Premier Christy Clark's government intends to introduce legislation next year that would see B.C. elect its senators. Be careful what you wish for - an elected Senate might not be in B.C.'s best interests.
Requiring the prime minister to appoint senators who have been chosen in provincial elections seems a positive step toward Senate reform. It has happened in Alberta, and other provinces could follow suit.
If that happens, the Senate, which has considerable power it rarely uses, might begin to flex its muscles on the premise that its members were chosen by the people, and therefore have the legitimacy to act on behalf of the people, rather than just being a rubber stamp for Parliament.
And what's wrong with that? After all, we want the Red Chamber to be more legitimate and effective, don't we?
Not really - that situation would put the West at considerable disadvantage. B.C. and Alberta have 24 per cent of Canada's population but just 12 of the Senate's 105 seats. Without balanced regional representation, B.C. would tend to get the short end of the stick in Senate votes.
The government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who made Senate reform an election promise, has tabled a bill that would limit Senate terms to nine years and would allow provinces to select their own candidates for Senate appointment. But that legislation has languished on the order paper and will likely be presented to the Supreme Court to determine its constitutionality.
Harper's reforms are mighty thin soup, and do nothing to address the regional imbalance. To make substantive changes to the Senate would require the co-operation of all provinces. Jealous Ontario, struggling with the shift of economic power to the West, and Quebec, with its newly elected separatist government, are unlikely to climb aboard the Senate-reform train. And the Maritime provinces will not willingly allow their disproportionate share of Senate seats to diminish.
The idea of a Triple-E Senate (effective, elected and equal in representation) was born in the midst of Western discontent in the 1980s. It's a worthy dream for all of Canada, but the Constitution makes significant change virtually impossible. To attempt to do so is to stir up legal and political battles that would do the country no good. It's a fight that would distract from more important issues, such as the economy and the environment.
Perhaps, in the ebb and flow of politics and regional feelings, the time will come when Canadians from all regions can sit down together and work out a more equitable arrangement.
But that time is not now.
Allowing provinces to choose candidates for Senate appointments would at least negate the prime ministerial habit of stacking the Upper House in favour of the party in power.
But until Canadians can get together to talk about meaningful, substantive Senate reform, we should focus efforts and resources on more urgent issues.
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