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Group launches campaign to Shut Down the Senate

Surveys show Canadians are unhappy with dangerously undemocratic, unaccountable, unethical and secretive Senate – shutting it down is the easiest and best option

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch launched a national letter-writing campaign calling on politicians from all parties across Canada to stop playing games and take immediate action to change the Constitution to shut down the Senate.

“Recent scandals show how dangerously undemocratic and unaccountable the Senate is, and overall it is easier, less costly, and best to shut down the Senate rather than reform it, especially since constitutional changes are required to do anything and prime ministers and senators have clearly failed for more than 145 to clean up the Senate in any meaningful way,” said Tyler Sommers, Coordinator of Democracy Watch.

There is debate around whether to reform or abolish the Senate and the Supreme Court has recently been asked to rule on whether reforming it requires a constitutional amendment.  The answer is likely “yes” and, as a result, shutting down the Senate will be clearly no more difficult than reforming it.

The many reasons for shutting down the Senate, and why a shut down is easier, less costly, and causes fewer problems than any possible reforms, are as follows:

  1. The Senate is redundant:  The Senate does some good studies, but the Senate has not produced any report that contains anything significantly different than reports produced by privately funded independent think-tanks, NGOs, political parties, House of Commons Committees, the Library of Parliament etc.
  2. The Senate is unnecessary:  The Senate is supposed to provide balanced regional representation, but that can be achieved by shutting down the Senate and adding seats to the House of Commons from the regions.  If you believe in the federation of Canada, representation in the House will never match population exactly (it never has and never will), so there is no real problem with adding seats from the regions to ensure the balance that the Senate is, in part, aimed at achieving.
  3. The Senate is illegitimate and will remain inefficient:  Currently many senators are in their position for no other reason than they did favours for a prime minister.  Electing senators bit by bit over several years, if not decades, will cause a two-tier Senate, and eventually will give the Senate democratic legitimacy which means it will justifiably be able to cause legislative gridlock by blocking bills passed in the House of Commons.
  4. The Senate is undemocratic and unaccountable in many other ways:  Even if changes are made to have elected senators, or have them serve fixed terms, the Senate will still be undemocratic with a secretive Board of Internal Economy; very weak ethics and expense rules that senators enforce themselves; weak penalties for violators (except sometimes when scandals are revealed); a lapdog Senate Ethics Officer under the control of a committee of senators; a requirement to have money and property to be a senator; and who knows what other problems that the Senate has been covering up, and failing to clean up, for more than 145 years.

To give just a few details about how unconcerned senators clearly are about fulfilling their supposed role to provide “sober second thought”, not only is the Senate Ethics Officer under the control of a committee of senators, but also violations of Senate ethics rules are not penalized in any way, and the rules:

  • do not require senators to be honest, and allow senators to make decisions even if they have a financial interest in the outcome (as long as the decision applies generally to a broad group of people or organizations);
  • do not allow conflicts of interest that senators have to be made public unless a senate committee approves it;
  • allow senators to accept the gift of unlimited travel, even from lobbyists, and;
  • allow senators to sit on the boards of businesses and so they can be essentially inside-government lobbyists for those businesses (given that, legally, directors are required to advance the interests of the business).

Democracy Watch will continue to run this campaign and to push for all parties to shut down the Senate until this key democratic reform happens.

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Tyler Sommers, Coordinator of Democracy Watch
Tel: (613) 241-5179
[email protected]

Democracy Watch’s Shut Down the Senate Campaign