Challenges in Senate Reform: Conflicts of Interest, Unintended Consequences, New Possibilities

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Senate reform in neither a necessary nor a sufficient answer to problems of governance. 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 built-in features of the Westminster system. Inadequate regional respresentation and dominance of the executive branch fall into this category. Other apparent problems - such as the excessive power of the central government - can be solved by decentralization.

This paper is in part abour a serious flaw in a worthy idea. The idea is that Canadians should have an upper house for our federation, as is the virtually universal practice in major federations around the world. The serious flaw (there are others) lies in the manner of appointing its members. This paper is also about reform of that appointment process and of other aspects of the Canadian Senate considered more broadly. But reforming the Senate is not an easy thing to achieve: dozens of schemes littering Canadian history give ample testimony to that. Indeed, such reform should not be easy to achieve, for the perils are many and the current situation is at least workable. This paper is therefore also about finding a viable way to reform the Senate, canvassing the many difficulties in the way of even such a currently popular and seemingly simple idea as appointing only elected candidates; and describing the many interests naturally ranged against any serious constitutional reform of any kind.

Finally, this paper is not prescriptive in the sense of suggesting what an ideal Senate might look like, though a variety of possibilities will be considered briefly. Instead, it will suggest a new way that we might break the reform log jam - if Canadians in the end come to think that reform would be wise, which they may not, for reasons that will be elaborated.

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