Up here in Canada, Senator Patrick Brazeau has just been arrested (again) for sexual assault and domestic violence, on top of an ongoing police investigation into fraudulent spending as a Senator. At least three other Senators are caught up in the expense investigation.
How did someone like this get appointed to Canada’s Upper House? It was a political payoff for Brazeau having delivered his urban Aboriginal constituency to the Conservatives during the last election.
Great way to determine who gets to give “sober second thought” to Canadian lawmakers huh?
There is near unanimity in Canada that the Senate needs to be either abolished or significantly reformed. The problem – the arcane Constitution requirements for Senate reform make this politically impossible.
So what to do?
This is a great opportunity for Canadian political parties to show they can have an Adult Conversation on how the country should be governed.
First, lets agree on what the Senate is all about – it give s as reflective, intelligent second looks at laws made in Canada to make sure that short term politics do not trump long term interests. They have little actual power, but can often bring issues to public and political light and have had positive effects on many pieces of legislation.
Second. lets agree on how individuals capable of playing this role should be chosen.
As a starting point, they should be bi-partisan. There is enough partisanship in the House of Commons. The Senate could be far more effective if it cast aside party-line loyalties. Liberal leader Justin Trudeau took a great step when he declared that Liberal Senators were no longer ‘liberals’ but simply senator. Senators should be neither Liberal nor Conservative, but silly Senators.
As we move forward, and consider new Senators, Senate appointments should remain political, but bipartisan. Some have called for an elected Senate, but this creates the real fear that they become a second Parliament empowered by their electorate to make, recreate and strike down legislation. The potential for US-style gridlock is too real under this scenario.
Instead, a Standing Parliamentary Committee, made up of equal number of members from all major parties, and possibly some stakeholders, could become responsible for Senate appointments. They should be bound to a set of principles and criteria that at least tip the balance in favour of intelligent, thoughtful, experienced individuals capable of the oversight and responsibility they would be given.
The Canadian Senate is important. Appointments like Patrick Brazeau defeat the whole point.