Monday, October 28, 2013

Andrew Smith on the Senate

Andrew Smith's blog The Past Speaks, has a long, thoughtful, and historically-informed piece on the Canadian Senate up. It draws less on the current scandals than on the Quebec Court of Appeal's analysis of Senate history in its recent decision finding the Harper government's Senate reform plans unconstitutional.

I'm generally sceptical of arguments that the Senate plan of 1867 was to create a powerful anti-democratic institution at the heart of Canadian governance. It seems clear that the confederation-makers' spectacular success was to endow the Senate from the start with the illegitimacy that appointment was certain to confer, thereby ensuring that the Senate would never effectively challenge the more representative lower house.

But Andrew's evidence and argument are interesting -- particularly when, in acknowledging there was never going to be a Canadian class equivalent to the British aristocracy of the mid-19th century, he considers how the senate may have come to represent the Canadian business class.

I suspect the way to pursue this question might be to investigate the careers of men like Salter Hayden, a Toronto lawyer appointed by Mackenzie King in 1940 who as chair of the Senate Banking Committee functioned as the Senator from Bay Street until his retirement in 1983. Careers like his suggest how the Senate still lacked power but had influence, as a kind of lobbyists' chamber. But with the imposition of party discipline on the Senate and the appointment of party functionaries like Keith Davey and publicists like Duffy and Wallin, even that role seems to have shrunk in recent decades.
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