The NDP has convinced itself that Canada does not need a Senate. I have been a “leftie” for more than 55 years and belonged to the party in the 1960s and 1970s. I do not agree with them on this issue. I believe we need the Senate. You need only to look at Harper’s government to see why: it is secretive, arrogant and careless with democratic niceties (as John Ibbitson said in his Globe and Mail article of May 27, 2013). Can you imagine what this government would get away with without a chamber of sober second thought?
The Senate, supposedly nonpartisan, can initiate discussion and legislation on issues that political parties find too hot to handle. It can hold up and send back to the House of Commons legislation that the government has rushed through using closure. Note that while they can amend Commons legislation and send it back, they cannot overturn it, contrary to what NDP leader Thomas Mulcair suggests, and they can send it back only a limited number of times. What they contribute is the time for both houses to look more closely at those all-inclusive omnibus bills favoured by Harper’s government.
But to do this job the Senators have to be truly nonpartisan. Senators need to exercise unbiased opinion, mature judgment and free conscience. They owe Canada their industry and sound judgment. They betray Canada if they relinquish their judgment to a party platform. I was appalled when I read that Harper made all his appointees to the Senate swear allegiance to the Conservative Party platform. An elected Senate either first past the post or proportional system would involve political parties and parties requiring their members to vote in accordance with the party line on significant legislation, on pain of censure or expulsion from the party.
In The Globe and Mail of May 27, Tom Flanagan offers a possible solution based on “the Mother of Parliaments, the original source of our own Constitution.” I like the idea of a prime minister at the beginning of his term (perhaps in his oath of office) committing to “seek advice for all future Senate appointments before recommending them to the governor-general… as is now done with appointments to the Supreme Court of Canada.” Of course, you cannot have the recommendations reviewed by a House of Commons committee, but you could have them reviewed by the province the individual senators are supposed to represent.