Monday April 21, 2014

Duffy drives Senate change

The people of Canada should thank Mike Duffy.

The embattled former journalist-cum-Conservative Senator has done more for Senate reform than any constitutional reform conference ever could.

It doesn’t matter at this point if you believe Duffy’s protestations of innocence over his expenses or not.

Senate reform has been bandied about practically since Confederation. The neat symmetry of balanced regional representation between Ontario, Quebec and the two original Atlantic provinces to balance the population-based House of Commons in 1867 was upset within the first decade with the addition of three more provinces, prompting the first discussion of Senate reform in 1874 – 139 years ago. (Spoiler alert: it didn’t work).

Since that time, the Senate has slouched along, adding representatives as Canada added
provinces, until we found ourselves with the current ungainly mess of 105 senators which reflects Canada’s regions like a funhouse mirror.

There have been literally dozens of proposals, primarily in the constitutional debates of the past 40 years, most notably the Meech Lake and Charlottetown Accord, which called for a “Triple-E” Senates — elected, equal and effective.

All such attempts have fallen by the wayside over the years, and the most recent attempts of Prime Minister Stephen Harper to set term limits for senators and pave the way for elected senators in provinces that want them — feeble efforts at reform compared to the initiatives of the past — have just been struck down by the courts in Quebec as requiring a full constitutional amendment process, which would be as potentially divisive and fraught with peril as the great constitutional debates of the 1980s and early 1990s.

But now, the spectre of an unelected house of Parliament awash in entitlements and possible corruption might be enough to justify some real reform — if not abolition.

This is not to disparage the hard work and sincere efforts of individual senators who take their duties seriously, including our own senator, Nancy Greene Raine.

But they are fighting a losing cause for a doomed institution. The era of sober second thought is over — drowned in a sea of shady expense reports.

If this ends with the Senate either being properly reformed to be truly representative of this country or simply abolished, then might not Senator Duffy be able to lay claim to being a latter-day Father of Confederation?

We Say editorials represent the viewpoint of The Daily News and are written by publisher Tim Shoults, city editor Tracy Gilchrist, or associate news editors Dan Spark and Mark Rogers.

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