15 June 2015

Brad Wall's case for abolishing Premiers #cdnpoli #nlpoli

Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall thinks that making the senate an elected institution that better reflects Canadians is too hard.

Rather than reform the senate,  Wall wants to get rid of it altogether.

Wall thinks that the provincial Premiers should do the job currently done by the senate.

Here’s why no one should take senate abolition seriously.

Here’s why those proposing it don’t have the best interest of Canadians at heart.

You can hear five minutes and 36 seconds of Brad Wall on CBC’s The House [audio file].

Wall thinks that abolishing the senate would be, in his words, “nigh-on to impossible.”   But he also thinks that reforming the senate would be marginally more difficult.

Wall argues that an appointed upper chamber is archaic and unacceptable.

And then Brad gives us the alternative:  leave it to the provinces.  After all, they already have a great deal of jurisdiction over things that touch peoples’ lives.  Let them take the role of the senate.

Brad Wall is the longest serving Premier in the country.  As the dean of the provincial leaders, you;d think that Brad would understand how the country works both in theory and practise.  Clearly he doesn’t, nor does he really care.

You see, the role of the senate is to approve or disapprove of legislation in the federal parliament.  While it is not structured properly to do so in the way it should, the senate is supposed to provide a regional perspective on federal legislation.  Senators represent regions of the country and speak to issues in the national parliament on behalf of the provinces they represent.

The senate has done more than that.  From time to time, the majority party in the House of Commons will find itself without a member of the Commons from that part of the country. Until now, Prime Ministers have gone to the senate to find a cabinet minister to serve as a regional minister.

The use of regional ministers has been important both for the federal government and for the province involved.  Only the current Prime Minister has decided to represent regions of the country by appointing any minister to do the job, regardless of where the person is from in the country.

What’s more the senate is – a few miscreants and skeets to the side – a body whose members are distinguished and accomplished members of society.  Senate abolitionists won;t talk about them.  Nor will they talk about the senate work on health care, the fishery, and national defence  - among other issues - that has helped to raise to public attention issues that otherwise might not get any hearing.

The senate may be archaic in the way its members get their jobs.  It may well have produced lately a scandal or two.  But the function of the senate is important in our national government.

Provincial premiers just cannot do that job.  They are not equipped to do so.  They are not intended to do so.  They are provincial premiers, and as such, the constitution has always intended that they mind their own considerable business of looking after provincial affairs.  They have no direct role in federal legislation, nor should they. 

Wall’s idea of having senators replace the senate is a nonsense from the start.  And if by some chance he means that the premiers must literally replace the senate in the federal parliament then he is more shallow a fellow than his five minutes and 36 seconds on CBC’s The House would make him out to be anyway.

Imagine, if you will, the world in which the 10 Premiers had the power to hold up federal legislation.  What about the world in which the premiers would propose federal legislation? Wall takes note that there is no country in the world with an appointed senate like ours?  Well, there is no country in the world where the regional heads of government can control the federal government in the way wall proposes.

Surely he understands that such a thing is undesirable.  If he doesn’t, then Brad should just consider the problems that would happen for him if the federal government exercised its power to disallow provincial statutes.  That’s the logical extension of giving Brad control of the federal parliament.  What would ensue would not be hilarious.

That’s why Brad’s abolition idea – with the premiers filling in – simply isn’t a sensible idea.  Thankfully we don’t need to worry about it because the federal government wouldn’t go along with it.

Nor would Canadians, if they understood what it meant exactly.  In the case of Newfoundland and Labrador,  the New Democratic Party’s idea would cut in half the number of representatives the province has in the federal parliament.  In all  matters,  the federal government would go with the decision of the majority of Canadians. The voice of the less populous regions would be lost in the din.

Neither Brad Wall nor any of the other advocates of abolition would tolerate the silencing of the minority by the minority.

Except in this case since, at least for the New Democrats, it might win them a few more votes in the more populous parts of the country. All principle converts to cash,  someone once said, and he was always true to that political philosophy.  In this case, principle converts to votes for the New Democrats.

What it converts to for Wall is almost incomprehensible.  Whatever it is,  we can be sure it is pretty small..
If Newfoundlanders and Labradorians think they are getting a raw deal in Ottawa today, imagine the deal when the federal government is completely controlled by population and there is nothing at all to balance that out. Imagine a world in which the only thing the federal prime minister knew of this place  - or cared about - was the Regatta,  fish and chips, and pineapple crush.

In a diverse country like Canada,  the national parliament needs a second chamber, properly representative of the country on a basis other than population,  and elected equally by all Canadians.  The senate together with the other house – elected by population – can decide on the laws affecting the federal jurisdiction, as laid out in the constitution. 

Mr. Wall and his colleagues can look after their own business.  They can work out the details of the relationship between the two orders of government as they have since 1867. 

Abolition of the senate would only weaken the country as a whole.  It is the political equivalent of vandalism and the arguments for it are the equivalent of anti-vaxxer hysteria.

In Wall’s case,  it’s especially ironic – some might say hypocritical – for him to be using a scandal as the excuse to advocate abolition of a political office.  Imagine if people did the same thing for him or for the provincial government in Saskatchewan.  If Canadians wiped out provincial governments because some politicians were crooks,  Saskatchewan would be the fourth territory.

Even without major reforms that require constitutional change, the federal parliament can reform itself to eliminate the causes of the current scandal or to make the senate more directly accountable to Canadians.
Brad Wall doesn’t make a case for the abolition of the senate.  He does remind us, though, that provincial politicians can be extremely shallow in their thinking, regardless of how long they have been in office.