Some ideas on cleaning up the Senate
When Justin Trudeau announced liberal senators were removed from the caucus, I thought it was a good idea. The Canadian Senate is meant to act as a check against Parliament to make sure that things that are too partisan don’t make into law. They also have committees that look into things, etc. Once again, should be non-partisan.
But with a majority of the senators being Conservative (and appointed within the last decade) and being members of a party that really expects people to tow the party line, the Senate has become partisan. Now there is talk of reforms, up to and including rewriting the Constitution to abolish the thing.
Now I don’t think abolishment is necessary, but some changes could be useful.
Non-partisan membership #
Mr. Trudeau’s eviction of all Liberal senators from the caucus was a good one. When senators join the Senate, they should leave the caucus of their respective party. This means no longer stumping for them to raise funds or win elections. It effectively removes them from directly participating. That means they don’t have to feel pressure to promote one side or another.
Change membership requirements #
Currently, senators hold their position until age 75 or they quit/retire. That’s obviously a long time, and if they are participating in party politics and being partisan it means you can stack the Senate in your favour for decades if you appoint people at a young enough age. I see two options for tweaking membership to make the Senate more non-partisan.
A single, 10 year term #
By capping terms to 10 years, senators can be in the Senate long enough to be effective but not so long as to cause any issues if they turn out to be ineffective. It should also be only a single term to prevent jockeying for re-election.
Banishment from all governmental and party positions for life #
If dropping the lifetime appointment is deemed too radical, then being banned from any and all future political and party positions would also help guarantee that senators do not feel pressured by a specific party. If you know you can’t get a nice job when you leave the Senate then there is less of a chance of senators feeling the need to do people favours.
Appointment by opposition parties #
To go with single, 10 year terms, if senators were not appointed by the prime minister but instead by the opposition parties, then moderate representatives would be appointed. It would also act as more of a balance against the party in power since they might control Parliament but at least new senators would be from other parties. And with most parties being in power for 10 years in Canada (historically parties get booted from Parliament after 10 years – I kid you not, Americans – to give the other parties a turn; I literally had people tell me that during the 2006 elections).
To prevent deadlock, if the opposition parties can’t make an appointment within 3 months of a seat becoming available, then the prime minister gets to make the appointment. This would prevent endless debate amongst the parties or sparring over candidates you go one direction or another too much.
Those are my ideas on how to make the Senate non-partisan and thus more of a check against Parliament as it is meant to be. I would ban them form being a member of a political caucus, limit them to a single, 10 year term, and have them appointed by the opposition parties.