THE BLOG

Easy Senate Fixes

07/08/2013 05:25 EDT | Updated 09/07/2013 05:12 EDT
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Interior of Canadian Parliament Building of Canadian Senate chambers in Ottawa, Ontario.

I wrote earlier about some popular myths arising out of the senate expense scandal. Here I want to offer some extremely easy improvements the Senate can make right away without opening the constitution or holding a national referendum.

Let the cameras roll

Most Canadians have absolutely no idea of what the Senate does on a daily basis. The Senate should fix this. No more tinkering with the web page and getting all excited about the Senate twitter feed. Bold action is required now. Just as the cameras film the happenings of the House of Commons, they must film what goes on in the Senate Chamber. There is no reasonable excuse not to have the cameras there. If expense is an issue, start with just Senate Question Period. Canadians need to see and hear who is representing their region in the Senate and what they are saying. Get a team on it and commit to televised Chamber sessions in the fall.

Julianize the Senate

Just before the House of Commons recessed for the summer, all parties supported NDP Peter Julian's proposal to commence the demolition of the secretive Board of Internal Economy. This is the powerful, private club of MPs that is charged with monitoring MP expenses. The House has committed itself to replacing the Board of Internal Economy with an independent oversight body. There is no credible excuse for not immediately doing the same thing in the Senate. Some are balking, claiming that the Senate is special. But the time for delusions of grandeur is over. If the Senate wants to survive, it must join all other modern democratic institutions and commit right away to transparent, accountable, and open administration of its internal affairs.

Review the expenses scandal from a procedure perspective

The Auditor General may already be on this, but just in case he isn't, please allow me to suggest it point blank. A seasoned apolitical public servant or credible outside authority should be appointed to look specifically at how the Senate handled itself on its housing policy. A forensic analysis of all the steps taken by the various players is needed. When the suggestion of improprieties first arose, how was it managed? What is the standard operating procedure used when there is suspected non-compliance? Did all Senators receive the same treatment? The review must be conducted by someone without political skin in the game and who is not terrified of "making the Senate look bad." Because there is no political gain from what might be an embarrassing exercise, this job must be taken on by an unbiased objective authority. Without knowing what went wrong, there is no chance of correcting it in the future.

The former leader of the government in the Senate has spoken publicly about the lack of perceived legitimacy of the institution. We could argue endlessly about whether it ever had legitimacy or whether achieving legitimacy is even possible. However, the three suggestions here will start the ball rolling in the direction of increased credibility. Allow the cameras to film each and every session, stop balking and dismantle the Board of Internal Economy, and conduct an independent review of how the Senate managed suspected non-compliance of its housing policy.

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