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Reforms Are Need In Canada’s Government Essay, Research Paper

Reforms Are Need In Canada’s Government

Canada is a country who’s future is in question. Serious political issues have

recently overshadowed economic concerns. Constitutional debate over unity and

Quebec’s future in the country is in the heart of every Canadian today.

Continuing conflicts concerning Aboriginal self-determination and treatment are

reaching the boiling point. How can Canada expect to pull herself out of this

seemingly bottomless pit? Are Canadians looking at the right people to lay their

blame? In the 1992 Referendum, “The Charlottetown Accord” addressed all of these

issues, giving Canadians the opportunity to finally let the dead horse be – but

oh, if it were that simple. A red faced Brian Mulroney pontificated that a vote

against the accord would be one against Canada. Canadians would essentially be

expressing the desire for Quebec to remain excluded from the constitution. How

could the Right-Honorable Mulroney expect anyone to vote on a document that

contained so much more than simply the issue of Quebec sovereignty? Ironically,

hidden deep within “The Charlottetown Accord,” was the opportunity for Canadians

to make a difference; to change the way the government ran, giving less power to

the politicians and more to the people. This was the issue of Senate Reform.

Why is Senate Reform such an important issue? An argument could be made that a

political body, which has survived over one hundred years in Canada, must

obviously work, or it would have already been reformed. This is simply not true,

and this becomes apparent when analyzing the current Canadian Senate.

In its inception, the Senate was designed to play an important role in the

Government of Canada, representing various regions of the federation. Quebec,

Ontario, the maritimes and the west were allotted twenty-four Senators each.

Considered to be the heart of the federal system, the Senate was to be a crucial

balancing mechanism between Upper and Lower Canada (Mallory pg. 247). It was

important for there to be equal representation, and not representation by

population. Senators were to be appointed, in order to ensure that the House was

independent and had the freedom to act on its own. As well, Senators had to be

seen as a conservative restraint on the young, the impressionable, and the

impulsive in the House of Commons (Van Loon and Whittington pg. 625). They

therefore had to be over thirty years old and own property exceeding four

thousand dollars in the province they represented. This idea was called ’second

sober thought.’ As this independent, intellectual body, the Senate’s main

function wasto ensure that all power did not come from one source. In theory,

this prevented a dictatorial government, since any action (such as the passing

of a Bill into law) had to receive the ‘O.K.’ from the Senate. This was

protecting Canada’s democracy. In 1949, six addition seats were given to

Newfoundland, and in 1975, two more seats were added to give the Northwest

Territories and the Yukon representation; a total of 104 Senators.

Over 100 years later, it is clear that the Canadian Senate does serve the

function for which it had originally been designed. In fact, it is flawed in

many ways. Firstly, the Senate does not have a voice to set the priorities for

the Cabinet, and it lacks the expertise to handle policy making. Secondly, since

the party in power appoints Senators when vacancies occur, the tendency has been

to appoint people with connections to that party. This means that the Senate is

neither representative of all ideologies nor reflective of the people’s interest.

No member of the Senate, for example, reflects the New Democratic Party’s view,

since that party has never been in power. Therefore that portion of Canada who

supports the NDP is certainly not represented. How legitimate is the Senate when

its members are appointed and not elected? Thirdly, the Senate is not

necessarily comprised of members with political experience, and this brings

about the question of efficiency; how effective can the Senate be if its

membersare not all comprised of ‘experienced’ politicians?

Another flaw in the Senate is that, due to appointment, the Upper House has been

viewed as an old-folks home for retired politicians, having demonstrated

faithful service for the party in power for many years. Many appointments to the

Senate are rewards for ‘a job well done’. This, as well as the fact that

Senators are appointed until they reach seventy-five years of age, has caused

the Senate to appear more like a ‘Party-Members-Only’ club, and not the

independent force for which it was designed. Sadly, it is the citizens of Canada

who are paying the membership fees.

The Senate does perform a few functions that may warrant some of the expense to

Canadians. Since the Senate mainly handles private bills, this allows the House

of Commons to focus on government legislation (Van Loon and Whittington pg. 627).

As well, the Senate committees are becoming involved in investigations into

political affairs, which would otherwise be left to expensive royal commissions.

By alleviating some of the pressures on the House of Commons, the Senate does

act as a go-between on many political issues. Even still, the Senate costs

Canadians millions of dollars a year in salaries, pensions, and other

miscellaneous expenses, which are unnecessary.

There are therefore three choices: Canada can maintain the Senate as it stands,

an outdated, expensive, and ineffective body in the government; the Senate can

be abolished, meaning the Prime Minister becomes the dictator of a one-party

government; the Senate can be reformed so that it is effective and

representative of the population. Clearly, the best choice is for Senate reform,

since a reformed Senate plays an important role in a democratic government.

Looking at the U.S. Senate, as well as the Polish Kancelaria Senatu, provides

some insight into the way Canada may wish to reform her Senate.

The U.S. Senate provides an excellent model for a reformed Canadian Senate.

While still with weaknesses, the U.S. Senate is an effective and efficiently run

body of the U.S. government. It reinforces the notion of checks and balances,

and allows a separation of powers between the two branches of government. The

citizens elect two Senators from each state, regardless of size, for a term of

six years. To be eligible to run in a Senatorial election, each person must be

at least thirty years old, have been a citizen of the United States for nine

years, and be a resident in the state in which he or she is running. In terms of

representation, each state has equal representation, ensuring that every state

has two voices. As well, it allows for the possibility that the majority party

in the Senate is not necessarily the majority party in the congress, eliminating

the party bias. The Vice President is the president of the Senate, and has the

right to vote in the case of a tied-vote. This is a largely ceremonial function,

one that is not usually carried out (Wasserman pg. 99). The majority leader of

the Senate, the Senator from the majority party who has served the longest,

schedules debates, assigns bills to committees, coordinates party policy, and

appoints members of special committees (Wasserman pg. 99). The Senate is both a

deliberative and a decision-making body (U.S. Senate Homepage: Introduction).

The main function of the U.S. Senate is to debate bills either introduced in the

Senate, or passed to it, approving then, amending them, or killing them. Since

it is a separate body from the Congress, in order for a bill to be passed, it

must be approved by both bodies.

One of the criticisms of the U.S. Senate is that it is a large body consisting

of many committees and sub-committees. Since the process to passing a bill must

first go through these committees before it is debated upon, the procedure tends

to be quite slow and expensive. Another criticism is that, while the Senate does

represent each state equally, women and minorities are not equally represented.

However, as compared to the Canadian Senate, the U.S. Senate is more efficient

and effective in its procedures.

The Polish Senate, the Kancelaria Senatu, is similar to that of the U.S. Senate.

What is significant is that Poland’s modern Senatu has only been six years in

existence, with amendments as recent as 1994. Senators are elected in free,

public, direct and open voting. A simple majority is required for a candidate to

be elected based on plurality. The general population, political parties, or

social organizations can nominate candidates for the Senatu. These candidates

must be supported by at least three thousand voters who reside in each

constituency. Poland is divided up into territories called voivodship

territories, and two Senators are elected from each territory, excluding Warsaw

and Katowice, who are represented by three Senators. Each Senator is elected

for a term of four years, but may run for any number of terms. Unlike the U.S.

Senate, the Polish Senatu works in conjunction with the legislative branch

called the Sejm, and they deliberate jointly. The Senatu examines bills passed

by the Sejm, and can accept, amend, or reject them. If the Senatu’s amendments

have financial implications for the state budget, it must indicate how these are

to be met. The Sejm must have an absolute majority to reject the Senatu’s

proposals for the bill, or else the Senatu’s decision is final. The Senatu also

approves the decision of the President for national referendums on matters of

interest to the State.

No member of the Polish Senatu belongs to an official registered party. This is

significant because it removes the risk of party bias. As well, any citizen may

run for the Senatu, allowing for a more direct form of representation. While the

Senatu is not as powerful as the U.S. Senate, it still plays an important role

in the notion of checks and balances.

Both the U.S. Senate and the Polish Senatu demonstrate how an effective Senate

is an asset to any government, and to the people it represents. Reforming

Canada’s Senate is therefore very important. However, the difficulty in

achieving any reformation depends solely on the ‘powers-that-be.’ The goals of a

reformed Senate are to give more representation to all areas of Canada, to make

Senators accountable to all Canadians, and to ensure that the Senate is a

separate power from the legislature; in essence a more democratic Senate. Since

it is so apparent that the Senate requires reform, the question isn’t so much as

to why and if it should be reformed, but rather to how? How can this be

achieved?

The general population must elect Senators, in order for there to be true

democracy. The tradition of stacking the Senate, due to appointment, must not be

allowed to continue. Much like the U.S. and Polish Senates, any Canadian, thirty

years or older, and having been a resident in Canada for eight years, may run

for the Senate. Candidates can be nominated by any political or social

organization, or by the general population, but must have five thousand

supporters from the constituency represented, and must live in that constituency.

The candidates will not run on a party platform, and instead will run as

independents. By eliminating party platforms, three things are accomplished.

Firstly, candidates will be elected based on what they believe and not what a

party believes. The electorate would decide on the candidate best suited for the

position based on his or her own opinions, plans, and accomplishments. Secondly,

this allows the Senate to be more objective, and therefore more effective.

Thirdly, there would be no need for party discipline, and no risk of fixed

voting.

Since the Senate remains independent from the executive branch of the government,

timing of elections must be separate from parliamentary elections. The Prime

Minister is not the head of the Senate, and therefore should not decide the

actions of the Senate. Therefore, having a fixed date will ensure that there is

no conflict of interest. Senators would be elected to a six-year term, with a

fixed election every three years for half of the Senate. This allows the

population the opportunity to choose who should represent then more often. A

term of more than six years would mean that the Senate would lose its

effectiveness, and risk succumbing to the influences of the Members of

Parliament. Even in a six-year term, the possibility for Senators to become

influenced and lose their objectivity by other sources is a risk. There would

certainly be an objection to this aspect of Senate reform by the current members

of the Upper House. However, in order to ensure that Senate reform takes place,

both the provinces andthe current Senators must make sacrifices for the benefit

of the country as a whole. Therefore, the first election will be to fill half of

the Senate. By some form of lottery, one half will be forced to resign their

position, and will have the opportunity to run in the election. After three

years, the other half will follow suit and resign their position. This will

allow a slow filtering out of the old school appointed Senators, to be replaced

with elected ones.

There would be eight Senators elected by each province, regardless of the size

of the province and its population. As well, eight Senators would be given to

the territories. Each province would be divided into four constituencies, with

two Senators coming from each constituency. The Yukon and North West Territories

would be combined, and divided into four constituencies as well. Each Senator

has an equal voice in the Senate, allowing for equal representation for each

constituency and each province. In total, eighty-eight Senators would be elected.

Eighty-eight voices in the Senate are more than enough to represent the

constituencies, saving Canadians the unnecessary costs of addition salaries.

Although Canada is a large country, it still has a low population. Even the

United States, with ten times the population, maintains only one hundred

Senators. With too many Senators there becomes the risk of having two Lower

Houses. Despite being elected, however, the Senators would be given the mandate

to act on behalf of the people in their constituencies, and would not be

directly responsible to the people. In order to remain independent from the

executive, it would be the responsibility of the Members of Parliament to

present their constituents’ viewpoints in the House of Commons. It is only

through elections that the population can decide whether or not the Senators

have fairly represented their constituencies.

The most difficult aspect to Senate reform deals with the functions of the new

Upper House. Much like the United States, the Canadian Senate must have the

power to introduce policy into the House of Commons as well as accepting bills.

As a safeguard against a power hungry House of Commons, the Senate is also

responsible for bringing up the interests of the country. By allowing the Senate

this power, the issues are given more attention by both sides of the legislature.

The Senate should still function in the same way as it has in the past, with the

power to accept, amend or reject bills passed by the House of Commons. As before,

a majority from both the Senate and the House of Commons is required to pass a

bill into law, but in the case of a deadlock, the House of Commons should be

able to override the Senate. When dealing with constitutional affairs, or, due

to current issues involving Quebec, cultural affairs, there must be a sixty-five

percent majority in the Senate. As well, veto power should be grantedto the

Senate in regards to constitutional issues. The Senate should maintain its

system of committees, and continue to perform investigations into political

affairs instead of royal commissions.

In order for Senate reform to be enacted, a majority of the provinces must vote

for it. Each premier from each province, and a leader from each territory, gets

one vote. Getting support for Senate reform from Ontario and Quebec will prove

to be the most difficult challenge, for they have had the balance of power since

Confederation. However, having mandatory Quebecois Senators is not possible in

this reformed system. Since most of the debate recently has been over Quebec’s

recognition as a distinct society and protection of its culture, Quebec will

certainly be opposed to having less power in the Senate, when in reality it

desires more power. There is no clear way to appease the province of Quebec, and

perhaps there never will be under any system. Senate reform is for the benefit

of the entire country, and after all, the rest of Canada should have a say as to

what transpires within her borders. As stated earlier, in order for there to be

reform, many people, provinces and Senators alike, will have to makesacrifices.

If Quebec is unhappy with the notion of Senate reform, but there is a majority

vote for Senate reform, then Quebec is a member of the minority.

This proposal for Senate reform is a suggestion to improve the current state of

the Senate. While many of these suggestions may not occur, the need for some

form of Senate reform is crucial. Countries such as Poland and the United States

have a more effective Senate, and therefore a more efficient government. With

many questions about Canada’s future left to be decided, what is more important

than the state of the country’s democratic system? After all, the government’s

purpose is to listen to the people and make decisions for the benefit of the

people. Without Senate reform, the Canadian political structure may eventually

crumble, much like an old house crumbles when its foundation has degraded. In

order for Canada to survive in the twenty-first century, the old-school British

system must be revamped, for it is outdated. Canada must cast aside old

traditions and replace them with modern ideology and thought.


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