PCP Against: Should Countries with an Appointed Senate Abolish it in Favour of an Entirely Elected Government?

Raeesa Ashique - 2N Electrical
Posted on: July 4, 2016

Many people believe that the current model under which the Senate operates is not working. Some call for an elected instead of an appointed Senate, some call for reform, and some call for abolishment altogether. Granted, there is some corruption, but reform is a much better solution than abolishment.

The Canadian Parliament is based on the Westminster model, which is the same as the UK’s Parliament. The Senate is the Upper House of Parliament, and its purpose is to keep checks on the Lower House. The MPs in the House of Commons, or the Lower House, are elected based on population, while the Senate is appointed and represent regions of the country.

First of all, there would be no Confederation without the Senate. Canada has had a Senate since the British North America Act passed in 1867, because equal representation by region in the Senate was the only way Quebec would accept representation by population in the House of Commons. At the time, no one wanted to see Ontario as the decision maker or breaker. The same rule still applies: the Canadian Senate is the best way to make sure that the smaller provinces’ voices are still heard in Parliament, and prevent the more populated provinces from abusing their power of the majority.

The Fathers of Confederation wanted the Senate to have the following characteristics: independence, long-term perspective, continuity, professional and life experience, and regional equality. Are these no longer valid? Or do reformers believe that abolishment will increase the integration of these elements in government? Change for the sake of change must be discouraged: while abolishment may appear to be the easy way out, it’s important to come up with the best case scenario for the Canadian system of government.

Sir John A. Macdonald wanted the Senate to “be an independent House” which would serve as “the sober second thought”. This is the point of the Senate: besides being able to introduce their own bills, they are supposed to review, amend, and approve or reject bills passed by the House of Commons. Basically, their main role is as a check on the House of Commons. This is essentially the same role as the House of Lords in UK. Although the House of Lords cannot prevent a bill from passing, they can force the House of Commons to reconsider their decisions, which is a valuable system to put a check on power and a system which is also working.

Members of the Canadian Senate are appointed by the Governor General based on the Prime Minister’s recommendation, and there are many benefits to an appointed Senate over an elected one. It is filled by people with valuable professional experience, who are generally not politicians but rather consultants, managers, teachers, lawyers, health care workers, and the list goes on. They were contributing members of society who were making a difference, and want to continue to make a difference. Appointing these people is the best way to bring them into government without making them run for office.

Not only is an appointed government beneficial, but an elected one may be harmful.

First of all, there is a very likely chance of elected a Senate that mirrors the House of Commons, which would result in a gridlock in the decision-making process and defeats the purpose of the Senate. The purpose of the Senate is to provide a check on the House of Commons, but not to be able to overpower it.

Second of all, members of elected Senate will try to keep the people happy, but sometimes the right decision is not always the popular decision. They will be less likely to attempt to appease the people if their motive is the good of the country, rather than re-election. They have time to spend doing their job right, rather than campaigning. And, they have the education and diverse background to be able to do their job well.

Finally, do we really trust the people’s choice? The Governor General will appoint a Senate based on the candidates’ background, experience, and record, but the people do not always make the most informed decision. I think the American election situation makes this pretty clear, as does Brexit. Letting just anyone run for office may be democracy, but having just anyone win may be asking for trouble. The people often don’t know what or who they’re voting for. They are influenced by campaign ads and tricks, which are dependent on strategy and budget, or by the candidates’ party affiliation, or other aspects which do not necessarily speak to the candidates’ abilities to be the best at the job.

The best decision is to reform the Senate, rather than abolish it in favour of a fully elected government. The system has been working in Canada and the UK for years, and Canada must strive to implement the model in the way that the Fathers of Confederation intended. Also, it is key to ensuring that the needs of the smaller provinces are properly represented, and that the power of the House of Commons is kept in check. Yes, corruption exists in the Senate, but attempting to remove party affiliations and partisanship as well as adding accountability to the appointment process are better alternatives to abolishment, as a properly functional Senate will make a decision to best represent their region, not their party. Finally, do we really want the people to make ALL the decisions? No one wants another Brexit.