Friday, April 25, 2014

No Senate reform, no problem

With today's Supreme Court ruling on the constitutional requirements for Senate refrom, Prime Minister Harper has packed it in:  no more reform.

This is the best of all possible outcomes, very nearly.  Any reform to the Senate would inevitably give the Senate more power, and giving the Senate more power is a bad thing whatever its form.  If the Senate were representative of the country, it would be the House of Commons.  And we have one of those -- it has its problems, for sure, but they need solving in the Commons, not by tinkering with the Senate.

Make the upper house elective, and it becomes more powerful, though still unrepresentative.  Make it appointed by the provinces, and it becomes more powerful though still unrepresentative.  All the changes proposed for the Senate are in the direction of making it seem more legitimate -- and a legitimate-seeming Senate is going to want to throw its weight around. The confederation makers of the 1860s, who drew their power from elective constituencies, did not want a powerful, legitimate-seeming upper house countermanding their will, and they carefully designed a Senate that never would. Ensuring the weakness of the upper house (by making it appointive) created a bulwark for elective representative democracy, not a betrayal of it.

Sure, the Senate is often annoying -- but at least it does not do much. The more it does, the less we have a democratic and representative legislature. The present senate does little good and little harm.  An abolished senate would do no good and no harm. Those are the only palatable alternatives. So the wreckage of Mr. Harper's reform plans is a good thing.

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