Modify the senate

The Irish are having as much doubt about their senate as we Canadians have about ours.

I see in the news lately that the Irish are having as much doubt about their senate as we Canadians have about ours, even to the point of holding a referendum to abolish it.

In the 1860s, Canada’s senate was designed by the fathers of confederation to be, in Sir John A. Macdonald’s words, “a place of sober second thought.” Old John A. sure did have an ironic sense of humour.

Through its history, our upper chamber has variously been the subject of derision, apathy or controversy.  In the 1980s its denizens appeared — for those of us old enough to remember — as crusty old codgers in Len Norris cartoons. Preston Manning and his Reform Party wanted to reform the Senate — to make it Triple E, namely equal, effective and elected. The New Democrats have wanted to abolish it for years.

Recently, the Senate’s three famous spenders — Duffy, Harb and Wallin — have provided icing for Canada’s stale cake.

Will we Canadians eventually — like the Irish nearly did — abolish our senate? The idea of leaving Canada’s lawmaking to our MPs alone is a pretty scary spectre.

Clearly, problems with the Senate stem from the way its members are selected. Old party favourites are given their senatorial rewards by the prime minister of the day. Alternatively, electing them would only duplicate the electoral process of voting for MPs.

Which brings me to a novel idea. During provincial or local elections, candidates could be elected to a potential Senate body, and then from that body, Senators would be selected by lot. If members of trial juries are selected in a generally considered fair way, why can’t we use a modified jury selection system for choosing our senators?

Patrick proudlock


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