|Print Version||Senate & Other Democratic Institutions|
James Travers is urging the Prime Minister to "respond to the obvious national need for more creative public policies by appointing only those who could add brilliance to the Red Chamber's sober second thoughts." The Senate as think tank - now there's a creative suggestion!
I heartily endorse Travers' idea. It's high time we looked at Senate effectiveness. As a nation, we should seriously adopt the goal of excellence in our parliamentary institutions. A major part of that goal would be a modern Senate that helps chart an enlightened path forward for the 21st century - one that serves as a model for democracies all around the world.
Travers advises the PM to stop tinkering around the edges with tricky amendments and move on to something of substance. The only flaw in his argument, to my way of thinking, is his view that the Senate as think tank would be an incremental step along the path to true legitimacy, an elected Upper House. On this point he is stuck on a widely held assumption that ‘democracy' is a synonym for ‘elected by popular vote'. The premise is false.
A democracy is distinguished by a number of essential characteristics (rule of law, freedoms of speech, religion etc., and peaceful mechanisms to ensure that executive powers are exercised for the good of all) which collectively add up to a free society. Elections are part of that package, but every democracy still needs a way to counterbalance what political reformers in the 19th century called the ‘tyranny of the majority'. In fact, that's what the Senate was designed to do in the first place. If we can move the public debate back to these fundamentals, we might actually succeed in making the Senate an effective and respected institution yet once again.
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