Elections have consequences; that is not a controversial statement at all and is really just a statement of fact. Who we elect determines what direction our government goes in, the decisions that are made and therefore, the consequences that come from those decisions. In most average elections though those issues and decisions fall within a usual strand of issues, whether they be health care, foreign policy or taxation policy.
During the last election there was a different issue in the debate of the campaign, that was outside the normal issues; Senate Reform. It had been many twenty years since we last had a big discussion about Senate Reform during a campaign, and even then it wasn’t that big a piece of that election. But in 2015, with the scandals coming out of the Senate, it was a hot topic, which pushed parties to move their Senate reform proposals to the front burner.
Given that they won the campaign, it was the Trudeau Liberals who got the chance to enact their Senate reform proposal, which basically boiled down to appointing “Independent” Senators suggested from a non-partisan process. It’s arguable about the degree of success that this process has had to date, but one thing that is unmistakable is the change in the tone and work of the Senate itself. There has been a lot of trying to feeling one’s way through this process, but four years later and with 59 Independent Senators in place, the Red Chamber has definitely changed. It was with that in mind that I came across this piece from today’s Hill Times, which points to a potential big consequence of this upcoming election:
Ahhh, the future of the Senate itself. Do we continue down this path towards an “Independent” Senate, or do we start to go back to the old, patronage system, as the Scheer Conservatives wish to. This is an interesting story under the surface of this campaign, but as the C-262 episode taught us, one that is extremely important to the legislative future of our Parliament. As the Hill Times points out, at least 24 Senators will have to retire during the life of the 43rd Parliament, assuming there is a majority and it sits for all four years. That close to a quarter of the 105 seat chamber, and that doesn’t account for any Senators who may decided to leave sooner for their own reasons.
Of those 24 Senators, 10 of them are members of the Conservative caucus, which means that if the Liberals were to win, they would be able to grow the Independent Senate Group while further reducing the Conservatives. Conversely, if the Conservatives were to win, the biggest they could get their caucus to would be 44, still a minority in the Senate and leaving the Independent Senate Group with a majority at 52 seats.
The big point here is that whoever that gets elected in the House of Commons will have a big say on not only the composition of the Senate but will go a long way to determining how the Senate will operate. Will it be the new Senate of the past four years, or will it go back to the old status quo that came before? If the Liberals were to win, it would help to cement this new mode of operation in the Senate, simply by the sheer numbers of Independent Senators. A Liberal win would help to make this new Senate the norm and make it very hard to undo. A Conservative win wouldn’t completely undo what the Trudeau Liberals have done in the Senate, but it would start to roll that back and would definitely change the way that it operates, in process and tone.
Will this change the votes of many people? I doubt it. But this will be a part of the conversation and debate around this campaign for sure, as this is very consequential for the future operation and health of our democracy. I’m not yet sold that this new approach to the Senate is the best way to go or is a big improvement, but I do know that the old way, with patronage appointments galore, was not working. That was a broken system with no redeemable qualities in my eyes, regardless if some good Senators got appointed in that way. There is promise in this new approach and time will tell if it was the right move. This experiment deserves the chance to continue on, and we’ll see as the campaign goes along what all of the parties have to say about that. But in the 43rd General Election, the Senate should be an issue that gets the same kind of attention it got last time at least and shouldn’t be lost in the shuffle. Elections have consequences, and this issue proves that in spades.