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)

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Have fun by playing politics with the Senate

Prime Minister:

We who scurry for attention have chosen to cast your every grudging utterance as another grudging investment in your year-long re-election campaign. Accordingly, this Aide memoir is tailored to excite your dark side — a missive to a predator.

Let’s start with a little flattery.

Along with your designated threat Justin Trudeau, we note that you like the company of suburban Canadians far more than you like the company of exceptional Canadians in Ottawa. This preference, even as a long-serving prime minister, has offended active and retired Guardians of Canadian Harmony. However, not being agreeable — actually, being sarcastic — makes you more interesting and can make your detractors less lovable at the same time.

Your toss-away shrug last week about normal Canadians not pestering you to pick "their" next sixteen senators was inspired. With perfect economy, you disrespected the Senate’s new Speaker, Liberal and New Democrat premiers, constitutional experts on the timeless wisdom of Canada’s founding deal-makers, and those pundits who insist that Canada’s flawless democracy was completed, in full, a generation ago, by Justin’s father.

(Even Toronto’s rebellious National Post sided with the status quo, editorializing: Fill the Senate seats, Mr. Harper)

Being mean when playing politics is forgivable, if you’re having fun — and upsetting the other side. Canada’s laughable unelected Senate shouldn’t be your dark cloud, but theirs.

Your campaign’s humorless advisors may feel that your outburst was an irreverent distraction. You clearly know better. Simply repeating for the next eleven months “I fixed the economy, stupid” is a stupefying prospect. That will do nothing to encourage anyone to see you differently. And, besides, venturing off the economy occasionally should, in fact, raise new, lucrative questions about the center of gravity of your exotic opponent.

First, a picky caveat on message crafting:

(You don’t have to retire as a Senate reformer merely because the Supreme Court didn’t support your legislative attempt to democratize an expensive aristocratic affectation, but your next moves — below — must pay attention to the court’s decision, if not the arguments of those politicians who are hiding behind it.)

Proposal: during your visits outside of Alberta, where Senators are already elected, try playing with these statements:

*I’m short 16 representatives in the PMO Senate, where you have none. And I’m still offering my vacancies to you.

*I’d prefer that the PMO Senate was immediately turned into the People’s Senate, but I’d settle for second best. I’ll appoint automatically any qualified individual formally submitted to me by the Premier and Cabinet of your province.

*Hopefully, they’ll consult at least with their legislatures. I’ll leave it to you to judge the transparency and representativeness of whatever process they use.

*Informal, indirect Senate nominations are as far as we can go without arousing 19th-century interests in this country. However, what I’m suggesting would at least place our two feet in the 20tcentury, if not the 21st.

Despite the court’s Pollyanna regard for the architecture of the BNA Act of 1867, the court didn’t criticize or disallow Alberta’s impudent practice of consulting with Albertans directly on who they’d like to represent them in the Senate, and it didn’t instruct you to not tease, annoy, or embarrass the other provincial governments and politicians generally who don’t want to replace status quo.

Yes, all those front-row law students are right, Prime Minister, you can’t force Canadians to be aggressive democrats or change the Senate permanently without formally amending the Constitution, with the provinces. 

And, as with other controversial initiatives, future governments can reverse what you accomplish with individual premiers.

That’s the beautiful part.

Can you imagine your opponents insisting that the premiers of Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, PEI, B.C., and Manitoba daren’t nominate senators? My goodness, your offer could be popular and then might temp normal Canadians to go further.  For heaven’s sake, we could — in your lifetime — end up making the Senate their institution.

Surely, you’re not afraid of Justin Trudeau’s campaign to save the PMO Senate by appointing a Blue Ribbon nominations advisory committee?

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