Tom Flanagan has offered some Senate advice to the Prime Minister today in a Globe and Mail column. Apologies to readers whose eyes glaze over at the mere mention of the Senate, and with all respect for Mr. Flanagan, I think some of his assertions/assumptions don't stand up. In the order he offers them:
1. Stacking the Senate with a bunch more of appointed folks would "showcase Mr. Harper at his strategic best"? How's that prorogation thing going again? But let's assume that Mr. Flanagan is correct -- that Canadians would see the subtle difference between this "tricky power play" and the more blunt instruments Harper has used to roll over his opposition, which aren't earning him any new supporters if I read the polls correctly. Flanagan is assuming that citizens would see this as a bold move for the sake of "democracy". Good luck with that.
2. Liberals can't be expected to vote for something in the Commons because it requires a constitutional amendment? Was Mr. Flanagan AWOL during Meech or Charlottetown, when Liberals in the Commons voted both times in favour of the constitutional measures, as one step in the process? Liberals have said that Harper can't unilaterally change the composition of the Senate -- that provinces and the courts need to be part of the process. I don't understand how that translates into a decision to abstain from Senate reform. But perhaps Mr. Flanagan knows more about the Liberals' strategic thinking than the rest of us.
3. An election on Senate reform? Sounds like a riot, except that the way politics get polarized these days, the choice will likely boil down to Senate or No Senate -- reform or abolition. I'd bet that abolition wins. Again, Meech and Charlottetown taught us that if you ask Canadians what they want to do with anything surrounding the Constitution, they answer "throw the bums out." Even if that isn't the question. I don't think that's the solution Mr. Harper is seeking.
4. "A direct reference by the federal minister of justice to the Supreme Court is a bad idea because it suggests that the government harbours doubts about its own legislation." Someone maybe should have told the current government about this before it referred its national-securities-regulator proposal to the court, where it now sits. As well, Jean Chretien did the country a service when he asked the Supreme Court to lay down the terms by which secession could occur. We now have a "Clarity Act" -- which was Stephen Harper's idea in the first place, if I recall. A court reference isn't a strategy -- it's sound governing and can provide welcome clarity.
5. Arguing that Senate reform needs a constitutional amendment doesn't make one an opponent of reforming the Senate. That's a little gratuitous -- the kind of thing you'd expect to find in PMO talking points, not in any serious discussion of Senate reform.
6. Finally, I am still puzzled by why ardent Senate reformers would want to make the chamber elected -- without fixing its other big problems, notably the under-representation of Alberta and British Columbia. Imagine 105 elected people in the "other" chamber -- half of them from Quebec and Ontario, another one quarter from the Atlantic provinces, and just six senators each from the booming Western provinces.
You're going to end up with a bunch of politicians in the Senate, claiming a legitimate mandate from the people, where Alberta and B.C.'s senators could be constantly outvoted and overwhelmed by Central Canada. That's not what the Senate reformers in the West wanted, is it?
Okay, that's it for Senate reform. Apologies again to those who don't share my obscure interest in this issue.