Harper majority government’s new Senate reform adventures starting to look just too absurd?

Jun 16th, 2011 | By | Category: Ottawa Scene

Riot police walk in front of a burning vehicle in Vancouver after the Vancouver Canucks lost in Game Seven of the Stanley Cup Finals. Rich Lam/Getty Images.

[UPDATED JUNE 20]. More than two weeks ago, the lovely Althia Raj warned that trouble for the latest Stephen Harper step by step Senate reform adventures was brewing among the new Tory majority in the unreformed Senate of Canada itself (“Conservative senators balking at Senate reform agenda: sources”).

Now a fresh wave of similar reports yesterday is stiffening her warning. (See, eg: “Friendly fire erupts as Tory senators balk at Harper’s term-limit plan” ; “Conservative senators revolt over plans for Senate reform” ; “Harper’s senators balk at Senate reform” ; “Tory senators revolt over Senate reform” ; “Elected Tory senator rips colleagues for opposing Harper’s reform effort” ; and “Senate dissent shifts reform bill to House.”)

Despite my continuing strong support for the step by step agenda, I have already opined, in connection with Ms. Raj’s report of more than two weeks ago : “The most sensible reaction if Mr. Harper’s own stacked Conservative majority in the present unreformed Senate of Canada were to reject his two Senate reform bills would be to collapse on the softest rug in your house (or apartment, office, recreation centre, etc), in vast heaps of uncontrollable laughter.”

More recently, I have tried to restore some seriousness to at least my own www perceptions of the debate with “Another miniature long-winded dissertation on why Canadian Senate reform remains crucial, despite all the arguments against it!” I continue to very seriously stand by the pro Senate reform arguments advanced here.

(And for greater certainty Gerald Caplan’s “Electing the Senate: worst idea in the history of the planet,” in last Friday’s Globe and Mail, struck me as just one more sign of why both Mr. Caplan and the traditional Senate abolition policy of the New Democrats have long ago passed their best-before dates. Mr. Caplan, eg, worries at great length about elected Senators having to run province-wide campaigns in large provinces. But note that the distinguished Ontario Senator Hugh Segal currently declares on his website “It is my honour to serve Kingston-Frontenac-Leeds [NOT all of Ontario] in Canada’s Upper House.”)

Riot police walk in the street as a couple kiss in Vancouver after riots broke out after game seven. Rich Lam/Getty Images.

With this latest wave of Mr. Harper’s unelected senators balking at his plans for Senate reform, however, I do feel the entire enterprise has entered a House of the Hilariously Absurd, that could finally just destroy the credibility of everybody and everything involved. Pollster Nik Nanos is surely right when he says that: “Politically,” new majority PM Harper has “got to whip that Senate caucus” — before it gets altogether out of hand. Presumably, “Senate dissent shifts reform bill to House” is a first step in this direction.  And hopefully “Conservative Senator Doug Finley, a close friend of Harper’s,” is right in his belief that “the dissent is overblown and that when the time comes, Conservative senators will vote in favour of the legislation.” Otherwise, one of the very few sensible things in the Stephen Harper agenda for a stronger Canada will just fade into the Canadian sunset. And the next four years really will be a complete waste of precious time. [Click on “Read the rest of this page” and/or scroll down for June 20 update].

UPDATE JUNE 20: Two more or less fresh Canadian Senate reform developments have now surfaced. The first is that (as explained by the Globe and Mail): “Prime Minister Stephen Harper is expected to take his quest for Senate reform directly to the House of Commons as early as this week … The Conservatives are looking at combining separate bills on term limits and the election of senators into a single package they can quickly push through the Commons.”

NDP MP David Christopherrson called Conservative-appointed Senator Pamela Wallin “arrogant and elitist” on CTV’s Question Period, and suggested she didn’t have a “mandate” from the electorate to reform anything.

Or, according to Postmedia News: “The Harper government is poised to introduce Senate reform legislation in the House of Commons this week, launching a national debate over whether a plan to change the upper chamber will improve Canadian democracy or make it worse. The bill, to be tabled by Democratic Reform Minister Tim Uppal, is the culmination of many years of successive promises by Prime Minister Stephen Harper — dating back to his early career as an opposition MP — to democratize the Senate.”

Second (and back to the Globe and Mail): “Jason Kenney is suggesting his boss Stephen Harper could do away with the Senate if his Conservative caucus in the Red Chamber doesn’t play ball and accept his reforms … Choosing his words carefully, Mr. Kenney avoided saying the word ‘abolish.’ Rather, he said the Prime Minister is prepared to ‘entertain more dramatic options’ if Tory senators continue to balk at his proposal.

Senator Pamella Wallin “shot back that the Conservatives’ freshly minted majority in the Commons is all the legitimacy the government needs. ‘That, in our system, sir, is a mandate,’ she said.” Hot stuff eh?

The Globe and Mail report goes on: “The government is expected to introduce its Senate-reform legislation in the House of Commons this week, just before its rises for the summer. A fiery exchange between Conservative Senator Pamela Wallin and the NDP’s democratic reform critic, David Christopherson, on CTV’s Question Period Sunday showed just how passionate this debate has become … Mr. Kenney is not only the Immigration Minister but also chairman of the powerful cabinet operations committee. His words carry some weight around the cabinet table … ‘Well the Prime Minister, I think, has said publicly that our preference is a reformed democratic Senate,’ Mr. Kenney told CTV’s Power Play late last week. “But if we don’t get that we are prepared to entertain more dramatic options but we prefer not to get into constitutional amendments. Our preference is reform without constitutional amendments.’”

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