Saturday, March 17, 2007

Senate reform

Yeah, now there's an attention getter on a Saturday afternoon...Senate reform!

Nevertheless, there's an op-ed in the NYTimes today that is somewhat applicable to our own Canadian debate, "Make the Lords Stand for Election? First, Let’s Sit and Think," given Harper's baby steps toward election of senators:
Real constitutional change should be driven by crisis and necessity. The United States achieved change on this scale only through revolution. That crisis created the opportunity for the Founding Fathers to define their basic philosophical principles and write a new constitution, which remains to this day both a cornerstone of national pride and also a formal political instrument, governed by strict rules.

But in Britain there has been no such crisis. In fact, most believe that the House of Lords is being a good watchdog. It has recently publicized and defended principles of justice and liberty against the government’s human rights and terrorism legislation. Even the reformers want to preserve this positive function. Their problem is not with what the House of Lords is doing, but with how its members are chosen.

The reformers believe that they can change the selection processes without changing the outcomes. They fail to see that these things are connected. It is because the House of Lords’ members are appointed for life that they have an independence that allows them to challenge party policy.

Meanwhile, the British public is largely frustrated with elected politicians and not enthusiastic to see more of them in the Lords. Voters understand that the House of Lords remains anachronistic, irrational and imperfect, but feel no pressing need for change. This has encouraged the Lords to vote overwhelmingly to remain an appointed house. The party leaders, Tony Blair and David Cameron, have evasively favored a hybrid house: partly elected, partly appointed.

In Britain, the grand banner of democracy is cloaking flimsy and unnecessary policies. There is room to make the appointments process more transparent, representative and nonpolitical. But in reality, an elected upper house would make sense only in the context of a new written constitution that redefined the separation of powers; the relationship with the lower house, the church and the monarchy; and deep issues of national identity. But to do that would require the rigor, seriousness and courage of the Founding Fathers. (emphasis added)
Italicized parts throughout echo the Canadian Senate debate and the mood in this country for change. If we're going to embark on the road to an elected Senate, its full implications for the country need to be grappled with...and there's no appetite to do that at this time.