How to REALLY Reform the Canadian Parliament (from someone who really understands how these things work ...)* reminder:The Parliament of Canada consists of The Queen, The Senate, and The House of Commons.
There has been much talk of a "democratic deficit" in Canadian politics over the last few years. Unfortunately, most of the analysis and criticism comes from those who have a seemingly low-level of understanding about the nature and benefits of the Westminster model (such as the CPC), or come from groups with a self-interest in radical change (the NDP and the Greens), or come from groups that act on an ad hoc
, or contingency, basis (the Liberals). Neither one of these perspectives can lead us to better decisions on the issue of Parliamentary reform.
Herewith, I propose the following three changes:(A) Increase the number of MPs from 308 to 500 members;
* The parliamentary system works best - and in fact was intended to work - only when the Premier and his/her cabinet can hold the confidence of the House. If the House is too small, or if the Cabinet is too large, then too many members become beholden to the government for their mere existence. This tightens the control of the PMO over the governing party to too great a degree - and the resultant extreme party discipline means that the government controls the House, rather than the House controlling the government.
In our system, the House should determine which party forms the government. Increasing the size of the House would give more power to the MPs and ensure that the Government is responsive to the House, and its elected constituent elements - regardless of party.(B) Retain the unelected nature of the Senate, but change the number, selection methodology, and apportionment of Senators;
* This is at once a more radical - and yet more traditional way - of reforming the Senate. The problem with the Senate is not
that it is an appointed body, but rather the way in which the current number of Senators are appointed and apportioned in the current system. The Canadian system was intended to best mirror the British system, and thus nurture and maintain a different and separate political culture than that created by the the radically- democratic experiment in the USA.
The Canadian system was to be that of a mixed constitution
, with a hereditary Monarch, an appointed Senate, and an elected Commons. In this way the Canadian system would be more balanced than the American system. We would have the non-partisan and unifying Crown, an appointed and thoughtful Upper Chamber, and a democratically elected and responsible House of Commons. Each body would balance
the other, and ensure that the Dominion would not veer between various extremes in constant conflict (as is the case in the American system) with one another. Everyone who has spent some time on the Hill, knows that the Senate does some really great legislative work; they can act as a chamber of "sober second thought,"
because they are not constantly facing a fickle electorate. They have time to focus on all proposed legislation, and best ensure that the Common Good is protected.
Having said that, the sad reality is that we have problems with the amount, the selection, and the apportionment of Senators in this Country. Firstly, we now have roughly one Senator for every three MPs. This ratio should be changed. I would reduce the amount of Senators from the 105-109 level currently, down to about 88 in total. This would increase their overall profile, and make it imperative that only the highest quality candidates should be considered.
Secondly, the Prime Minister should not be the one to make recommendations to the Queen's representative as to who should sit in the Senate. That is a conflict-of-interest. I would rather see the Provincial Governments make these recommendations to the Governor-in-Council, via all-party legislative resolutions - in Assembly.
Thirdly, the Senators should be apportioned more equitably, but still on a divisional & regional basis. The West should receive more Senators as their share of the population has increased since the 1950's, but the Senate should not be based on "rep. by pop" considerations, as that is the proper role for the Commons.
All of this would serve to make the Senate more effective, and more fairly & regionally distributed. The appointed nature of the position would keep the Constitution mixed
, and enable Senators to take the longer view on legislation - thereby ensuring that we do not live under a tyranny of the majority in Commons. The fact that these Senators would be appointed by all-party resolutions from the Provincial Governments, would mean that the best candidates - who best represent that part of the Division - could take their place as Senator, regardless of party affiliation. Each provincial party could establish lists of candidates for consideration by the Legislative Assemblies. Instead of "party hacks,"
you would see greater participation of civic-minded business leaders, academics, and other professionals with the talent & desire to serve their Country.
These reforms would create a more representative, professional, non-partisan body that would still follow the original intent of the BNA Act, 1867 - namely, that we in Canada retain "a system of government similar in principle to that of the United Kingdom." Why import American concepts of government (radical democracy) when they have been shown to not work effectively? Just because someone is elected doesn't make them virtuous. Let us all remember that Hitler was elected
to the Reichstag.(C) Increase the Pay and Pension Packages for Senators and MPs;
* This is surely to be controversial, but the old adage remains: "If you pay Bananas, you end-up with Monkeys."
If we really want to attract the best and brightest to Dominion politics, then we must remunerate them better. Why run for the Commons, when you can make more money and endure less hassle by working as a private citizen? The best stay away from Public Life because it is not worth the aggravation - as currently designed. As well, what of life after politics? Those who enter public life tend to give-up other opportunities in the service of their Country. Imagine sitting as an MP for ten years, losing an election, and then finding out that your public policy positions make you unemployable in the private and public sectors. How do you make a living now? Was your service worth such treatment?
If we want the best to serve, we must pay what the best earn. The Government of Canada is a large operation with a large budget, and we need the best and brightest to manage that operation. It only makes sense.
Three reforms. That is all. All of them retain the best of Canadian constitutional customs and conventions, maintain the mixed constitution, force the government-of-the-day to be accountable, and give the Senate the ability to shape and improve legislation for the Common Good. What could be so bad about all of that?