CALGARY, AB Jan. 30, 2014 – The move by the Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau to reduce partisanship in the federal Senate is the first concrete step in decades that moves the Red Chamber closer to being the institution of sober second thought its defenders claim it is, Canada West Foundation President and CEO Dylan Jones said today.mis
“Trudeau’s surprisingly principled and decisive step takes the country beyond debate to action,” said Jones. “We can leave it to the strategists to agonize over the political wisdom of Trudeau’s move, but it is at least refreshing to see something on the Senate file that actually has some logic to it.”
Efforts by the Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper to push for a so-called triple-E Senate – equal, elected and effective – have been frustrated by the prospect of reopening constitutional talks. As a result, the only movement has been towards appointing elected representatives. Meanwhile, the institution’s seat distribution remains grossly unequal. For example, New Brunswick, with a population of just more than 750,000, has 10 seats, while B.C., with a population of more than 4.5 million, has just six.
Moving only to an elected, or single-E, Senate “legitimizes an institution that is deeply undemocratic in its representation,” said Jones. “An elected Senate alone will not help the West be heard in Ottawa. In fact, it will diminish its voice.”
Challenging the Senate to perform its intended purpose is a more logical course than the efforts to legitimize the Chamber through Senate elections. Jones notes that it is ironic that this action to (intentionally or unintentionally) address the interests of the West was taken by Trudeau.
While there is no doubt many of the Liberal senators will continue to be partisan, the removal from caucus and fundraising activities creates new possibilities. For those who try to justify the Senate as a house of sober second thought, there really can be no justification for the strong party whips we’ve seen in recent years.
Much of the immediate response to Trudeau’s move has been a cynical analysis of whether this will insulate the Liberals from the current Senate spending scandal. This analysis misses the point.
Jones notes that Trudeau’s move is still not enough to get the Senate to the point of where it is anything other than a costly distraction for the country. There is no coherent philosophy as to why we need a second chamber to duplicate the work of the House of Commons. It would be better to abolish the Senate and focus on reforms that would actually improve the lives of Canadians.
“But Trudeau’s course of action is at least doable and an improvement,” said Jones. “It’s hard to see it making the situation worse.”
The Canada West Foundation exclusively focuses on the policies that shape the West’s quality of life. Through our evidence-based research and commentary, we provide the objective, practical solutions that governments need. For over 40 years, we have been a passionate advocate for western Canada.