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Senate Reform

Created by dave. Last edited by dave, 18 years and 103 days ago. Viewed 4,854 times. #2
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This proposal is to change the Senate into a chamber based strictly on proportional representation.

The Senate would be transformed into a chamber containing approximately one-half the number of seats in the House, and this number of seats would be adjusted at the same time as the number of seats in the House.

Senators would be selected from the list of defeated candidates for the House, grouped by their party affiliation, and sorted by absolute number of votes received by that candidate in the election.

As such, the election for the Senate would merely become a part of the existing federal election apparatus.

This proposal addresses the following desired goals for Senate Reform:

  1. Maintaining the present House of Commons system as an association of representatives
  2. Strengthening the incentive for votor participation
  3. Promoting Federalism over Regionalism
  4. Introducing Proportional Representation
  5. Selecting a candidate selection protocol for a Proportional Representation that is controlled by the votors

Historical Perspective

When initially conceived, the Senate was described by Sir John Macdonald as being a chamber of "sober second thought". The concern was that the commoners would elect representatives who lacked the perspective to conduct government in a wholly responsible manner. Therefore the Senate was implemented to act as a brake on the House should matters threaten to get out of control.

Canada's parliamentary tradition as of late holds that the Senate is a passive body, providing little in the way of actual power. Indeed it is only through attempts to interrupt the traditional flow of legislation that the Senate inserts itself onto the media's agenda.

Maintaining the House Of Commons

The importance of the current system of representatives cannot be understated. Each representative, or Member of Parliament, is tasked primarily with representing the interests of the citizens in his or her riding. This system gives each citizen an easily discoverable starting point when seeking assistance within, or with, government operations.

Wholesale replacement of the system of representatives would turn this on its head. Citizens would not have an easily discoverable representative they could contact. Citizen requests would not be distributed across parliamentary representatives (in the absence of other options) start at the top; one could anticipate the majority of requests for assistance starting at the Prime Minister's office.

Strengthening Voter Participation

Voter participation is currently at a low level, with little incentive for voters to increase their level of participation.

By making the absolute number of votes a candidate received matter on a national scale, supporters of otherwise marginalized parties (such as the Green party) have a greater incentive to participate and to vote for the party of their choice. While their vote may still not carry weight for the seat in the House, it will have an influence over a position in the Senate.

Promoting Federalism Over Regionalism

The federal government should be tasked with federal concerns. As such, any system of representation should remain proportional (one citizen gets one vote; one riding has a reasonably similar number of potential voters to that of any other riding).

The current system of favoring some regions with a disproportionately higher number of ridings-per-population would be counteracted by a system which ranks absolute number of votes on a national scale: a region with fewer voters is less likely to have a defeated candidate with a large enough number of absolute votes to rank highly on the national list of senate candidates.

This will ensure that regional biases in one chamber will be appropriately marginalized in the other, and should provide a long-term incentive to transform both chambers into more proportional riding sizes.

Candidate Selection

It is important to have a candidate selection protocol which is controlled by the voters and is resistant to manipulation by the political parties. Any selection protocol which involves potential senators being forwarded by the political party apparatus (either from the leaders office or otherwise) turns the Senate into a patronage appointment open to potential abuse.

Simultaneously, there is a need to keep the election process simple, without adding on the overhead of additional races on the electorate.

During a federal election, we already have a supply of candidates who have received votes and yet not been elected to office: those candidates who have been defeated. By reusing this list of candidates, grouped by party and ranked by number of votes received, we have a list from which we can pull potential senators.

This process will encourage the political parties to forward quality candidates in all ridings. Quality candidates will attract more votes, and the more votes a candidate gets (even if unsuccessful in achieving a seat in the House) the more likely they are to serve either in the House or the Senate.

The Role Of A Reformed Senate

Canada's parliamentary tradition as of late holds that the Senate is a passive body, providing little in the way of actual power. Once this Senate is transformed into an elected body (through this proposed mechanism or others) the parliamentary tradition will have to be adjusted in order for the Senate to participate in the governing of the country.

An initial step would be to have the Senate continue to conduct business as it currently does, except with elected Senators instead of appointed ones. This would give the country a taste of what an elected Senate would look like, and stimulate national discussion as to its role.

From a purely speculative standpoint, the Senate could:

  • conduct watchdog activities over the government and cabinet operations
  • hold investigative hearings into appointees (for example, judicial and ambassadorial positions)
  • engage citizens in the process of government by conducting more hearings into legislative issues
Longer term the Senate would probably be transformed towards becoming a legislative body in its own right with powers similar to that of the House. Such a transformation would be at the expense of the power of the House.

Feasibility of Senate Reform

  • Will it require a Constitutional amendment, or can we just amend the British-North America Act?
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