Editorial: Conservatives grasping at straws against Senate reform

Published on November 8, 2016
Canadian Senate
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It is probably the strangest complaint anyone has ever made about the Canadian Senate: that the latest rounds of appointees have been too qualified for the job.

That, instead of being backroom party workers for the party in power, or being corporate friends of that party, or just being career political hacks, the problem — yes, the problem — with the new round of appointees is that they are people who have excellent track records and experience, and that have put their names forward through an independent appointment process seeking the most capable candidates.

So what’s the complaint? Well, that there are no ordinary citizens in the latest round — no paramedics or mechanics, no people with actual experience in the day-to-day grind of the workplace.

Here’s what Conservative Sen. Bob Runciman told reporters after the latest round of appointments: “I think it is smoke and mirrors to some degree. … This is sort of an elite group who are being appointed, people who by and large have been working for the public service all their lives, and not a real cross section of Canadians.”

Thanks, Mr. Runciman, for raising that concern.

Runciman, it’s worth considering, is also not a real cross section of Canadians. He was appointed to the Senate after 29 years as an Ontario Progressive Conservative politician, twice the leader of Ontario’s opposition, given his Senate reward by then-prime minister Stephen Harper in 2010. Other than provincial politics, his biography lists only Brockville city council. You could say he’s the poster boy for that tiny sliver of society that used to end up in the Senate.

The funny thing is, if Runciman was to apply under the new method for choosing senators, he might not make the cut.

According to Runciman, the newest appointees aren’t ordinary enough. Who are they? How about a social worker and community activist from Halifax; a professor of psychiatry from Manitoba; a First Nations leader from Nova Scotia; a municipal councillor, former provincial deputy minister and environmentalist from P.E.I.; a New Brunswick women’s rights activist. And the list goes on.

Sure, there are still areas of the country that deserve better representation — it would be valuable to have a broad range of experience in the Senate, both at the expert level and from other parts of the career firmament.

But what if this actually works? What if we actually do end up with a chamber of sober second thought, filled with knowledgeable, capable people selected for their diverse skills and experience, rather than, first and foremost, their willingness to uphold the political ends of the latest federal government?

Well, we might actually get better law for all of Canada, rather than slavish, knee-jerk adherence to the ideology of whatever the current party is with the direct support of 36 per cent of the population.

It won’t be better for the party in power. It could be better for the country as a whole.