Senate could have a vital role to play

The question of whether to abolish or elect the Senate tends to flare up in the wake of a crass partisan appointment or abuse of privilege.

The question of whether to abolish or to elect the Senate tends to flare up in the wake of a crass partisan appointment or a flagrant abuse of privilege.

That question, however, should not be allowed to negate the question of the Senate’s purpose. We have examples in our history of legislation where, in retrospect, a sober second thought could have — should have — avoided much pain, suffering, and embarrassment for the country and its citizens.

Two examples are the Gradual Enfranchisement Act which legitimized the residential school program imposed on First Nations and the War Measures Act which legitimized the forced internment of Canadian citizens of Japanese ancestry.

An effective legislative body charged with the responsibility to assess the full potential of consequences with respect to human rights and dignity that may flow from such legislation, could have prevented thousands of Canadians from being abused by state power, and the nation would have escaped the humiliation and embarrassment that followed.

It was Sir John A. Macdonald who referred to the Senate as Canada’s chamber of sober second thought, whose primary task was to curb any excesses of the elected House of Commons.

History has validated concerns that the judgment of democratically elected legislators may on occasion become clouded by populist euphoria.

To subject draft legislation to a sober second thought, or to reevaluate established legislation when the conditions prevailing at the time of an enactment no longer apply, is not to deny democracy’s principles.

It is not only wrong, it is arrogant to assume that today’s sophisticated and informed citizenry would prevent laws of the kind that facilitated residential schools and internment camps from being adopted.

Human reasoning, especially in political matters, is as likely to make wild assumptions and grotesque errors, and reach irrational conclusions today as it has been throughout history.

This is the perspective from which we need to examine the role of the Senate and its historic performance. The primary objective of that examination has nothing to do with the alternatives of abolishing the Senate or of electing its members.

The critical question is how to structure, within democratic principles, a legislative body so as to give it the necessary authority to apply a sober second thought to legislation, both existing and under consideration.

The Senate is established in our Constitution. A substantial change to or elimination of the Senate requires a constitutional amendment. It has been more than thirty years since the last time the country went through a substantial amendment of the Constitution with the adoption of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

We need a constitutional debate on the role of the Senate, not merely on whether to dump it or to fiddle with the ways and means of appointing, anointing, selecting or electing Senators.

We need a national debate on the merits of subjecting legislative initiatives to a sober second thought before enactment.

The risk is that such a debate may well expand to become a national debate on the way we should or could govern ourselves.

Such a debate may lead us to consider the separation of legislative from executive powers, and to consider electoral systems that encourage dialogue and compromise rather than empowering one political view at the expense of all others. It is only in such a context that we should consider the future of the Senate.

Democratic rights are contingent upon our democratic powers. Today our democratic powers are limited to electing members to the House of Commons.

Our electoral system transforms a plurality at the ballot box into a majority in the House of Commons.

Under our electoral system a party favoured by little more than one third of the population can gain full control of government and the legislative calendar. This condition is not conducive to democratically open, accountable, and responsive government.

Andre Carrel is a retired public sector manager living in Terrace, BC.

Just Posted

First Tears to Hope Relay Run to Terrace for MMIWG

Over 50 participants are running the Highway of Tears from both Prince Rupert and Smithers

Antique window destroyed during latest break-in at George Little House

“I feel like I let the house down,” says manager

First dedicated rugby field in northern B.C. opens in Terrace

The Northmen Rugby Club held the ribbon-cutting celebration

Terrace’s first licensed marijuana store opens

KJ’s Best Cannabis will sell cannabis, pre-rolled joints and oils for customers

Under pressure: SD82 takes heat over principal reassignments

School district hears demands during packed board meeting in Terrace

Protesters rally in Victoria over newly approved Trans Mountain pipeline

The Still No Consent! No Trans Mountain! 20 kilometre march will end at Island View Beach

Wildfire burning in coastal forest

A fire beside the Sea to Sky Highway is burning up a steep slope

PHOTOS: Event marks one year since soccer team rescued from Thai cave

Nine players and coach took part in marathon and bike event to help improve conditions at cave

Rock climber dies after fall at Stawamus Chief in Squamish

The man had fallen about 30 metres while climbing in the Grand Wall area

Five B.C. students taken to hospital after playing with vaping device

School district said students were taken to hospital ‘out of an abundance of caution’

Being a pot dealer is not what it used to be

Sunday Big Read: the business of selling marijuana in B.C. is a slow bureaucratic slog

VIDEO: Two more pride flags have been stolen from Langley woman

Lisa Ebenal was “angry” and “fed up” after the latest theft. Then people started showing suppport

B.C. couple who has raised 58 children turns to community amid cancer diagnosis

Family who raised, fostered and adopted many kids hoping to gain some precious together time to fight cancer

Canucks acquire forward J.T. Miller from Lightning

J.T. Miller, 26, had 13 goals and 34 assists for the Lightning last season

Most Read