Last August, the CBC published an opinion piece by Aaron Wherry that was headlined, “The hope for an elected Senate is dead, or at least fast asleep.”
Just as well.
If you’ve been around for a while, you’ll remember the term triple-E Senate. It stood for equal, elected and effective.
It sounded good. Felt good. More democracy. More accountability.
I raise this now because the antics of the Senate around Bill C-49 show why we must not give the Senate democratic legitimacy.
I know it’s counter-intuitive. The will of the people is generally wise.
After nearly a year in the making, Bill C-49 — designed to improve grain transportation and, inexplicably, address passengers’ rights on airlines — was rejected for the second time in May by the Senate, dominated as it is by Tories and populated with independent Liberals, leaving the possibility that it wouldn’t be passed until the fall, when its provisions may not have been useful for this harvest season.
There was a stubbornness in the Senate to see that certain provisions — including long-haul inter-switching — were addressed in the bill. This effectively took the side of shippers over railway companies, which may make some sense, but it is not their decision to make.
After some tinkering, the House sent the bill back for a third time. Senators, realizing, perhaps, that the gravity of the bill was above their purview, finally acquiesced to the will of the House and passed it.
Imagine, however, if senators were elected. And imagine if the elected members felt the Senate were equal and effective to members of Parliament in the House because they were elected.
Canada’s two elected chambers would be thrown into a gridlock along the lines of the U.S. system when the executive branch and Congress are controlled by different parties.
While the intention of this arrangement was that the politics of checks and balances would prevail, in practice the politics of thwarting the president’s agenda prevails.
As it happened, senators realized that the House — elected and accountable — had the responsibility for bill, while the senators fulfilled their role as providers of sober second (and in this case, third) thought. If the Senate had been given democratic legitimacy, we may not yet have a new grain transportation law.