Senate & Other Democratic Institutions
Senate as Think Tank
Posted By Senator McCoy Apr 30 2007 01:09PM

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.

Posted On May 07 07:49AM   
Jumpin jollyhoppers, sitting pretty in the Senate, with their "la ti da" and $5 steaks. Pretty high on the horse if you ask me!

Posted On May 04 06:39AM   
That's a great idea. To some extent, we already have a Senate like this but appointing people like Bert Brown who can only add cliched regional rhetoric won't help.

Posted On May 02 08:37PM   
I'm a great believer in the Senate.  I think we should encourage a think tank.

Posted On May 01 12:03AM   
So how would think tank brilliance be measured and chosen? Academic achievement and political savvy, a la Ignatieff - or community-based experiential wisdom (non-profit leaders?). Comes back to the selection piece and that will always be political. Unless you have an application process and a peer-reviewed panel interview, etc., etc. And I dare say that would find a way to be politicized too (academic appointments are notoriously political, at least at the departmental politics level.) Sigh. Perhaps selection by lottery? Canadians are very good at lotteries ...

Posted On Apr 30 11:48PM   
Yeah, but it will never happen.  As far as I can tell, Harper isn't really interested in making the Senate work.  It's easier just to use it as a whipping boy.  And then he can say to voters, "Look, I tried, but they wouldn't do what I told them.  It's not my fault ... they haven't taken action themselves for the past (fill in the blank) number of years, so don't listen to anything they have to say.  Just listen to me.  I'm right. I'm always right.  I've always been right.  And if enough of you would only vote for me, I'll prove just how right (wing) I can be."  Sound familiar?