more democracy is frowned upon. The leaders of the other nine provinces understand that the less you hear from the voters the better it is for them. So if we're changing the method of appointment we'll need to try something more subtle. 

So here's my proposal: Sell Senate seats. Now selling them to the highest bidder would probably raise the most money for the treasury. The problem is that it smacks of elitism. Many Canadians would be uncomfortable if the Upper House of Parliament were dominated by the Westons and whatever is left of the Eaton family. No we need something more egalitarian. That's why I'm suggesting a Canadian Senate Sweepstakes.

For five dollars a ticket, limit one ticket per citizen, you could buy a chance to become a Canadian Senator. In order to maximize the take the Senatorial terms would be shortened to one year. This wouldn't require a constitution amendment. It would mean that every year we'd see 105 lucky winners of the easiest job in Canada. The salary and the perks would stay the same. The Senate chamber would remain as it's always been. It's just that instead of a senate composed of superannuated politicians it will be composed of ordinary Canadians. 

Through this scheme enough money will be raised to fund the Senate's operations. With any luck there will be enough left over to pay down some small portion of the debt that Daddy Trudeau ran up back in the 1970s. Overnight the Senate will become a far more legitimate and popular body than it is today. All it requires is a bit of imagination. Along with a healthy contempt for our political class. 


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commented 2015-07-30 17:21:05 -0400
“Secondly having a lottery type of system would not work for just everyday citizen because most of us don’t understand the laws that are written.” Actually I believe, many of us are brighter than we look. Ask questions. “There is no such thing as a stupid question, only stupid people who will not ask the question”.
commented 2015-07-30 09:15:45 -0400
First of all I think nothing could be accomplished in just one year term, it should be matched to the 4 year term like all politicians. Secondly having a lottery type of system would not work for just everyday citizen because most of us don’t understand the laws that are written. In other words lawyers make up these laws because they are the only ones that understand the language written. Each senator would have to hire a lawyer to translate the information. If we are to have an elected senate, my thoughts are, for each appointee put forward, all the Premiers of each province must agree on who is appointed and forward their person to the Prime Minister for appointment. This is so much better then we have now. No one trust the Prime Minister anymore and that in clip uses all Future Prime Ministers to make appointments to the Senate because it screams of stacking the senate to get what bills you want passed!
commented 2015-07-30 03:24:51 -0400
Love the lottery idea as well. Except make it two years with rolling blocks. Say 1/3 the seats go up for lottery every year. X number of seats available per each province. Yeah, that could work.
commented 2015-07-29 14:34:38 -0400
Love that lottery idea! Sign me up!