The Senate in Canada: a throwback that needs to be abolished

MATIAS DE DOVITIIS*

 

There are many things wrong with Canada that need fixing. There are many things with many countries, don’t get me wrong, Canada is better off than most places in planet Earth. We don’t suffer the perils of war like other places and our corruption problems or our poverty problems are not as bad when compared to other corners of the world. Where we really get it wrong is on the Senate.

 

It is a bit laughable that in the 21 century we still have an unelected body of people approving our laws and running our government. The original concept for the creation of the Senate was that Canada, as a new country, required a sober second chamber to temper the will of the House of Commons. In today’s words, what that really means is that the rich and politically connected do not feel that the “commoners” would make the right decisions and need a second opinion.

 

After all, you had to be wealthy to be in the Senate (they originally had very stringent money, gender and age restrictions on who could be elected), but you also had to be connected. I guess the assumption was that being rich, male and from the right social circles made you smarter. It was the Governor General in the 1800’s that chose Senators and it is the Prime Minister that chooses today. And it is not a bad gig if you are able to land it. A salary for life, travel expenses, staff to organize your life. All these are the necessary things an elected national official gets, but without the trouble of having to do the drudgery of responding to the needs of the public. Yet, as much as the perks are the things that somehow get front pages of the Senate scandals we are seeing now, what really irks me is the fact that they are not elected.

 

I have a hard time giving the decision makers of the time the benefit of the doubt. I doubt very much that unelected officials contributed more to the good of the country at any time, then or now, than what could be offered by elected officials. Unelected Senators respond to each other, to their political networks and to their political bosses. They do not work for constituents in the same way that elected officials and we are all the poorer for it. They do not feel the pressures of the public and they do not act on these. They are separated from our needs, our fears, our hopes and our aspirations. They naturally represent the aspirations of a different class. Without the scrutiny of elections I fail to see how we can ever achieve responsible government. Maybe if they had the internet and twitter back then, we would have known a lot more about all the backroom deals earlier and things would have changed decades ago. What I know for a certainty is that if Canadians had been electing our Senators for any kind of time, we would have better government today.

 

* Uruguayan –Canadian Political scientist, based in Toronto