Monday, November 29, 2010

What would an elected Senate look like?

While Prime Minister Stephen Harper has struggled to govern in the face of an opposition majority in the House of Commons for almost five years, he’s recently been enjoying a majority in the unelected Senate. But if senators were elected and limited to eight-year terms, as the Conservative Party claims to prefer, the Red Chamber could be just as tumultuous as its democratic counterpart.

The rest of the article can be read on The Globe and Mail website.


  1. Cool. Good work on this, Eric. Tone is a little depressing, but meh.

  2. Four Atlantic Provinces with a combined population of ~2,344,300 having 30 senators.

    Four Western Provinces with a combined population of ~10,510,000 having 24 senators.

    Anything wrong with that picture?

    Sure would like to follow the U.S. model with 2 (perhaps 3) senators/province.

    That's why the old Reform Party's Triple E (equal, elected, effective) senate platform resonated so well in the west. But alas, it's Canada and nobody wants to open up that can of worms.

  3. There has been almost no discussion of how exactly senators would be elected if they were elected. Would they be elected individually at-large? Would there be some sort of STV like system as in Australia? Would Ontario be divided into 24 senatorial ridings while PEI would be split into four?

    Its really a bit of a useless exercise when these questions are all unanswered.

  4. JQ,

    Triple-E is okay, if you want to completely piss off all premiers.

    In the US, there's a reason why the Senators are held in such high regard - because they often wield more influence than governors in all matters, including domestic, state-specific policy.

    Having Triple-E, where you have 2 or 3 representatives with lots of power, is never, ever going to fly with the Premiers. They've seen what happened down south, so do you think they'll give up their autonomy for the sake of a more democratic-ish Senate? They're the representatives of their province, not the Senators.

    If there is ever to be serious Senate reform, it needs to be an entire rethink of its raison d'etre if the Premiers are ever to accept it. It can't be Triple-E because thats based around representation of the provinces, and that's the Premiers job; so it has to be legislative in its scope, a true chamber of "sober second thought." But the question is, how do you work with that?

  5. I used the Alberta senate elections as my guide, i.e. these hypothetical senators were elected province-wide.

  6. If Senators were elected province wide, then Senate elections would resemble elections for Vancouver city council. Which raises the possibility one party could sweep a province, making things even more distorted than the House Of Commons

  7. And this is why an elected Senate is a terrible idea.

    Harper has it stuck in his mind that an elected Senate would somehow be better. I understood the calls to elect Senators from the EEE Senate folks - they were using the "elected" part as a means to sell the "equal" part, which was really their main goal (taking power away from Ontario and Quebec).

    But just making the Senators elected, and forcing them to justify their election by spending a ton of money, would only serve to grossly inflate the size (and cost) of government.

    This is exactly what happened when the US switched to an elected Senate (done by the 17th amendment in 1913) - the size of their central federal government ballooned as they now had dozens more elected officials trying to buy votes and pander to public opinion.

    No, electing the Senate is a terrible idea with terrible consequences.

  8. With the Senate being in the news all of a sudden, it seemed like a topic worth exploring. Opinion runs hot on this issue, which is a little odd considering that there is very little political appetite to tackle it.

  9. Only 30% of people want to abolish the Senate? Really?

    And two-thirds want 8-year term limits? Getting rid of the experienced Senators would make the Senate even weaker as a check on the PM's power than it already is. The PM would only have to wait a year or two before being able to appoint the majority of Senators, and only 8 years to appoint every single Senator!
    This "reform" would result only in more power for the PM. You might as well just shut the Senate down, like they did in Quebec 60 years ago (we haven't missed it).

  10. I agree with DL. Everytime the senate discussion comes up I'm left wondering how an election is supposed to work. Unless the senate is unequal you're going to have provinces having multiple provincial elections... or a giant slate that mostly gets in one election... or a breakdown of the provinces into senate ridings...

    In any case I have no interest in a powerful senate. The US is a great warning sign of what can happen with a system of powerful, unequal, and at-large electors.

    Increasing the numbers in the senate today to even it up is fair, and I think easily achievable.


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