1. Get rid of the Senate entirely. This is the position of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition, the New Democratic Party.
2. Make it an elected chamber. This is the position of Her Majesty's Government, the Conservative Party.
3. Leave it alone but appoint better people. This is the position of Canada's Natural Governing Party, the Liberal Party.
While three clear options may seem like enough it has seemed to me from the start that once there were these three options people stopped thinking about alternatives. Actually, I should say after the first two were proposed. The Liberal option seems to exist simply so Trudeau doesn't have to support one of the reform measures his political opponents have advocated for far longer than he has been party leader.
So let's see if there are any innovative ideas left that have merit. I'm not claiming to be an expert on the Senate nor do I necessarily endorse any of the ideas discussed. These are merely ideas I threw up in the air to see what stuck to the ceiling. So lets begin!
#1 Have the Senate selected via sortition.
Yes, I wrote sortition. That is to say, the same method we use to choose people for jury duty. Sortition is a concept that seems distant from democratic thought but this was not always the case. Athens is considered one of the first democracies but did not use any kind of election to choose their leaders. Instead they used a mix of direct democracy and sortition. The Venetian Republic used a complex system of sortition using multiple rounds among a select group of
people. The advantages of such a system are two-fold:
-It impossible to use a Senate seat as a patronage appointment since Senators would be chosen at random. This advantage is shared with electing Senators but as an added bonus Senators chosen via sortition are unlikely to belong to a political party (since only 1% of Canadians belong to ANY party). Advantage: Less partisanship and patronage.
-As the Senators would still not elected they wouldn't have the democratic mandate needed to become a competitor with the House of Commons. This is the main argument used against electing Senators. The fear being that we could end
up with the same kind of utterly stupid gridlock that takes place in the US Congress. However, the infusion of Canadians from many different backgrounds could potentially enliven the red chamber with new ideas. Advantage: A return to
the Senate being a body of 'sober second thought' without a dangerous increase in actual power.
Of course the devil is in the details as they say. Which is where many of the criticisms of such a scheme come in:
"We'll end up with a bunch of people in the Senate who don't know what they're doing"
The easiest way to avoid this would be to place restrictions on who can be a Senator. Obvious categories for exclusion include incarcerated criminals and those under 18 years of age. To those two groups you could add citizens not
resident in Canada, debtors*, and people who have not graduated with at least a high school education. We would have to play with these restrictions a bit and it would necessitate having a discussion on what qualities Canadians want in their legislators. Which by itself is a good discussion to have.
*Currently in place for Senate appointments now.
"Due to not being elected it would be just as undemocratic as it is now"
Lets clear something up here: democracy cannot, and must not, be just about whether or not we hold elections. It should be a question of whether or not Canadians have the dominant voice in the running of the country. We do this primarily through elections but nothing says we cannot use other methods for increasing public control of government.
"A long term in office will make Senators corrupt"
Not a glowing endorsement of our current crop of Senators but there is an easy fix: term limits. I think the ideal limit sits at about ten years. Ten years is long enough for Senators to learn, and get good at, their jobs but not so long as to allow them to become overly corrupt. We should have better accountability of Senate expenses regardless. I would also add in that a person may only serve one term in the Senate. This is to establish serving in the Senate as a once in a lifetime honour for Canadians.
These are my thoughts on sortition as a means of selecting Senators. What is your view?
#2 Have the Senate become more like the British House of Lords
This is actually a very old idea that goes all the way back to Confederation. John A Macdonald considered this but came to the conclusion that Canada lacked the environment suitable for a landed class and any aristocracy established would whither away. He choose instead to go with our current system of political appointments. Perhaps his theory was that Prime Ministers would be able to identify men of character and integrity and that the system would not be abused. If so, he was proven wrong pretty quickly.
Recently the idea surfaced again as a 'what if scenario'. Obvious problems include the methodology for creating an aristocracy in the modern world with every suggestion likely to anger someone. While Canada does have some nobles of its own they are concentrated on the East Coast for historical reasons and thus not representative of the country. Ennobling the wealthy runs into the duel issues of the wealthy not necessarily representing the best of Canada and the
practice being untraditional (nobles were originally selected more for their service than their wealth). Simply 'promoting' members of the Order of Canada would be unacceptable to people who feel the order has gained a number of unqualified members. In short, creating an aristocracy has problems.
But for the sake of argument lets say we did get by those problems. How would we select who was in the Senate at any one time? We could match the number of nobles to the number of seats but noble titles do die out. This means some future government may well get the chance to make a long-term appointment to the Senate. Alternately the nobility could elect the Senate from their own number. This latter option may have similar problems to simply electing Senators from the population.
However, the elephant in the room is that this solution would be highly unacceptable to Canadians and those supporting it as an option have some serious questions to answer, as I have shown.
Let's hear what your proposal would be. Maybe you have the next great idea that will fix the Senate!