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Federal Politics

On Senate reform, Rae should choose his battles more carefully

Liberal interim leader Bob Rae

For the record, I am still trying to figure out how I think Canada could best tackle the problem of a 19th Century Senate in the 21st Century. I am not convinced that outright abolishing it would be wise, nor am I certain that half-measures like fixed-terms and fixed-seats is the way to go. I know that after Meech Lake and Charlottetown no Prime Minister will ever willingly open the constitution to discussion from the provinces as would be necessary to make any radical changes to the make-up and operation of the Senate. So long as this remains the case, we can forget about rational, measured, or meaningful reform.

So bring on the Plan B’s!

According to the Vancouver Sun, Harper has plans to “introduce legislation in the Senate this month that will reduce Senators’ terms as well as set out a process by which Canadians will elect senators in provincewide elections,” despite several provinces saying outright they will not hold Senate elections of the kind Harper is demanding. Some, in fact, are calling for its outright abolition.

But remember:

[The Conservatives] have no plans to tackle the thorny issue of seat distribution in the Senate — despite western calls that it would make the chamber more regionally equal — because that change would require the consent of the provinces and cause a “messy” constitutional battle, Democratic Reform Minister Tim Uppal told Postmedia News last week.

So – since we have lowered our expectations significantly on the Senate file, and are unwilling to considering reform that would require hard work and debate, this is the best that we can hope for: fixed-terms and an outline for proposed Senate elections that many provinces have already rejected.

So where does interim Liberal leader Bob Rae fit into this? I suppose in his effort to gain some relevance in the 41st Parliament of Canada (which is a hard task for the interim leader of the third party, a position that wreaks of importance) he is attempting to convince the government that he knows better than they do what is good for their home base in Western Canada and British Columbia.

While Rae may honestly believe that “if they have an elected Senate that’s elected on the basis that Mr. Harper is proposing, he is screwing his own province and the same to British Columbia,” as policy it won’t win him any points. Senate reform is about as exciting as What Board policy to the vast majority of Canadians, and add to this the fact that Rae is attempting to convince people in the Tory heartland that they are being ‘screwed’ by their conservative savior, and you have a recipe for…nothing. Nothing lost, but absolutely nothing gained. A wasted opportunity.

I know you’re looking for something to define yourself and your time as leader, Bob, but Senate reform is not it, and certainly not in the way you are approaching it. Choose a battle you can impact more significantly than this. The 33 Liberals behind you in the rump will thank you.

About awreeves

Editor-in-chief at Alternatives Journal. Author of 'Overrun: Dispatches from the Asian carp Crisis'.


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