Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Pay senators what they're really worth

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If you knew your job depended on it, you'd probably get a gold star for attendance. Senators realize they don't have to worry about such details. Even though a lot of Canadians would like to get rid of the upper chamber, its existence is so enmeshed in the country's Constitution, abolishing it isn't about to happen soon.

Some senators are all too aware of the inherent leniency involved in their so-called job.

A story from The Canadian Press reveals the shoddy record of a number of members. Conservative Sen. Patrick Brazeau, for example, was absent for 25 per cent of the 72 sittings between June 2011 and April 2012.

At 37, he's also the youngest member, so we wouldn't expect it to be a geriatric problem, a page desperately trying to shake him awake for a session.

What Brazeau is, however, is a recently appointed Conservative -- appointed by Stephen Harper, who worked hard to stack the Senate with those who would do his bidding. As long as Harper's patronage pals selectively pick their appearances to help along his legislative agenda, they can probably count on being safe.

But if there is any value in this political body for Canadians, we pay for it dearly considering the absentee rate. Senators are allowed to miss up to 21 days in each parliamentary session for religious holidays, family illness or obligations, and funerals. Add to that travel related to the job.

Brazeau isn't the only one with a poor record. And there are those who miss few or no sessions.

Where's the incentive, though, many Canadians would ask. As the NDP's Charlie Angus said, "He's got a gig for life. There's no accountability, there's no censure, he's going to sit there until he's 75."

What does this say about how essential the Senate's function is, if showing up at all is optional?

So if it is constitutionally tough to eliminate this body, or at least radically reform it, why not put them on a sliding pay scale according to performance -- you know, like most people with a job.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 1, 2012 A15

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