More realistic Senate reform

0
56

Response to Brian Rock’s “Would Canadians support a new, reformed, representative, elected, gender-equal, non-partisan Senate?” (Pontiac Journal,  Aug16).

Response to Brian Rock’s “Would Canadians support a new, reformed, representative, elected, gender-equal, non-partisan Senate?” (Pontiac Journal,  Aug16).
Brian Rock’s column (“Between a Rock and a Hard Place”) states the need to reform our federal parliamentary system, but his proposal has several weaknesses. First, under Canada’s constitution, approval of the provinces would be required. More significantly, Mr Rock’s column compares the Canadian Senate with that of the US. This is meaningless as Canada is a parliamentary democracy (PD), while the US is a congressional democracy (CD).
In a PD, the executive branch is accountable to the legislative branch, and the head of government (Prime Minister – PM) is a member of the legislature. In a CD, the executive branch is separate from the legislative, and the head of government (President) is not a member of the legislature.
These differences are more than symbolic. In a congressional system, the president has more power than the PM of a PD. However, a PM has greater control of the actual legislative adgenda, and legislation is usually passed into law more quickly.  Also, party loyalty is more important in a PD, which results in less political acrimony. Most importantly, in a PD, the government must be able to withstand a vote of confidence. 
In the US, the Senate represents interests of individual states. In Canada, the Senate is supposed to ensure minority rights are protected from the “tyranny of the majority”.
For Senate reform Canadians should look to other parliamentary systems (especially the Westminster system) rather than congressional systems. For example, Australia has an elected Senate – elected by a system of proportional voting. (Its lower house is elected by a first-past-the-post system – resulting in a redefinition of powers between the two chambers). New Zealand abolished its upper house completely, but half of its legislative members are elected on a proportional system, and half are elected first-past-the-post. These represent a more realistic indication of what reform is possible.
The point is not that we should adopt either the Australian or the New Zealand system, but as PD, they give us ideas of what is possible, much more so
than by looking at the Congressional system.

Peter Gauthier
SHAWVILLE