Repairs can be made to save upper house


February 17, 2013

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This week in 24 Hours Vancouver Laila Yuile and I debate whether we should scrap the Senate or fix it. Here’s my take (ps go to 24 Hours website to vote for winner):

I’m not here to defend the Senate and the problems that we’ve been hearing so much about in the news lately.

It is abundantly clear that there are serious flaws with the Senate in its current state. Laila thinks we should simply scrap it.

I say let’s fix it.

Most of the problems with the Senate come from its lack of democratic legitimacy. So we don’t have to kill it. Abolishing the Senate is like throwing away a family heirloom table just because it has a broken leg. Let’s save it, let’s make it better, let’s make it work.

There’s been lots of focus on the problems with the Senate, so let’s take a quick glimpse at what the Senate actually has to offer in our parliamentary system. In Canada, the Senate plays an important role. Senators are not there to represent a small geographic constituency of about 100,000 people like Members of Parliament. They are there to represent the entire province.

This is important and it keeps our federation balanced. Senators elected province-wide, like in Alberta, have the responsibility of looking out for the interests of their entire province. It’s the job of MPs to represent their constituents in their home ridings made up of communities and neighbourhoods. Having an upper house made up of individuals who are tasked with representing provinces can only mean that better laws that meet the needs of Canadians coast to coast are passed.

We also need an upper house to provide a second look at legislation and make sure the House of Commons is passing the best laws possible. A Senate that is elected on a different basis than the House of Commons will have a different political makeup, and will serve as a check on the House. It will also ensure that the voices of smaller provinces are not completely overwhelmed by bigger provinces such as Ontario and Quebec.

Almost all major federations in the world have an upper house to balance their federations, including the U.S., Germany, Australia, Russia, Brazil and India.

Every country in the G8 has two houses of Parliament, and most other countries do as well.

So let’s not throw away the baby with the bathwater as Laila suggests. Let’s reform the Senate by electing senators to equally represent all provinces and territories, and bring in things like term limits.

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