The best route for Senate reform lies with a
Citizens' Assembly-style review, rather than with the "Triple E"
formula often touted by many observers, especially in the West.
That is, if Senate reform is even appropriate or necessary.
"In particular, the plan of 'electing' Senators to the existing
chamber would lead to a constitutional horror show," says the
author, respected commentator Gordon Gibson.
Those conclusions are contained in a new paper, Challenges in Senate Reform: Conflicts of Interest, Unintended Consequences, New Possibilities
, released today by the Fraser Institute.
"Many of the alleged failures of our political system for which
Senate reform is claimed as a cure are in fact failures of the
House of Commons or are built-in features of our Westminster
style system," writes Gibson, Senior Fellow in Canadian Studies
at the Institute.
Gibson argues that the Senate serves a useful and important role
and that sometimes the Upper House is not given the respect it
deserves. "With the exception of the power to choose the
government, in terms of legislation and policy consideration the
Senate is actually the more useful chamber," he points out.
Furthermore, fundamental reform could lead to unintended
consequences: overhauling the Senate could lead to major problems
with accountability and be a major impetus to centralization and
Gibson acknowledges that the main goals of Senate reformers --
regional representation and checks and balances on the executive
branch -- are important but that the best hope for progress in
these areas lies in reform of the House of Commons, electoral
reform, and decentralization. "Senate reform should not be ruled
out but it is not a simple issue," says Gibson.
Truly significant change, of the sort desired by most reformers,
will require constitutional amendment, something very difficult
to achieve. Should the push for reform gain momentum, Gibson
urges that attention be turned instead to the process currently
underway in British Columbia where a Citizens' Assembly has
undertaken a year-long review of electoral reform.
Gibson suggests that a similar model could be used to consider
Senate reform. An independent, non-partisan assembly of randomly
selected citizens would be asked to undertake a Senate review and
make recommendations as to whether or not it should be reformed.
Should a recommendation for reform be made, this will ultimately
be put directly to voters through a national referendum and
require the appropriate regional majorities.
A national Assembly for this purpose could be empowered either by
the central government or by the Council of the Federation.
"A Citizens' Assembly could constitute a way around the
difficulties of constitutional politics. But, for anything to
happen at all, some sort of national consensus will have to be
built out of this decidedly mixed situation," he