Tory Senator Bob Runciman .. a rare Ontario Senate reformer, alive and well in the Brockville Recorder

Feb 12th, 2014 | By | Category: In Brief

Kathleen Wynne.

Late last spring Kathleen Wynne got into some trouble in some parts of her most populous province for such headlines as “Ontario’s Wynne wants to see Senate reformed” and/or “Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne wants to reform Senate, not abolish it.”

At least on some accounts of the mind of Ontario, this does seem like what one critic has called “Kathleen Wynne’s U-turn on Senate reform.” Canada’s most populous province, that is to say, has no interest in any kind of reformed Senate. One way or another, Senate reform in Canada can only reduce the federal weight and heft that Ontario’s demography allegedly brings in the (more or less) popularly elected Canadian House of Commons  – where close to each man or woman or vice-versa has close to one vote.

Modern Ontario, in other words, on any sensible conception of its own interest, wants to abolish not reform the current unreformed Senate of Canada, which still has far too much in common with the British House of Lords.

The pioneering Premier Wynne, on the other hand, may be wisely enough arguing for a broader view of Ontario’s changing role in the always evolving Canadian confederation of 1867. The new Canada that may be strangely but interestingly misrepresented by Rob’s Ford’s “Crazy Town” celebrity is a place of many mansions and many truths. And one of them is NOT that Canada is just Ontario writ large. The sooner Ontario the province learns its new Canadian role, the more successful it will be, in Canada, North America, and everywhere else, in the 21st century.

Ontario Senator Bob Runciman.

Meanwhile, it still seems true enough that serious “systematic” Senate reformers in Ontario – especially of the variety that has blossomed in Western Canada – are rather rare. They are not, however, entirely unknown. As a case in point, this past Monday, the lively old Eastern Ontario Tory MPP and now Senator Bob Runciman was telling the Rotary Clubs of Brockville and Prescott that he is “optimistic for Senate reform versus abolition,” though he recognizes that “great changes would have to be made.”

This isn’t the first time Bob Runciman from Eastern Ontario has stood up for something that, when you start thinking about it, even a little, sounds quite a lot like a Western Canadian Senate reform dream. And so Alanah Duffy reports in the Brockville Recorder : “A ‘triple E’ –  equal, elected and effective – is Runciman’s favoured model; the current appointment system has drawbacks, he said.”

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You might wonder why Senator Runciman supports what we in Central Canada sometimes think of as the Western Canadian Triple E model of Senate reform?  Doesn’t he realize that such a reformed Senate could only reduce the federal weight and heft that Ontario’s demography allegedly brings to its place in the democratically elected Canadian House of Commons? Or is he actually a pioneering Ontario regional progressive, in the manner of Kathleen Wynne?

In fact, I don’t think the resolutely Tory Bob Runciman’s very Eastern Ontario Tory support for Senate reform in Canada has much to do with Kathleen Wynne’s Liberal progressive stab at some vaguely similar subject at all.

From 1981 to 2010 Bob Runciman was the recurrently elected member of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario the for the essentially “rural” ridings of Leeds and then Leeds-Grenville. (And let me say right away that “rural” and “urban” are far too imprecise terms for any serious argument here, but they seem to be the pegs we are all hanging our hats on at the moment.)

The world, and Canada, being what it is today, I don’t think the long-lived Eastern Ontario Tory Bob Runciman is all that worried about Ontario’s relative weight and heft in the confederation. The biggest thing about the “Triple E” reform model in Canada is that there actually are working Triple E Senates in both Australia and the United States today. And in both cases, I think it’s fair to say, what the principle that each unit in the federal system (state, province) gets “equal” representation finally does is strengthen the federal presence of “rural” as opposed to “urban” interests in the country at large. And that’s fine by Bob Runciman, inside or outside Ontario.

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The Australian Senate at work – “elected, equal, and effective” for more than a century!

What I feeI have most urgently learned myself, from my experience just watching from a respectful (urban) distance, is that, as useful as it may or may not have proved to be in Australia and the United States, the Triple E Senate model is just altogether unworkable in Canada.

So, as someone from Ontario who has followed the Senate reform debate in Canada fairly closely, ever since having a book on the subject published in 1990, I applaud Mr.Runciman’s role in imparting some vague breath of real life into the always hard-to-get-started Senate reform debate in Ontario. And I totally agree on the “Elected” and “Effective”parts of the Triple E model. But I take a pass on Bob Runciman’s resolute continuing support for the Triple E principle of equal representation for each province in a reformed Senate of Canada.

Alanah Duffy of the Brockville Recorder.

First, if I have learned anything about Senate reform over the past 24 years, it is that Quebec’s unique role in confederation must be given some form of special recognition in a reformed Senate of Canada. It is simply true that Quebec is not a province like the others. It is the only province with a free and democratic French-speaking majority. And for Canada to thrive, from coast to coast to coast, we must somehow officially acknowledge this fact of Canadian life.

Second, even more than Australia and the United States, Canada has unique representation problems, beyond the francophone majority in Quebec, with provinces that account for more than 10% of the cross-Canada population – (again leaving out the still otherwise different Quebec), Alberta, British Columbia, and Ontario. The provincial seat allocation in a reformed Senate, I think, ought to somehow take account of this crucial fact of Canadian demography as well.

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Local Brockville hero Dave Shaw (one in from l) receives award at Royal Brock Hotel, from Senator Bob Runciman (l) , MPP Steve Clark (r centre) and MP Gord Brown (r).

I have no idea just what Bob Runciman might make of proposals of this sort. And on another level, I don’t think it matters.

Whatever the ultimate details may or may not prove to be, Mr.Runciman has given the best concluding short summary of the issue extant, in Ontario today : “Does the Senate of Canada have a future? I think it does. I hope that future involves significant reform, but it won’t be easy.”

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