Don’t Throw the Senate out with the Bath Water

Article 8 / 11 , Vol 36 No 3 (Autumn)

Don’t Throw the Senate out with the Bath Water

The Senate’s lack of popular legitimacy gives disproportionate significance to the other problems besetting the institution. Relying on the so-called ‘democratic deficit’ argument, many ask for its abolition or want it to become elective. This article suggests that both these solutions would exacerbate the democratic deficit by extending to all our parliamentary institutions the strong hold of political parties and the Prime Minister. If the Prime Minister would agree to delegate power to recommend the appointment of senators to a House of Commons’ committee whose decisions would be taken by consensus, the risk of radical solutions would be avoided, and the Upper Chamber would gain in popular legitimacy. It could thus continue to contribute to Canadian democracy through the independence of mind and non-partisanship of parliamentarians chosen for their eminence and the sincerity of their commitment to the well-being of all Canadians.

The Senate has only one problem, but it is considerable: it has no popular legitimacy. This amplifies the severity of its other imperfections. For instance, the inappropriate use of their allowances by some senators has called into question the very existence of the Upper House, whereas when MPs commit similar offenses, their distractedness is rightly condemned but without any claim to abolishing the House of Commons.