For (Canadian) Political Junkies Only

(Ray seems to have run out of blog ideas, so he graciously passed on the invititation for others to make fools of themselves. Naturally I jumped at the chance!)

Living in Ottawa, there tends to be a preoccupation with government and cynicism towards it. Some may remember than when Paul Martin was campaigning to be the next leader of the Liberal Party of Canada (aka as Prime Minister), he talked about the “democratic deficit.” His changes mostly focussed though on individual Members of Parliament not having enough power (some have referred to them as “clapping seals”. See also Paul Wells latest column at http://www.macleans.ca/switchboard/backpage/article.jsp?content=20050829_111326_111326).

Big deal. MP s already think too highly of themselves. What about real people being able to get into Parliament?

Yes, I realize that we live in a democracy, and that means anyone can run and become and MP. And I’m certainly not against elections, but let’s face it, they wind up being a popularity contest based on party loyalties. As Kim Campbell memorably said “Elections are not the place to talk policy.” No wonder general cynicism continues. Why should we take any of these guys seriously?

And then there’s the other part of Parliament, namely the unelected Senate. The Prime Minister basically gets to put in his buddies that helped him become PM, and then we can’t get rid of them. Enough said.

So how do we fix this mess? I propose a real fix to the democratic deficit: make the Senate into a national citizen’s assembly. It would still be appointed, but instead of the PM appointing buddies, people would be randomly chosen from across Canada to serve two-year appointments.

The idea is essentially like jury duty, or the citizen’s assembly that was recently tried out in B.C. to look at electoral reform. The random selection could be configured properly represent the provinces, gender, ethnic, age or whatever other considerations. Since most people don’t have party allegiances anyway, there would be no political parties or caucuses in the Senate. To provide continuity, at the end of the two-year term, the Senator would have the option of signing on to another term. Just like jury duty though, there would have to be a good reason to refuse the initial Senator duty, or we’d wind up with a bunch of self-selected lawyers.

Many have argued for an elected Senate, but frankly, we’d simply wind up with a second House of Commons and all its associated problems. The Senate is to provide a “sober second thought” and without the party allegiances or fear of election, these people can concentrate solely on what they feel is good for Canada. More importantly, it gives another way for ordinary people to be involved, and have a chance to see what it is really like to make legislation.

Yes, it’s possible we could wind up with a bunch of lazy crooks running the Senate, but that could already happen (and some argue that it does). The beauty of a democracy is that it doesn’t matter who you are, you can still have a part in making decisions. None of this is meant to erode the electoral process, but the Senate is already unelected, so why not put some real people in there instead of a bunch of the PM’s peons?