Harper's anti-democratic senate appointments.
May 18, 2011

Harper's anti-democratic senate appointments.

Harper has appointed three senate seats from among his party. Here is the kicker: these people just lost their election campaigns to be MP's.

Opposed to supporting democratic influences it is actively rewarding loyal party members even thought they lost their democratic elections. This is one of those issues where there isn't a constitutional barrier to these appointments but instead is one about the issue of respect for democracy. It is the general spirit of democracy, not the letter of the law, which is being violated. If one wishes to maintain that senate reform is not necessary, then it is doubly important to make sure we encourage a culture that engenders democratic values within the framework of an appointed senate. When the Prime Minister appoints senators that have just lost parliamentary elections, it is sending the opposite message.

In general, I support the idea of senate reform that results in a democratically elected senate which can be a countervailing force to the largely unchecked power of single majority governments in single house parliamentary systems. Ideally, it would include some form of election system that wasn't purely First Past The Post and was probably instead some hybrid proportional representation/FPTP scheme like the Single Transferable Vote (as they are proposing in Britain only without the anachronistic and theocratic appointments of religious figures). These appointments are going in the opposite direction, however.

There is also an issue with easily allowing crossover between the bodies. Two of the three appointments were previous senators who resigned to run in the May 2nd election and have now been reappointed back to the senate. Our democracy is based off of a representative democracy where the central focus is on local ridings and the involvement of politicians who advocate and represent those local ridings. Having the ability to be in a federal position in the senate, join a local riding race for a short period of time and then - even if one is overwhelmingly rejected by that riding - be able to return right back to the federal position without problems is going to inevitably disincentivize the need for politicians to be active representatives of their ridings over time spans of years. This is largely a product of the fact that the Senate simply isn't considered an important body.  Because of this, quitting ones job in the Senate to try running for the far more important House of Commons  only to rejoin the Senate if one loses isn't culturally considered that bad of a thing. With senate reform that made the body a relevant and important aspect of Canadian democracy this would not happen as often. Instead, the feeling is that the Senate is a holding ground of cushy jobs for party loyalists that can transferred into and out of when better opportunities arise.

As for new cabinet appoints, it was largely an example of maintaining continuity and bringing in a couple new people post election. The biggest shift was in giving John Baird one of the top spots of Minister of Foreign Affairs. Without a more in depth background search I don't want to comment too much on Baird's experiences with foreign affairs but I will say that this is a great example of the appointment of party loyalists as seemingly the most important criteria. Baird has been House Leader, Treasury Board leader, Minister of both Environment and Transport and now Minister of Foreign Affairs. That wide diversity in positions shows how being expert technocrats in their respective fields are less important to taking top cabinet positions than being a major and loyal party member. 

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Annie said...

I like the idea of each Province, to have a round table of important people to pick so many Senators..like a vote, but not by an election, and have a term of about 15 years or more.

bazie said...

How would the people be chosen if not by voting or appointment by the PM? Appointed by the premiers perhaps?

Having a certain number of senators for each province (kind of the way the Americans do it, but perhaps population adjusted) isn't a bad idea, but I think having them determined via voting (perhaps for longer terms) is the best way to select them.

rabbit said...

Of course it's anti-democratic.

The senate has always been anti-democratic, no matter who was appointed.

Adam said...

What's the over-under on the time before Harper reforms the senate?

bazie said...

Considering that he now has a majority in the commons and the senate and has been arguing for years about the need for senate reform, if he really doesn't do anything in the next four years it would be pretty shocking.

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