24 January 2006

An elected, equal and effective senate

One of the things Stephen Harper can find agreement on among the parties in the House of Commons is reform of the national parliament.

It is long overdue.

Reform doesn't necessarily mean moving to proportional representation, although the New Democrats are pushing that issue again.

Rather, reform - genuine reform - would mean changing the composition and selection method of for the federal senate.

This election showed as much as any in Canadian history the extent to which national elections focus almost exclusively on the interests of the most populous regions of the country. The population is already well-represented in the Commons and , if you look at some of the Conservative promises, Stephen Harper's idea of reform is to add more seats to the already well represented people-rich provinces.

Stephen Harper's other idea is to merely elect senators by some means.

But that is the only change Harper has proposed for the chamber where Canadians should be represented based on where they live. Harper's version of senate reform as presented would merely add 100-odd new elected officials with the majority coming from the same places the majority of members of the Commons currently come from.

Let's elect senators; that reform is long overdue.

At the same time, let's move to a model of the senate that sees an equal number of senators coming from each of the provinces, with some possible allowances being made for specific aboriginal representation.

The advantages of this approach have been well-argued for decades and used to be part of the old Reform Party platform. Too bad that good idea didn't survive into the Conservative party agenda. One of the adv antages of an elected senate could be that a governmenr defeated in a inority parliament need not trigger an immediate election - Canadians could get a more responsive Commons without shfting the whole electroal system around radically.

If Stephen Harper wants to move quickly on a matter he can win with support across the legislature, let him reform the national parliament. Let him create a senate that is elected, effective and having equal representation from across the country, by province.