Canadians, who have given any thought to that most anachronistic of legislative
institutions, the Senate, believe that it offends their democratic
sensibilities, that it is remote, elitist, unnecessary and generally useless.
The truth is, the Senate has done little to assuage this view.
another condition underpinning the red chamber’s perceived illegitimacy?
as I see it, is that Canadian society is devoid of a meaningful ‘culture’ of
the Senate. It possesses a place neither
in our hearts nor in our minds.
an intellectual and an intuitive understanding of the role of the Senate’s
sister chamber, the House of Commons. Similarly, they have a mature appreciation
of the role and responsibilities of individual Members of Parliament (MPs).
almost daily, inside and outside the House.
They are spokespersons in the media, critics and defenders of public
policy issues; champions of rights, causes and public interests. As the
Government, some of them act in Ministerial capacities; hence, MPs’
relationship with Cabinet Government is, is both understood and respected. They
return to their constituencies to be graded, every four years or so.
witnesses, supporters or participants (or all three) in the electoral process, many
Canadians have cultivated a well-developed sense of what they expect of their
MP. We have reserved a willing place for
them, on a multiplicity of levels. It is
easy to describe their presence and their role, as ‘cultural’.
think about it, perceptions of both the role and our expectations of MPs have
been a part of our political consciousness, for a long time.
comparison, our perspective of where the Senate and the role of Senators fit in
our politics is quite undeveloped, and for good reasons. We are limited not
just by our theoretical but also by our experiential knowledge, of the second
Chamber’s constitutional purpose and what it actually does, day to day.
processes have a different resonance, too, when the Senate is invoked. If, for example, a citizen were voting for a
Senator, would he apply the same criteria to a candidate, whom he might vote
for, as MP? Would his expectations of the two candidates, with regards to public
policy matters, differ? Would they be perceived as duplicates of each other or
might a Senatorial Candidate be expected to bring something different to public
not only about how they might assess the Senator’s capability during an election,
but on what basis they would judge his performance later on.
on the basis of how “soberly” he assessed some piece of legislation? On how
capably he debated fellow Senators? If in Opposition, would he receive brownie
points for how skilfully he delayed or proposed changes to specific pieces of
legislation? If a supporter of the Governing Party, should he take equal credit,
with MPs, for things accomplished, even though the Senate has no constitutional
authority to propose a money Bill? Would the public care if the Senator was an
effective Member of a number of Committees, Studies and Inquiries?
Senate history, a filibuster or two and a hunger strike by a Liberal Senator in
the Mulroney era brought the Chamber some fleeting public profile. More recently, the manner in which Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin and others have kept their Accounts, has put the Senate back
in the news. But after these matters are
disposed of, it is unlikely the public will be any more enlightened as to the
Senate’s functional importance to Canadian society, than it ever was.
not consume any meaningful media ‘space’ (absent Duffy type issues); hence, it
does not engage our consciousness. How could it not be absent from our culture,
comes to the Senate, no one can point to historic battles fought; no Senator,
in that role, is known to have made an indelible mark on Canadian society.
exists no context and little empathy for what constitutes ‘appropriate’ responses
to either fundamental or complex Senate related issues. It will take some time,
several elections and a substantial presence, on the evening news, before the
public is able to sort out an appropriate differentiation of the two Chambers.
meantime, their notion of the role of the Senate will remain as vague as its best
known label: “ a chamber of sober second thought”. Such a
nebulous and undefined attribution is not a great claim when the very
foundation of the place is being challenged by abuse, and possible illegality. It is worthless when its status is
compromised after a decades held view as to its uselessness and representation from
an eclectic mix of elites, but mostly pastured partisans, who have no
obligation to ‘report’ or do much of anything.
Senate were reformed, I submit, Canadian society is not geared for a second
House of Commons; the Senate has to offer something more or different and not something
less. Had the Senate been successful,
throughout history, in taking possession of at least a part of our political
mindset, things might have turned out differently.
having captured a place in our ‘hearts’, for well over one hundred years, it is
difficult to imagine, how even an elected Senate, could now acquire a
legitimate place in either our minds, as having a role in Canadian democratic
level, no Senator has attempted to build a relationship or as much as a tenuous
connection, with the people each ostensibly represents. But for sporadic exceptions,
they could be as dead, as the institution that gives them a title.
Senators, themselves, see no need to report and when their constituency sees
them as illegitimate, what is left to be said?
believe that an “equal” Senate (i.e. P.E.I. is to Ontario as Vermont is to
California) is in the cards, or that there is still a chance that this
legislative body can be infused with a new, more relevant constitutional
purpose, likely you will be happy when the Senatorial dustbin has been cleaned