Seamanship Quotation

“In political activity, then, men sail a boundless and bottomless sea; there is neither harbour for shelter nor floor for anchorage, neither starting-place nor appointed destination.”
— from Michael Oakeshott's
Political Education” (1951)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Senate reform: the tongue-tied Liberal Party

Change for the sake of change has never been a Canadian vice. Nevertheless, Canada’s elders still think it’s necessary to tell us that we can’t reform Canada’s governing institutions, and that whatever good you do will be overwhelmed by “unintended consequences.” Prime Minister Harper is hearing a lot of that these days.

Interim Liberal leader Bob Rae participated in the series of constitutional talks in the 80s that exhausted our leaders—and the country. He’s reluctant, naturally, to propose something bigger than the modest package of Senate reforms Harper tabled in the House of Commons this week. However, his opposition—both procedural and substantive—to Harper's proposals only diminishes the Liberal Party’s well-earned brand as Canada’s most successful reform party and champion of national unity.
Rae’s opposition is vehement and sweeping. Harper, he argues, mustn’t proceed without the blessing of the Supreme Court. He complains that Harper wants to democratize how prime ministers exercise their Senate appointment duties without first seeking the consent of the provinces. Rae’s been silent on exactly how he would reform the Senate, but he's certainly been vocal about Harper “screwing” his own province by not going far enough.
“They are freezing Alberta, and British Columbia at six seats (in the Senate) for all time. I mean, if they have an elected Senate that's elected on the basis that Mr. Harper is proposing, he is screwing his own province and the same to British Columbia," Rae told Postmedia News.
I think it's a disastrously backwards step for Canada."
“Alberta, B.C., Saskatchewan and Manitoba have six seats each in the Senate, while Ontario and Quebec have 24 each, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia have 10 seats each, Prince Edward Island has four, Newfoundland and Labrador has six and the territories have one seat each.”
Is Rae being rude because he’s worked up or is he just trying to sound like what he thinks a typical Westerner sounds like?
On the face of it, Rae is putting himself—and his party—in a very cramped and curious place. Does he support doing nothing because the $100 million status quo is harmlessly illegitimate? Does he imagine that the provinces would agree to abolish the Senate entirely? Would he want Canada’s national capital to depend exclusively on visiting premiers to represent Canada’s regions? Does he stand with Western Canada, which is under-represented in the Senate, or does he stand with Atlantic Canada, which is over-represented?
Harper has introduced legislation—in a majority Parliament—that has a very good chance, over time, of turning the Canadian Senate into a democratic institution. That change to the US Senate was undertaken a century ago. And they’ve had a pretty successful 100 years since then. Despite the relative over-representation of smaller states, the US Senate remains the most prestigious and most influential deliberative body in the democratic world.

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