Monday, February 22, 2010

Senate Reform pt 2


So, how would I rebalance the Senate? I say we must keep with our tradition of 24 seat regions. The answer therefore becomes to rebalance our regions. There are proposals on the table to make BC a 24 seat region, but I feel this is a very bad idea. Alberta is close behind in population and it would be grossly unfair to give BC 24 (or even 12) senators while Alberta has only 6. The answer, in my mind, is to redesign the current “West” region of the Senate. There are two ways we may do this. The first is to turn the “West” region into a “Prairie” region, and exclude BC; The next is to truncate the “West” and exclude Manitoba and Saskatchewan. The end result is the same. BC has 12 senators. Alberta has 12 senators. Saskatchewan and Manitoba have 6 each. Due to the simplicity of it, and due to the fact that there is also a proposal on the table to give BC 12 seats, I prefer the Prairie option. To review, this would do the following to the Senate
NS – 10
NB – 10
PE – 4
MB – 6
SK – 6
AB – 12
Grand total – 117

This would add 12 senators to our current Senate. While it would slightly dilute the power of the Senate, I believe that Quebec (at least under a Liberal government) would be willing to accept this than risk EEE eventually gaining enough support to pass somehow.

So how would these Senators be chosen? The key as I see it is that they need to be elected though a form of electoral college. Most importantly, I wish to divide up this last part with regards to which government elects these senators.

1/6th of our Senators should be chosen by the Federal Parliament, while 5/6ths by the provinces. That means from Manitoba, 1 Senator would be chosen by the House of Commons while 5 would be picked by the Manitoba Legislature. Ontario would pick 20, while Canada would pick 4. Residency requirements would remain, so Ontario’s 4 ‘federal’ Senators must be from Ontario, but they should be chosen not by the Premier and his Legislature, but by the Prime Minister and his House of Commons.
(Note that the 3 maritime provinces do not have a number of senators that is a direct multiple of 6. I suggest solving this by rounding. PEI would have 3 and 1, while NS and NB would have 8 and 2. The Territories only have 1 seat each. Since they are territories and not Provinces, I recommend they be appointed by the Feds)

So how would this work? I propose the following:

All Senators sit until a qualified replacement is chosen. If a senator passes away or resigns while in office, that seat remains vacant until a qualified replacement is chosen. So what exactly does one need to be “Qualified”? Firstly, you need to fit the requirements of sitting in the Senate. At current that means owning some property ($5,000 worth I think) being a resident of the province in question, a Canadian citizen, and being at least 35. At current it also means being under 75, I would not be opposed if this remained, but it would be easier if this were removed. The next thing, and I feel this is key to preventing abolitionist provincial government from obstructing the work of the Senate, is that Senators must serve. This prevents, for example, and NDP government appointing a batch of Senators who have committed to not showing up for work. This would mean that such NDP governments would have a difficult choice if either appointing Senators that work, or, allowing the opposition’s Senators to remain. It is needed, I feel, to make the Senate function properly.

So how are these Senators chosen? After each Throne Speech (generally after each election, but it can happen more often – Canada is going to have such a speech once our Parliament resumes, and Ontario is going to take a short break of a week or two and do the same) the Legislature will meet to chose the Senators. The first round will be a simple block vote. In (political) reality, this means each party will present a slate. Lets take Ontario as our example. The Ontario Liberals would present 20 Senate candidates to the Provincial Parliament. The Ontario PC Party would present 20. And hopefully, the Ontario NDP would also present 20. The Legislature will then vote, and any list getting a majority of votes is declared elected. Since the Ontario Liberals hold a majority of the seats, this means all 20 of their Senators will be elected.
So, what in Minority situations? That is where it gets interesting. In that case, we go to a second, and final round. In that round, senators are chosen using proportionality in a caucus like manner. This means that the entire Legislature will vote for which slate they prefer, and results will be distributed based on a PR scheme.

Federally assigned Senate seats would be assigned in the same manner, except with the slates being nation wide. In my next post I will provide examples.

Sorry, no extra data today!


Bernard von Schulmann said...

Just curious, why should BC not get a full 24 senators? I could see the case if BC was over represented in the house of Commons, but it is not.

Should the Senate not help in making better regional representation?

Right now New Brunswick gets 10 MPs and 10 Senators for a population smaller than Vancouver Island and closer to Ottawa. BC gets 36 MPs and 6 Senators. There is a real problem with equity here.

If BC were three or four provinces, it would have 18 to 24 Senators and have 40 to 50 MPs. As it is stands BC is handicapped in getting the issues of this region noted in Ottawa.

As to how to select the Senators, it has to be direct selection by the people. People want to have a reasonable say in who represents them and elections are the way to do it.

All sitting Senators should be expected to resign before a reformed Senate sits. Not a single one of the sitting Senators has been able to make an ethical and moral argument as to why the deserve to be there without any mandate from the Canadian people.

nixtuff said...

Why should BC not get 24 senate seats? The answer is simple and one word long - Quebec. They would never stand for it.

18, now that's possible, but not with Quebec. In a Quebecless Canada, I could see Ontario keep 24, but allow BC and Alberta 18 each, while Manitoba and Saskatchewan get 10 a piece. Then again, I think in a Quebecless Canada, Ontario may well accept EEE as a fair compromise against it's dominance of the new nation.

Bernard von Schulmann said...

The problem in Canada now is that BC and Alberta have more people than Quebec but fewer MPs and fewer senators.

Never before in Canadian history have two provinces with a combined population more than a single province had fewer MPs. As the population continues to grow in the west, there will be more and more people unhappy with their lot in Canada.

If the representation remains unfair for a significant length of time and the three western most provinces continue to have to be the ones that pay into equalization, there will be a lot of discontent. This will spawn a western separatist movement based around the idea of fairness.

Adding senators to BC and Alberta would go part way to dealing with the problem.

Very few people in BC and Alberta will be willing to endure unfair representation simply to retain one province in the country.

If you start to reform the Senate, BC will expect to have equality with Ontario and Quebec. The only way to avoid that is not to change representation in the Senate.

Canada will have to either address the problems with unfair representation of risk losing BC and Alberta