Pulse of Canada: Do we need term limits for Canadian senators?

Thomas Bink
Pulse of Canada
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Each Friday, Yahoo! Canada News asks Canadians where they stand on the important issues of the day, and our panel of experts tackles the same question.

News reports about abuses of power by Canadian senators has prompted some to call for Senate reform. Do you think term limits should be imposed on Canadian senators?

Here's what you said:

Thomas Bink: Well, there’s no question something needs to be done. I’m a big believer in the idea of a “sober second look” at legislation, but Canada’s Senate has become a gold-laced dumping ground for entitled faux celebrities and patronage appointments. So I’m all in favour of some kind of Senate reform – whether it’s an elected Senate or some kind of regional nomination process – and setting a maximum term limit of 12 years for senators is a great place to start the discussion.

Andy Radia: I think term limits and even elected Senates create more problems than we have now. Legitimizing the Senate – by having elected senators and instituting term limits – may end up stalling legislation like we see in the United States. Let's just abolish the Senate and the let the courts and voters (every 4 years) be the sober second thought. Most provinces in Canada used to have their own Senates; Quebec was the last one to abolish theirs in the 1960s. The provinces have survived just fine with a second sober thought.

Matthew Coutts: Term limits, yes. But that’s not going to solve the issue by itself. How long was Patrick Brazeau a senator? The Brazzman was in the Senate for just over four years, and look at the mess he caused. That said, I don’t agree with Andy that abolishing the Senate is the way to go. We need those checks and balances, especially in the case of a majority government. The best way to clear the Senate is to take the politics out of the appointment process. No more cushy jobs for friends of the prime minister. Give the provinces full say on who represents them. And then, yes, limit them to ten or 12 years. And while we are at it: 105 Senators? Is that necessary?

Bink: Good point! Why are there 105 senators, and why 10 from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick but only six for Alberta and B.C.? The whole thing is an outdated mess. I am concerned about legislation getting slammed through by a majority government, but I’d be fine with abolishing if there was a legitimate alternative beyond waiting four years to vote out a government. I guess if a Senate is stacked it wouldn’t offer much resistance anyways. One way or another, I hope this becomes an election issue, because something’s got to change. A baby step would be term limits.

Radia: I think you guys are overvaluing the benefit of a Senate. I think we can all agree that over the past couple of decades at least the Senate has been, with some exceptions, nothing more than a rubber stamping factory. So essentially it's been useless and provided very little benefit to the country. And nothing bad has happened, has it? We have a constitution, we have the Charter, and we have elections every four years – that should be all we need for checks and balances.

Coutts: Hey, I just want to point out that I’m not married to the Senate either, but I’m still terrified about what happens if there isn’t a braking system on a majority government. What say you to this: We abolish the Senate and also bring about proportional representation reform for the House of Commons. That should guarantee a more balanced government, with fewer majorities, and ease my mind a bit on the need for a Senate.

Bink: Crikey, now we’re reforming the entire legislative process. I think Andy’s convinced me – let’s just abolish the rubber-stamp Senate. We need less government, not more. And think of millions in savings.

Coutts: I think it’s clear that something has to change. The Senate can’t remain the bacchanalian spend-fest it currently is. I’ll agree to abolish the Red Chamber, as long as we don’t have to go back to listening to the Queen.

So, what do you think? Have your say in the comments area below.

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