Closed-door Senate under siege: Four solutions to Canada’s 145-year itch

Andy Radia
Politics Reporter
Canada Politics

'Senate-bashing' has become a popular sport in Canada.—

Earlier this week, The Canadian Press piled-on, complaining that our upper chamber isn't very open and transparent:

"The reporter for weekly newspaper L'Etoile was told that he would have to physically come to Ottawa to look through the Senate attendance register, fat red binders with forms filed monthly by each senator … Another public registry, detailing the financial and business interests of senators, has only been available four hours per weekday at the Office of the Senate Ethics Officer in Ottawa. The Senate voted in May to make the registry public, but the office said the transition won't be complete until 2013."

The Senate is an easy target.

Here we have an un-elected, unaccountable and ineffective government body with 105 patronage appointees receiving a guaranteed salary of $132,000 until the age of 75.

Quite frankly, it's one of the most sickening displays of government waste in Ottawa today.

But alas, it seems that our political parties are actually doing something about it.

The Tories continue to insist that senate reform legislation introduced last year will be passed while NDP leader Thomas Mulcair has asked veteran MP Joe Comartin to look at the senate conundrum and draft a roadmap for his party.

Here are the options before them:

Keep the status-quo:

Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada's first prime minister, called the Senate a place of "sober second thought" so that legislation would receive proper, careful consideration before finally becoming law.

But instead of serving as a check on the House of Commons, the Senate has become nothing more than a place for patronage appointments.  Prime ministers from MacDonald to Harper have manipulated its intended purpose by using Senate appointments merely as a way to have their legislation rubber-stamped.

These Senators, appointed at the whim of the prime minister, have no accountability and limited functions.

That's something Canadians are fed-up with.

But, then again, something we have put up with for a 145 years.

Reform the Senate:

The Harper government introduced legislation in the House of Commons last year proposing a system for provinces and territories to establish elections for their senators. The prime minister and governor general would have to consider those elected, but would not be bound to appoint them when vacancies arrive. The bill also proposes to limit senators to a single nine-year term.

While the reforms would definitely bring some accountability to the upper chamber, they've drawn criticism from some who question whether the reforms would hinder the cause of regional representation.

Others have argued that the new rules would make the Senate too powerful.

Abolish the Senate:

During the 2011 election campaign, NDP leader Jack Layton mused about abolishing the Senate.

Unfortunately, that would require opening up the Constitution and winning the support of seven provinces with 50 per cent of the population.

That's not going to happen anytime soon.

Move the Senate to Winnipeg:

While a move to Winnipeg won't fix any of the Senate's inherent problems, a Winnipeg-based journalist thinks it's a great idea.

"A little-known episode in [the Charlottetown Accord] saga was that during the negotiations, an idea was hatched in the bowels of Manitoba's magnificent neoclassical Legislative Building (if buildings indeed have bowels) to have the reformed Senate re-located to Winnipeg," Paul Adams wrote for

"Winnipeg is not only in the middle of the country, sort of; it is also in the West, sort of. Symbolically, this is perfect.

"What are the arguments for keeping the Senate where it is?"