Any political institution in North America that survives a 147 years without reform or popular legitimacy must possess considerable rhetorical skill as well as luck. So, Stephen Harper should not be surprised by news that some Senators, even in the Conservative caucus, have misgivings. Their concerns, however, aren’t persuasive.
Being free to speak their minds and answer only to their conscience, Senators can be taken more seriously than other politicians even when their arguments are half baked and self serving. The following quote by Senator Michael MacDonald in The National Post is a good example.
"There are a lot of unintended consequences from an elected Senate," Conservative Senator Michael MacDonald told Postmedia News. "[Not only] in terms of its relationship with the House of Commons, its relationship with the government of the day and the relationship of the [senators] with their own provincial governments. These things have to be looked at because the long-term implications are pretty significant."
People often complain the Senate is illegitimate and not democratic but, Mr. MacDonald said, "the Senate wasn't set up to be elected."
"It was set up to be a deliberative body, and not an elected body, and it's been that way for 147 years and, for the most part, it seems it has worked pretty well," he said.
The election of individual Senators would have one salutary and immediate impact: a Senator would be doing business with colleagues in the House of Commons also as an elected representative, not someone who once caught the favor of a Prime Minister. Any future change in the Senate’s relationship to the House of Commons in making Canada’s laws would depend on the consent of the House of Commons and, as important, on the desire, or otherwise, of the people.
It is a deception to imply that the bother of being elected by the people would alter or disrupt a Senator’s relationship with his or her provincial government. Senate appointments are only allocated by province. But provincial governments may or may not have influence over their appointment or what they do with their years in the Senate.
Senator MacDonald’s resume indicates: “Senatorial designation-Cape Breton.” This is a conceit. He is not their representative, not answerable for their problems or assigned by them to be their voice in Ottawa. Nova Scotia simply provided Stephen Harper with a vacancy for him to fill.
Finally, it’s a bit rich for Senator MacDonald to put up that pretentious bumper sticker: “unintended consequences.” On June 2, 2009 he accepted a Senate seat from Stephen Harper who had already put legislation before Parliament to facilitate the election of Senators. He could have chosen then to have no part of the idea. He could have stood then on the dubious proposition that the Senate must stay the same if it is to remain “deliberative.”