Sunday, February 3, 2013

Sunday special: a provincially elected Senate?

Bill C-7 establishes a framework for an elected Senate, limiting the number of years a senator can serve to nine. But by having senators chosen from a list of nominees elected at the provincial level and representing more than a dozen parties with opposing regional interests, the workings of the Senate could be substantially transformed – and chaotic.

You can read the rest of the article on The Globe and Mail website, part of a series of articles the Globe is doing on the Senate.

I'm not quite sure what is intended by Bill C-7 requiring candidates to be registered by provincial parties. Some provincial parties and elected senators might be very happy to caucus with the government of the day or a federal cousin, but not all of them would be. And their allegiances would be mixed. They would have more of a provincial mindset than the current crop of appointed senators, and would have no particular reason to be loyal to any of the federal party leaders. In fact, they might have very good reason to listen to their provincial party leader instead - if at the end of a nine-year term an elected senator hopes to run provincially (or for the Senate once more, I'm not clear on whether C-7 prohibits consecutive terms), they will need the provincial party leader to sign their nomination papers.

Provincially elected senators will not sit together easily. The government has not had any issue appointing those Alberta Progressive Conservatives to the Senate, since they can caucus with the federal Conservative senators. But what if a Wildrose candidate had won the senatorial election? And, more interestingly, what if both a PC and Wildrose senator were appointed to the Senate? Would they really want to sit together in the same caucus?

If Bill C-7 becomes law and the provinces go along, this probably wouldn't cause too much trouble in the short term with the Senate dominated by appointed senators sitting in federal caucuses. But once the number of appointed senators drops and elected senators with provincial party allegiances become more numerous, the tone of the Red Chamber would change dramatically. Would a B.C. Liberal senator side with the federal Conservatives or the federal Liberals? Where would Wildrose fall? Would Alberta and PEI PC senators see eye-to-eye on everything? What about Tory senators from Newfoundland and Labrador? Quebec Liberals? The CAQ? The PQ?

This sort of Senate sounds absolutely fascinating to watch, but I'm not quite sure how it would work in practice - if at all. It could be a moot point since Bill C-7 might never become law and all of the provinces might never go along. But it is an interesting thing to ponder, as this is what the government is proposing in its bill. Have the long-term implications of this bill been considered?