|Speaker in the Crow Parliament|
The message from the NDP nationally—and now beginning to build with Brad Wall and the Saskatchewan Party in Saskatchewan—is that the senate ought to be abolished. I agree and disagree. In theory, the House of Commons expresses the wishes of the majority of Canadian electors and the senate acts as watchdog to ensure that its decisions are fair and just regionally. Simple. I disagree with the NDP in that this is a necessary function and could actually be made to work if the senate were truly regionally representative and less of a hog trough for partisan has-beens.
I agree, though, on the basis that the institution now appears to be well beyond redemption.
But would abolition be an exercise in rearranging deck chairs on a sinking ship? Is the current scandal involving false expense claims symptomatic of a deeper malaise?
History will probably show that a truly functioning democracy eventually slides into corruption unless a few basic conditions are systematically met. The first is active participation—citizens need to be tugging at the reins to get at the ballot box, need to be crowding into arenas to hear debates, need to have learned —through rigorous instruction in school— to understand the system by which they're governed. None of these are currently actual.
Secondly, the system needs to ensure that politicians are rewarded more for collaboration and compromise and less for partisan competition. I suspect that some ideal democracy of the future will have done away with the party system and will function more like the Rosthern Town Council, where councilors are chosen on merit and blocs are formed around issues rather than around party loyalties. The parliamentary chamber of the future will be round with seating assigned by lot.
Thirdly, functioning democracies will be transparent and open. All debates, deliberations will be broadcast to the public. Question periods (if they exist) will be about garnering information rather than scoring party points. Skilled auditors will report monthly on government revenue and expenditures and all members' expense accounts will be posted on line.
Double dipping by senators, kickbacks to Quebec politicians, manipulation by politicians using false or misleading information, the constant and unproductive bickering in parliament and in the media, attack ads, all these are enabled by the system under which our citizenry has organized its governance.
It's not so much time to abolish the senate as it is time to rethink the whole ball of wax.
P.S. This won't happen unless electors insist on it. In other words, it won't happen. A warning appropriate to Canadians is that age-old one . . . apathy is the meat on which corruption feeds.