Parliament's back on Monday and you can bet that the scandal leading from the inflated expense accounts of four senators will be front and centre again. The months of
chafing has re-kindled a broader desire to do something about the Senate, long a sedate institution that mostly flew under the public radar. But you don't have to go
back very far to find time when the Senate was among some Canadians, the focus of hope and change.
It came out of the West in 1989 ...a Reform Party slogan and a rallying cry said it all: "The West wants in!" Central to this hope of Westerners gaining more influence in Ottawa was a plan to create the Triple-E Senate -- Equal, Elected, and Effective -- and thus entrench a stronger and more legitimate regional voice at the centre of the Canadian political system.
Well the West did get in ...without a Triple-E Senate, when Stephen Harper led his Conservative Party to electoral victory.
It took the wind out of the sails of the movement to reform the Senate because the Western voice was clearly present and in control in Ottawa. But the desire to reform the Senate did not fade away entirely. Prime Minister Stephen Harper first tried to ignore the Senate by not making any appointments. At the same time he encouraged the provinces to take the initiative to elect their own prospective candidates for the Senate, which he would then appoint and thus avoid the taint of what some believed to be a flawed appointment process. With the exception of Alberta, the provinces did not take up the offer. When the Liberal dominated Senate started blocking Conservative legislation, Mr Harper decided to stack the Senate with his own appointments with the proviso that if true Senate reform did come to pass, they would vote themselves out of a job. Now some of those same senators are at the heart of the expense scandal threatening the office of the Prime Minister.
The scandal has pushed Senate reform into the minds of many Canadians. The NDP want the Senate abolished. Others prefer to keep the second chamber. They suggest a range of reforms from electing senators to revamping and de-politicizing the appointment process. Most suggested reforms would do one of two things: bolster its regional representation ...and strengthen and legitmize the means by which Senators are chosen. But many options are simply not possible without making changes to the constitution, which probably means there will be no change. The government has put a series of questions before the Supreme Court to investigate what smaller steps might be possible.
We want to know what you think.
Does the Senate need minor tuning, major reform or abolition? Should standards of behaviour and accountability be tightened? Should the appointments process be changed in some way? Should they be elected? How useful would it be to have a strong institution of regional voices in such a large country? And is this discussion largely theoretical if the Supreme Court says ammending the constitution is the only route?
Our question today just to start the conversation: "Does the Senate need to be reformed or abolished?"
I'm Rex Murphy ...on CBC Radio One ...and on Sirius XM, satellite radio channel 169 ...this is Cross Country Checkup.
Lydia Miljan Associate Professor of political science at University of Windsor. Co-author of several books including Hidden Agendas: How Journalists Influence the News and Public Policy in Canada. Twitter: @lmiljan