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October 28, 2017 3:15 am

A proportionally representative Senate

Monday, July 27, 2015 @ 3:45 AM

By Bill Phillips 

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s solution to age-old issue of what to do with the Sentate is a crafty one – to say the least.

Harper announced this week that there will be a moratorium on appointing new senators and, given that there are 22 vacancies in the 105-member Senate, it seems Harper has been exercising a de facto moratorium on appointments to the Red Chamber.

Given the recent scandal-plagued track record of Harper appointees, it’s not surprising he’s a little gun shy when it comes to naming new Senators. However, with the election this fall, Harper is wise not to be making any Senate appointments this year, especially now heading into the election home-stretch. Right now it wouldn’t matter who was appointed to the Senate, he would be accused of electioneering, blatant partisanship, and cronyism … even if he appointed a passel of Liberals and New Democrats.

So it’s best to leave the Senate alone … for now. Should Harper win another majority, then all bets are off.

The other piece of crafty politicking on Harper’s point was to do what the federal government has been successfully doing for generations … download it onto the provinces.

The prime minister can do some tinkering with the Senate, but any real, substantive change, such as NDP leader Thomas Mulcair’s promise of abolishing it, requires a Constitutional change. And that, requires the support of the provinces. The hard lessons learned by prime ministers Pierre Trudeau and Brian Mulroney obviously haven’t been lost on Harper. Trudeau had to go behind Quebec Premier Rene Levesque’s back to ratify the Constitution in 1982 and the Meech Lake Accord, which was designed to do what Trudeau couldn’t, bring Quebec in, died an ignoble death.

So Harper, being the crafty guy he is, has changed tactics. Rather than try to get the provinces to agree on a Constitutional amendment to either reform or abolish the Senate, he has told the provinces to hammer something out first. He knows, or at least history suggests, that it is no-win proposal for the federal government to try and line up the provinces. It’s kind of like herding cats. But if those cats come to Ottawa already in a line, Bob’s your uncle.

It’s a crafty move and it allows Harper a comeback every time someone asks him what he’s going to do about the Senate … it’s up to the provinces.

The only catch is I don’t know how keen the provinces are about throwing resources into what is essentially federal jurisdiction. Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall seems to be Harper’s buddy these days, so maybe he’s going to lead the charge at a provincial level. Good luck, he’ll need it.

The moratorium on appointing senators is also an interesting idea. While Constitutional amendment may be needed to abolish the Senate, the jury’s out on whether the prime minister can simply not replace senators who leave … as Harper is currently doing.

It would take successive prime ministers decades to completely eliminate the Senate by attrition. Vancouver lawyer Aniz Alani believes the prime minister can simply not replace senate vacancies and has launched a Constitutional challenge of Harper’s non-appointments. It’s how Mulcair thinks he can abolish the Senate because anyone seeking the prime minister’s job thinking it can be done with the waive of the prime ministerial hand hasn’t been paying attention for the past 30 years. Even Harper’s attempts to re-jig the senate with term limits have been rebuffed by the Supreme Court of Canada.

So what should we do with the Senate?

If we provinces don’t agree on abolishing it or changing the process from appointing senators to electing them, why don’t we make the Senate truly representative of the country. When it was established, the goal was to make the Senate represent the regions … geographically, with the West getting 24 seats, Ontario and Quebec 24 etc.

Why not make the Senate proportionally representative? In other words, fill the vacant seats with the goal of having the Senate reflect the popular vote in this fall’s general election. For example, if the Conservatives, Liberals, and NDP each get 30 per cent of the vote and the Greens 10 per cent (regardless of who forms government), then the prime minister must strive to have 31 Liberal, 31 New Democrat, 31 Conservative, and 12 Green Party members in the Senate.

The problem isn’t that we have a Senate, it’s that it represents the party in power, not the people of the country. That’s all that needs to be changed.

Bill Phillips is a freelance columnist living in Prince George. He was the winner of the 2009 Best Editorial award at the British Columbia/Yukon Community Newspaper Association’s Ma Murray awards, in 2007 he won the association’s Best Columnist award. In 2004, he placed third in the Canadian Community Newspaper best columnist category and, in 2003, placed second. He can be reached at billphillips1@mac.com


Bill Phillips had his head so far up Stephen Harper’s rear end, you can’t tell where Bill ends and Stephen starts.

What an interesting thought to wake up to.

So whose is your favourite politician you like to get personal and up close to like that.

As far as I am concerned, Bill has a good suggestion irrespective of who he is actually close and personal with.

Making the Senate ‘proportionately representative’ the way Bill has suggested would only proportionately represent political Parties, not the respective regions of the country itself. This brings up an ancient argument as to whether Canada was originally conceived as a federal union, as was the United States and Australia, who both have Senates that are (now, in the case of the USA), elected. (This wasn’t the case originally with the US, State governors used to appoint Senators). Or as one united colony, set up to (hopefully) better administer the orginal four colonies that were subject to the BNA Act of 1867. No doubt the centralising NDP and Liberals, who have continually strove to weaken Provincial rights and remaining sovereignty would be all in favour of the “one country, one people, one leader” idea. Ergo their calls to either abolish the Senate or have it remain as ineffective and subject to the PM as it’s become. Properly, in an effective federal union, the Senate should equally and effectively represent the various regions of the country as a check on the power of more populous ones to exert absolute authority in every matter over less populous ones.

“…… would only proportionately represent political Parties.”

Actually it would proportionately represent the people who voted for those political parties or representatives of those political parties who may or may not have attained a seat in the House of Commons.

The House of Commons, just as the House of Representatives in the USA reflects the winner of the riding whether that person was selected because of his or her displayed abilities or merely because of party affiliation.

To me, the sum of those seats is about as close to regional representation as one can get.

The US senate has equal representation on the basis that whether it is California or Rhode Island, each have two senators who have 6 year terms and may stand for election without time limits.

In the case of Canada, the people have no say in the selection of senators. On top of that, they are senators for life. Thus it is difficult to get any sort of representation at all based on fixed criteria since mismatches will eventually happen.

The national popular vote proportioned by party does not generally match the proportion of seats by party.

It makes eminent sense that the Senate should represent that national party vote. It is a method to have a body of Parliament which represents the national sentiment.

Of course, we can continue to keep the old senate which originated as a control mechanism of the Lords over the commoners.

It’s just harper smoke and mirrors . Ten years of him stuffing the senate with 59 rotten apples and on the eve of the election deflecting away from issues that really matter . Like the tanking dollar and an economy in recession . It’s about the economy stupid . He wants to have debates about security and the economy . That would be some gong show if they were to happen . No wonder he’s scared stiff of elizabeth May . The long he waits the worse thing are going to get . Now he’s blaming the disastrous economy on Greece , Europe , China and the USA . Soon he’ll be blaming us . Every one is at falt except the guy in charge . Some leader .

The only thing left for this thing in office is to call the election early . Say , a week after labour day .

Glad to see there is someone in there with the balls to take on the senate and the terrorists and the debt.

take on the debt……?????
thats one of the most laughable statements of the year.
Came into a surplus, pissed it away prior to a recession, that he claimed would not happen under his watch. Ran nothing but deficits, despite claiming he never would.
have you looked at the National Debt?

I understand that Ataloss is on the way to China .

To get the Chinese economy restarted.

So commodity prices will go up.

Then onto the Middle East.

To tell OPEC to stop pumping oil.

So the price of a barrel of oil will go up.

Good article by Bill.

Constitutionally, Mr. Harper does not have this power to refuse to appoint senators. Our Constitution vests a lot of formal power in the Governor-General: the power to appoint senators; the power to dissolve or prorogue Parliament; the power to appoint members of cabinet; the power to add members to the Senate; name and remove a Speaker; and provide Royal Assent to bills.

In each of these cases (save with possible exceptions of prorogation and dissolution in extreme situations), the Governor-General acts only on the advice of the Prime Minister.

What happens when the Prime Minister refuses to provide such advice? In extreme cases, there is no question that the Governor-General would be forced to exercise such power without advice. For instance, the Constitution provides that no House of Commons shall last longer than five years (except in cases of real or apprehended war, invasion or insurrection). There is no question that if a Prime Minister refused to advise the Governor-General to dissolve Parliament before that deadline, the Governor-General would have not only the power but also the duty to do so

In announcing a moratorium on further Senate appointments, the Prime Minister is committing an act of constitutional disobedience. His justifications simply do not pass muster. The asserted cost savings of $6-million annually does not compare well with the bevy of spending on government advertising and other government initiatives. The other assertion is that the moratorium will force the provinces over time to come to an agreement regarding reform or abolition. Considering that the Prime Minister has never met with the premiers to discuss Senate reform, let alone made any concerted effort to find common ground with the provinces, this justification is similarly baseless.

From contempt of parliament to constitutional disobedience . What next ?

Ataloss, if Harper did as he could do and filled all the vacant Senate positions with whomever he chose to appoint, you’d no doubt be down on him for that, too. Far better if the Premiers of each Province advised the Governor-General who to appoint when a Senate vacancy occurs in representation from their respective Province . This would not be out of place with parliamentary tradition in Canada, since the Governor-General has the power to over-rule any Provincial legislation, and we only have ‘Lieutenant’-Governors as the vice-regal Head of State of each Province, not Governors.

govsux, if any government were to pay off the National Debt just what, then, would we use for money?

The vast majority of our money supply exists only as loans to the banking system, who get to create it, as the saying goes, “…out of nothing.” (Actually, as the terms of a contract, one which didn’t exist before ‘lender’ and borrower created them.)

When that money is paid back, it is headed for extinction as money. Already the largest single problem we face is the ever growing difference between the ‘price values’ of all the Assets of the country as a whole, public and private both, that are expressed in money, and the actual amount of money that is in existence capable of meeting those price values. Paying off, or paying down, a National Debt makes this situation worse. Then the only way anything can be sold is for some other debt to be incurred equal to the price we’re trying to liquidate. There’s really no other way currently for the money to come into existence. Oh, we could always have a surplus of exports over imports, too. But that’s self defeating in two, if not more, ways. First of all it raises the value of the Canuck buck internationally, which effectively prices us out the markets we’re trying to get into. And secondly, if we continue to export more real wealth than we import in alternate real wealth, we’re physically getting poorer, not richer.

Governments currently do the same as every private business does, they deficit finance. Only with a private business the system of accrual accounting allows a difference between booking a profit in the Firm’s Profit and Loss
Account, while the Firm can be in negative territory in terms of Cash Flow. Governments don’t use accrual accounting, and so we depend on them continually trans- forming the otherwise unrepayable total floating debt of the private sector into the unrepayable fixed debt of the public one.

So let me get this straight, after nine (9) years in power, Harper has not acted on one of the planks in his election platform which was to abolish the senate. Now after having made 59 appointments to the senate, more than any other seating Prime Minister, he wants to abolish it again?

Huh… must be an election year!

My issue is with the contradictions.
Quotes about the evils of omnibus bills, and then being the omnibus king.
Telling voters the only way there would be a recession is if the opposition got in. We know how that went.
Saying he wouldn’t run deficits, and delivering nothing but.
I could go on with his contradictions.

So credible , so you’re on side with harper by trying to frame the provinces as the patsy for his lack of leadership . That’s not going to wash . He really thinks he can fob his responsibility on to the provinces so that when someone asks him about the senate . He can say , it’s up to the provinces . when everyone versed in the constitution knows full well it takes a great deal more than just unanimity of the provinces . The senate will never be abolished , nor should it be . The reason we found out about his rotten senators is because it was audited . We need the same oversight of the MPs in the lower house as well . I bet it’s even more rotten than the senate .

So far Justin Trudeau is the first person to do anything substantive about the senate . That must really linger in harpers craw . The guy that helped make the senate worse than ever by appointing liars , cheats and thieves to his caucus .

Just what has Justin Trudeau ever done that is ‘substantive’, Ataloss? Other than winning the leadership of a has been Party. And even that mainly on the grounds that there is obviously still some nostalgia there amongst its dwindling membership for the days when his old man was running the country and giving everyone the finger who disagreed with the way he was doing it.

Harper has tried to get agreement on reforming the Senate in a manner that would make it effective in protecting Provincial rights, so that those provinces with the most population do not get to run roughshod over those not as populous. That’s been one of the drawbacks BC, the Prairies and the Maritimes have had to endure ever since they became Provinces. Differential railway freight rates favouring goods coming from the east to BC versus goods going the other way is one early example of how that happened. A more recent one was Trudeau, Sr.’s National Energy Program. Where Alberta gets to subsidise Ontario and Quebec with cheap oil and natural gas, but there’s no reciprocal subsidisation when it comes to Albertans buying manufactures from Ontario.

All politicians deal in contradictions, govsux. If Harper had maintained a balanced Budget in a period of world wide recession, his current opponents critical of him for deviating from one would be all over him for his lack of empathy for the burgeoning number of unemployed and rising number of business failures. Which would’ve been far worse than it otherwise was. NONE of the current political Party leaders will ever willingly deal with the greatest contradiction of them all. Why anyone thinks we need to have 100% full employment, with all those employed working ever harder and ever longer, when it’s obvious to anyone who cares to observe that we already are more than capable of creating all the goods and services we could ever possibly consume with an ever decreasing number of people providing them. Indeed, every call for increased productivity can mean nothing more than more ‘product’ output with LESS labor input. Our problem today is not one of scarcity, but one of how to get rid of an unsaleable glut. Which we’re trying to make still larger?

That’s just a blatant lie not so credible . Harper has done nothing to change , inhance or reform anything to do with the senate period ! He has NEVER sat down with the provinces to discuss anything to do with the senate . In fact he has never sat down with the provinces about any thing period . Maybe in your fantasies but not in reality . The only thing he has don’t is stuff the senate with 59 Cronies and 30 of them are under investigation for corruption . Do you know how long ago PET was in the drivers seat ? Why not bring up the guy that first screwed bc . JA macdonald if you don’t know . The reason he hasn’t appointed any senators is not to save money or kill the senate . It because he has a majority in the senate without appointing new conservative senators .

Well, ataloss, if Harper HAD done anything unilaterally to change the Senate the way the Reform Party contingent of the current Conservative Party of Canada coalition has long advocated, you’d be calling him a dictator. So far as him sitting down with the Provinces is concerned, there’s far more unity in the country today than there ever was under any of the Liberal PMs from Lester Pearson onwards. The West isn’t talking separatism like it once was, or even running candidates for office under the Western Canada Concept banner. And Quebec? It and the Federal government under Harper haven’t been at each other’s throats like under the Liberals. Even when Quebec has had a separatist PQ government. So he must be doing something right.

BTW, Ataloss, the guy that “first screwed BC” was Amor de Cosmos, not Sir John A.

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