The Canadian Senate must change

Chilliwack-Fraser Canyon MP Mark Strahl says status quo is not acceptable



Reform Party leader Preston Manning used to get great audience reaction when he said that the Senate thrived on “protocol, alcohol and Geritol.”

Senate reform was one of the main reasons the Reform Party became such a successful grassroots movement in the 1990s. At the time, there was a palpable desire for meaningful change, with most in the west wanting a “Triple E Senate” – an institution that would become equal, elected and effective.

Previous attempts to change Canada’s constitution – the Meech Lake and Charlottetown Accords – were dead on arrival in the west in large part because they failed to propose adequate Senate reform, particularly in regard to equality.

Because the Senate is not equal, and because senators are unaccountable to Canadians, there is a growing sentiment that perhaps the time has come to abolish it entirely. This sentiment only grows stronger when we see the sort of stories coming out of Ottawa recently.

All senators – including the vast majority who are dedicated public servants – are now under the microscope because of the actions of a few. There are just too many stories of inappropriate behaviour, undeserved payments and unverifiable addresses for several members of the upper chamber.

Canadians have rightly reacted strongly to these stories, and several senators have been forced to resign from their party caucuses due to their unacceptable actions, even though they currently remain in the Senate.

Many people have taken the time to contact me to let me know how disgusted they are with the current Senate scandal in Ottawa, and I assure them that I share that sentiment. I am angry that the unelected, unaccountable few have treated taxpayers with such disdain and I hope that they face the full force of the numerous authorities that are currently looking into this.

Months ago, before these latest stories came to light, the Prime Minister had asked the Supreme Court to advise us on the process that would be required to reform the Senate (have them elected and accountable, and limit their term of office). He also asked the court to rule on the possibility of abolishing the Senate – a process that will no doubt be very difficult to achieve without another round of divisive constitutional wrangling. Either way, change is coming and it can’t come too soon.

Of course, while we wait for the court to rule on Senate reform options, (later this year), there are changes to be taken right now to ensure that further abuses can’t happen in the Senate expense accounts.

The full list of those proposed reforms can be found at http://www.lgs.gc.ca/eng/node/4253. Suffice it to say they’re strong enough that no one will be able to say “the rules weren’t clear to me”.

While we aggressively pursue Senate reform, it’s puzzling why new Liberal leader Justin Trudeau is aggressively protecting the status quo. Just this past weekend, in an interview with La Press in his home province of Quebec, he said: “We have 24 Senators in Quebec and there are only six for Alberta and six for British Columbia. That benefits us.”

He is defending the status quo in the Senate because it benefits his home province, to the detriment of British Columbia! He has also said that he thinks that electing Senators would be a “terrible idea” and that we just need to appoint better people.

I think he’s missing the point – it’s the unaccountable part of the current Senate structure that people are most unhappy with, regardless of party.

The status quo is not acceptable to Canadians – certainly not those British Columbians who are still looking for an effective, elected and accountable Senate.

Our Conservative government believes that change in the Senate is long overdue, and we’re committed to making it happen with or without the support of the opposition.

Mark Strahl,

Chilliwack-Fraser Canyon MP

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