Canada’s Senate spending scandal has been getting lots of headlines lately, with several senators facing RCMP investigations over fraudulent expense claims. The stink has reached all the way into Prime Minister Harper’s office where his chief of staff, Nigel Wright resigned after it was found he is alleged to have given senator Duffy a cheque for $90,000 to cover his fraudulent expense claims. Other senator’s have been kicked out of their party until they can prove their expense claims are not fraudulent.
Calls for the senate to be abolished are coming from coast to coast, but the province’s will have to agree to any changes in the upper house, as this is in our constitution. Any reformation of the senate, to make it elected, accountable and more representative need the support of at least 7 provinces with at least 50% of the population. These conditions make it almost impossible to make any real change to what has become a patronage pork trough that the Prime Minister can use to reward party hacks.
If we abolish the senate we will be left with a parliamentary system that also seems dysfunctional. Even members of the major parties are more like trained seals than representatives of their riding’s. They are told what to say and how to vote, regardless of their own will or the wishes of those who voted for them. This was highlighted with the recent resignation from the conservative caucus by xxx from Alberta. The other parties are little different. Even when the ruling party has a majority, like the current conservative government, backbencher’s are told what to say and how to vote. They quickly realize they have little power to make a difference or even express their opinions or those of the their constituents. Instead they are told to support massive, all inclusive ‘omnibus’ bills that are thousands of pages long, which few bother to read and even fewer understand.
This is not how a true democracy is supposed to work.
The current Canadian parliamentary system places too much power in the hands of the Prime Minister and at times, it seems even he is just a hood ornament, as the recent revelation that PM Harper was unaware that his chief of staff was writing ‘gift’ checks to hush up problem senator’s, like Duffy.
How can parliament be reformed to become a true democratic, representative body?
Part of the problem is with the current ‘no confidence’ result when legislation like finance bills do not get enough votes to pass. This leads to the government falling, which is why party ‘whips’ make sure they have enough members in the house for important votes. The result is the secrecy and concentration of power within the prime ministers office and cabinet.
We need a more open system that allows for more discussion and difference of opinion along with more compromise in order to get legislation passed.
Budget bills and other ‘confidence’ motions should need at least 3 votes before they have the power to bring down the government. This would leave a lot more room to fully debate issue’s and find out where members stand. MP’s could more freely express their opinions and better represent their constituents, which is after all, what a democracy is all about.
A more transparent, democratic system that allows more debate and free votes would attract better candidates and may even convince the 45% or so of Canadians who don’t even bother voting to actually take the time to read about issues and vote. It may even raise people’s opinion of elected officials above that of used car salesmen.