The Conservatives now have a majority government, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper has promised that Senate reform will be on the government’s agenda over the next four years.
If that’s the case, why did Harper appoint three defeated Conservative candidates to the Senate on Wednesday?
Senate reform is complicated. While Alberta and some other western provinces favour electing senators, Quebec and most eastern provinces are opposed. The four Atlantic provinces actually have more senators than the four western provinces — 30 to 24 — and thus don’t want anything to change.
Changing how the Senate is chosen would require a constitutional amendment. Given that no federal government wants to reopen the constitution, particularly with Quebec separatists in high gear for the next provincial election, it is highly unlikely that any constitutional discussion on the Senate will take place over the next four years.
However, Harper has also suggested that the Senate could be gradually changed, with provinces holding elections for vacant Senate seats. He would then appoint those elected individuals to the Senate. He has also asked his appointed senators to serve for eight-year terms.
He needs to explain in more detail why he found it necessary to appoint three defeated Conservatives to the Senate. Two of them resigned their Senate seats to run in the recent election. All three are from eastern provinces — Quebec and Newfoundland.
If Harper has no plans for Senate reform, it is highly unlikely that any future prime minister will be willing to take this issue on. If no government is willing to do so, it is time that the Senate was abolished.
It serves little real purpose at present, and is an anachronism at a time when democracy is seen by many around the world as something to strive for — even at the cost of death.
Harper must tell the Canadian public why he appointed these three individuals to the Senate just weeks after their defeat, and explain his plans for Senate reform in detail.