On January 29th Justin Trudeau (pictured), leader of the opposition Liberals, announced that the 32 Liberal members in Canada’s 105-seat Senate would leave the party. The senators will now sit as independents. Mr Trudeau said his goal is to end partisanship and patronage in Canada’s scandal-plagued second chamber, which is modelled on Britain’s House of Lords, and called on the ruling Conservatives to follow suit. (There are no senators from the New Democratic Party, the main opposition party.) Cynics noted the move will distance the Liberals from the fallout from an investigation of Senate expenses by the auditor-general. (via The Economist)
- Since our nation’s founding 147 years ago, Canadian prime ministers have had the authority to fill all vacancies in the Senate. It is hard to imagine a less democratic approach than that. Yet a growing group of commentators have found one, as well as someone to champion it. Last month, as you noted, Justin Trudeau (pictured), the leader of the Liberals, adopted an old idea to turn over senatorial selections to an appointment commission.
- The problem with Canada’s Senate is that it is unelected and unaccountable. Mr Trudeau’s solution is to make the people who choose the senators unelected and unaccountable, leaving the Senate two steps removed from voters instead of one.
- Think of the enormous power this unelected appointment body would have. In a system with two Houses that have roughly the same legal powers, one would be chosen by roughly 25 million eligible voters and the other by roughly 25 unelected commissioners. Each commissioner would have the political weight of a million citizens. That is oligarchy defined.
- Stephen Harper, the prime minister, has asked the Supreme Court for a legal instruction manual on how Canada’s archaic Senate can be elected or abolished all together, so we can finally move from the 19th century to the 21st.
- Pierre Poilievre, Minister of state for democratic reform, Ottawa, Canada
What Pierre fails to tell us is that this is precisely how judges come to be judges, in Ontario at least.