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Abolish the Senate, Our National Disgrace

05/17/2013 05:18 EDT | Updated 07/17/2013 05:12 EDT
CP

The Senate is Canada's dirty little secret. The institution is an anachronism imposed by Britain and perpetuated ever since without justification.

The Senate should be abolished, but remains the DNA of Ottawa which is why, despite the current and previous scandals, absolutely nothing changes and no one is held accountable.

For those who think Canada is a republic or a democracy, think again. This country is ruled more by the concept of privilege than of meritocracy, and the only remedy is to destroy the unacceptable portion of the governance model. Destruction is preferred because reform is impossible.

(This obstacle is why Prime Minister Stephen Harper a few months ago asked the Supreme Court to rule on: Quebec's assertion that its Senatorial entitlement is constitutionally guaranteed, that Quebec or the provinces must be consulted regarding reforms and whether the Senate can be abolished and, if so, how.)

In the meantime, the Senate won't alter course or structures, won't properly police its members and won't dissolve voluntarily.

The Senate represents Canada's major flaw: the perpetuation of Medieval monarchical rights and creation of a political aristocracy that answers to no one and, even when caught red-handed, can simply refuse to resign or even recant.

Canada's Senators are Canada's Lords and Ladies and, as such, are held to a lower standard than anyone else. Like nobles everywhere, they are immune from sanctions even when it comes to bad behaviour. They react arrogantly, as though they were "to the manner [or manor] born", and the rest of us can simply eat cake.

This is, needless to say, extremely debilitating in a so-called democracy.

Canadians, if they even care to read about such nonsense, are frustrated and tired about their Senate. I'm personally weary of Canadian Senators passing themselves off as legitimate lawmakers (or as elected Senators in the American or Australian sense) or of listening to debates and pundits pontificating and ranting.

The Senate does not have my respect and never has. I have followed its antics and appointments for years and know that each Senator is a patronage appointee, usually a party hack or fundraiser, who lives off the rest of us grandly without being required to do a lick of work. It's all based on the honour system from how much they contribute to what they claim in expenses.

Even worse, they are free to leverage their positions by receiving directors fees and stock options, speaking fees and consulting fees. They lobby, without having the restrictions attached to lobbyists, peddling inside information and access to decision makers for profit even though they are already paid out of the public purse.

They get expense accounts, and much more if they know how to game the system, in the form of appearance fees and expenses, to promote their political parties and candidates. Not to put a fine point on this, but this should be strictly forbidden because they are paid by all of Canada's taxpayers and should be meticulously non-partisan.

To boot, they can do all of this in secret. There are no detailed disclosure requirements about their earnings, clients, directorships, outside salaries, assignments, sweetheart loans, gifts, jobs for friends and other benefits many derive as a result of their "lofty" and privileged positions.

The Senate is a national disgrace because no self-respecting democracy should allow such an institution. Some nation-states, and most provinces, function without a second legislative branch. The Americans and the Australians rejected the British House of Lords model. Not Canada.

Generations of slavish anglophiles ripped off the House of Lords to create the Canadian Senate with similar perquisites: Both Lords and Senators retain residual rights to stand for election if they choose; they have dining [room] rights and occupy elevated positions that confer many entitlements including protection against dismissal, no matter how egregious the circumstances. Even jail sentences don't appear to be grounds for dismissal in the House of Lords, and Canada's not far behind.

Many Senators throughout history have been jailed, audited and expelled or embarrassed enough to quit. For instance, Brian Mulroney, one month before he left office, appointed a close friend, supporter and hotelier from the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Montreal to the Senate. He left after his poor attendance record was revealed along with others. Paul Martin Jr. awarded his friend and advisor, Francis Fox, to a Senate seat after Fox had been shamed years before into resigning as a Member of Parliament for forging the signature of his mistress's husband to help her get an abortion.

There are plenty of other examples, including the current Group of Four that are being audited.

But Ottawa, even left without a legitimate excuse for keeping the Senate, will do nothing unless the Supreme Court provides a green light and even then it's questionable. Canada has clung to its discredited paradigm of privilege thanks to Britain's colonial constitutionalizing. The only reform has been miniscule. Originally, Senators in Canada had to own property and were appointed for life. This changed in 1965 with a retirement age of 75 years.

But the pursuit of privilege has always amused, notably that prominent Canadians continue to claw, scrape and coerce their way into their Senate and even covet and obtain knighthoods and lordships from a declining and antiquated British system of vestigial titles.

Such anachronistic "accomplishments" are laughable to most Canadians, certainly to its immigrants like me and to the rest of the world. But until Canada reinvents itself, the Senators at the centre of scandals can and will continue to stonewall, sneer and scoff both rules and critics.

This leaves only one remedy at the moment. Prime Minister Harper has moral leverage and must privately, then publicly if necessary, ask his miscreants to resign from the Senate immediately. To do otherwise is unacceptable.

This originally ran in the Financial Post.

Controversial Canadian Senators