Today's discussion:

Canada is careening towards a constitutional crisis in the Senate

Throughout Canadian history, the Senate’s legitimacy has depended on its members' political restraint. Will that hold now that there is a relatively cohesive ideological conformity that is mostly aligned with the current Liberal Party?

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RJKWells

‘Independent’ Senators impeding the legitimate will of the House could lead to some drastic response this appointed Chamber never anticipated, the last thing our imperfect federation needs. The mood of an exasperated populace who see themselves on the outside looking in is something this unelected privileged class would do well to heed.

Tread carefully. The mat you might be tempted to shake could be the one you’re standing on.

14th May 2024 at 8:49 am
PH

The flaws inherent in our system of government have always existed. Normally, this is not a problem. It’s only when we have leadership with an ambitious anti-democratic agenda that such flaws become truly evident.

14th May 2024 at 10:29 am
Gary Oxenforth

A senate unelected,appointed by the PM. A truly undemocratic institution.
And Trudeau calls Canada a democratic country.
RUBISH. The abolishment of this senate would be a blessing.

14th May 2024 at 11:02 am
Gord Edwards

The core issue is the unelected and unaccountable nature of the Senate. I’m not convinced the ‘independent model’ really makes it worse. This comes down to who appoints them, their role and really if we need a second chamber or not.

True reform requires a Constitutional amendment which is impractical. And the potential benefit of cracking open the Constitution wouldn’t justify the risk. So we are stuck with a system in which the PM appoints Senators. But is there anything stopping PMs from deferring to the provinces (based on Senators’ role of regional representation)?

Could a PM commit to the following:
– When a seat becomes vacant the PM asks the applicable Premier for a nomination. Time limits are attached to this process.
– If the Premier doesn’t want to participate for some reason, the selection decision goes back to the PM as it is now.
– Otherwise the Premier nominates a Senator. If a provincial election can be run for the purpose great (I’m not sure if at the provincial level that would run afoul of the Constitution). Regardless of the provincial mechanism, a nomination is made.
– The PM can still vet the nomination as is done now to ensure there are no skeletons in the closet. But if the PM rejects the nomination he or she needs to deal with the consequences.

Not a perfect solution by any stretch of the imagination. It would rely on the commitment of PMs to follow such a rule. There have been balanced budget acts in the past which were overturned. But sometimes once a norm is established it can get momentum and deviating from it has consequences.

The benefits I see are a certain degree of credibility in the Senate (as regional representatives will be selected by the regions), ideally some elected (if the provinces were able to select by election or referendum), more diverse views and less of an ideological/partisan strangle hole on the chamber (appointments shaped by the varying provincial leadership of the day).

After decades of people complaining about the Senate, I’ve never really heard a workable suggestion for how to fix it. So that is an idea for some improvement. Other ideas or constructive criticism of the proposal is welcome.

14th May 2024 at 11:44 am
Greg Jackson

You mentioned that the benefit of opening our Constitution is not worth the risk. Our Constitution is a deeply flawed document that for all intents and purposes, cannot be opened. The provisions of the amending formula are in every practical sense, impossible to achieve, leaving us as you say, “stuck”.
Thus, we are faced with two major problems: an unelected Senate, and an activist Supreme Court. Both of them are capable and ready to overturn anything coming out of the House of Commons, regardless of the will of the people. Not a good look for Canada.

14th May 2024 at 12:39 pm
RJKWells

A Constitutional amendment is anything but impractical. Difficult, but achievable. It just requires a will by the people to exert pressure on the political class for them to feel motivated.

We haven’t reached our ‘straw that broke the camel’s back’ moment yet. That could change if this appointed ‘Independent’ crowd thinks that rolling the dice and subjugating the elected will of Parliament is a bright idea.

The Prime Minister’s Office has long had far too much say on Senate appointments. The actions of Prime Minister Trudeau over the last nine years has sown the seeds that could prove to be its undoing if they let their independent minds get the better of them.

Bert Brown had it right when he plowed “Triple E Senate or Else” into that barley field in 1988:

Equal, Effective, and most, importantly, Elected.

14th May 2024 at 4:51 pm
Gord Edwards

Every PM has put people in the Senate who think like him. This article didn’t convince me the ‘independent’ label has really changed anything. So putting risk of the Senate obstructing a future government on Trudeau is a bit much. The potential for that is more a function of polarization within the country.

In principle an amendment is achievable. But I don’t think it could be as simple as the provinces and territories agreeing to make changes limited to the Senate. If something went horribly wrong in the Senate and changes had cross-party support (in the population, not just governments) then maybe. But we haven’t reached such a point.

As much as everyone likes to complain about different aspects of Confederation, the status quo does function and most are happy enough most of the time. So we have a stable if not perfect system of government.

The risk is that every province/territory and special interest group would bring their desired changes to the table. All of the complaints would come out at once and most would be unhappy that they didn’t get their way when all is settled. So the risk I see of engaging in this is the risk of supercharging divisions in the country. I think that in this case the risk unweighs the reward.

14th May 2024 at 5:20 pm
RJKWells

Everything I’ve read about the history of the negotiations leading to Confederation and then after was that the thorny issue of how to lay the foundations for the Senate was left for another day… that can kicked down the road… to be resolved at a later date… that just never seems to be the right time… for this reason… or for that…

So then, let us continue in this state of denial, carry on with the Senate status quo and its spiffy new Potemkin independent façade, and see what our procrastination gets us.

14th May 2024 at 5:46 pm
AndrewW

This percentage is truly shocking, perhaps I am lack of knowledge on our government system, even though this is an inevitable flaw, it is time to change, there has never been such a sense of urgency!

14th May 2024 at 12:38 pm
John Heppleston

It is my humble opinion that we have exactly the Government that we deserve. Our apathy and a general lack of involvement over the past 4-5 decades have essentially given Ottawa a blank cheque to do whatever the majority party or just a majority decided with little, if any, citizen input. I cannot believe the last eight years. From the grassroots level I have seen such a decline in the Canadian “spirit” (except for hockey). Good tax paying Canadians loosing so much of what they have worked so hard to achieve. It is truly a sad state of affairs. In my opinion the entire eight (8) years, for the most part, was unnecessary. If he is not brought up on charges, after he leaves Parliament, to face the “Rule of Law” then Canadians will be assured that the Legal System has failed. One other question, who exactly is going to pay for the EXCESS spending? The people who were never even consulted or informed, until the Government was actually caught in the act or perhaps the MP’s will voluntarily “roll back their pensions” to something that resembles a real Canadian pension. The monies saved could be put back in “General Revenue”. Thank you.

14th May 2024 at 7:32 pm
Michael F

It must be exhausting ginning up a crisis five days a week.

14th May 2024 at 9:05 am
Greg Jackson

Ignorance is bliss, I guess.

14th May 2024 at 12:26 pm
Michael F

Clearly you are buying into the narrative. Keep reading the rage bait.

14th May 2024 at 2:47 pm
Bruce Westmoreland

Clearly, you have blinders on as to not be open to discussion and only open to your own opinion.

14th May 2024 at 8:13 pm
Paul Attics

Is the fact that Liberal appointed senators are now “independent” really a significant factor in the risks of Senate political impasse? Would the governing party really no longer face punishment by voters for the obstructionist actions of “independent” senators? This is pretty thin gruel.

A bigger factor on the likelihood of some possible constitutional crisis sparked by intransigent senators is the increasing nasty partisan nature of the political battlefield; elected officials and citizens alike. Perhaps this is just the natural ebb and flow of politics and nothing new.

14th May 2024 at 9:14 am