Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Senate jigsaw puzzle

  • Print

The abuse of expense accounts and other misdeeds in the Senate have renewed calls for its abolition, but if bad behaviour by politicians justified the elimination of political institutions, there wouldn't be a single one in the country, at any level.

That doesn't mean the Senate can't or shouldn't be abolished, but it will require a good deal more thinking than has been evident so far from the NDP, the prime advocate for eliminating the upper body.

If the Red Chamber was demolished, it would leave the House of Commons as the sole centre of political power in Canada, combining the functions of legislator, executive, opposition and government.

Some critics argue that of the two bodies, it's the House that is in greater need of reform. Among other things, it doesn't do a particularly good job as an oversight body, particularly when every government MP is expected to defend the ruling party, while every opposition member attacks, as opposed to representing the public interest.

The recent federal budget, for example, did not contain much in the way of detailed spending estimates, making it difficult to determine how much was being spent or cut by department, but the opposition was powerless to compel the release of more information.

The Senate, of course, doesn't have that power either, but it can and does delay the passage of bills, providing more time for public scrutiny. It also produces useful reports on critical public issues, which help inform and guide political debate. Senators can also use their (admittedly small) bully pulpits to put governments under the spotlight.

In any event, the Senate is not popular with Canadians or politicians, a sentiment that has grown with recent outrages.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Tuesday he expects the Senate to make immediate changes to prevent the abuse of expense accounts.

In addition to clarifying the rules, the Senate should also post on the Internet the detailed expenses of senators. Public exposure is often the best way of compelling appropriate behaviour by politicians.

There is no urgent need, however, to make fundamental structural reforms in the short term, and possibly not ever, since any attempt at change is likely to be a complicated affair that would reignite regional issues and old grievances in Quebec and possibly stir new controversies about aboriginal representation.

The Harper government has asked the Supreme Court of Canada to rule on several questions that could affect the Senate, including the amending procedures that would be needed to establish term limits for senators and the democratic selection of Senate nominees.

The court is also being asked to rule on how the Senate might be abolished, which is not on the government's agenda, but it makes sense to ask the justices to deal with the question while they are considering the other issues.

The answers may provide an opportunity for small, incremental changes that could make the Senate a more credible institution.

Between now and then, however, the Red Chamber must deal with its internal problems and improve its accountability if it wants to be taken seriously and prolong its life as a Canadian institution.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 22, 2013 A10

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Stuart Murray announces musical RightsFest for CMHR opening weekend

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • PHIL.HOSSACK@FREEPRESS.MB.CA 090728 / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS White Pelicans belly up to the sushi bar Tuesday afternoon at Lockport. One of North America's largest birds is a common sight along the Red RIver and on Lake Winnipeg. Here the fight each other for fish near the base of Red RIver's control structure, giving human fisher's downstream a run for their money.
  • MIKE.DEAL@FREEPRESS.MB.CA 110621 - Tuesday, June 21, 2011 -  Doug Chorney, president Keystone Agricultural Producers flight over South Western Manitoba to check on the condition of farming fields. MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
my2011poy

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

What should the city do with the 102-year-old Arlington Street bridge?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google