Progressive politics, ideas & culture


Oh Alberta

This Magazine Staff

It looks like Alberta is once again going to go through with this “elected senators” charade. Sigh. Meanwhile, two more sitting senators will hit 75 this week, making a total of fifteen senate spots that Mr. Decisive can’t seem to find replacements for. Decisions, decisions.
It is very weird that Albertans, who tend to see elected representatives as delegates of local grassroots interests and who favour populist measures such as recall, are keen on electing someone to the Senate for life.
How anti-democratic is that? Imagine if the members of the Commons were elected for life, with spots opening up for by-elections only when they died, resigned, or hit 75. That’s exactly what Alberta seems to want. After all, the Senate has the same constitutional powers as the House, excepting the right to initiate money bills.
So, if Alberta had its way, we’d have two chambers of equal power, except one would be a transient House, subject to the regular changes in political winds, while the other would be a permanent, elected, but completely unaccountable body of out-of-touch lifers.
The Senate needs reforming, but amending the constitution by stealth is not the way to do it. Of course, Albertans know this, they just like yanking the federal government’s chain. They’ll pretend to elect some senators, Ottawa will say forget it, and the west can go back to being alienated once again. (Substitute ritual humiliation for ritual alienation, and you get the feel for what it is like living in Quebec).
So, how to reform the Senate? Personally, I like the idea floated by Billy Bragg for reforming the House of Lords: Elect the Senate during federal elections, but appoint the members from party lists based on a proportional basis according to the results of the popular vote for the Commons. The Senate’s powers would have to be curtailed somewhat, but the effect would be to bring proportional represenation into Parliament, while maintaining the stability-enhancing virtues of the FPP system for the dominant Commons.

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