Enough Is Enough
A call for Senate reform
Leading by Example
The politics of bullying
The Conservative government is pushing for legislation to quash cyber-bullying. Asked whether it was incongruent for the party to decry bullying while lampooning Justin Trudeau, Stephen Harper advised a journalist not to “confuse democratic debate in politics with crime.” Perhaps, but “democratic debate” may be a misnomer. Noting the dearth of true dialogue, Green Party leader Elizabeth May has complained that the Conservatives are wont to turn “every legitimate question and criticism into a personal attack against the moral character of Opposition members.” Even The Economist labelled Harper a bully. As philosopher Mark Kingwell observes in his book Unruly Voices, political browbeating is insidious: “If we do not repair our political conversation, if we do not demand that elected leaders speak rationally if they want to go on claiming the privilege of representing our interest, then we all lose.”
“Upon attaining power we shall without delay enter upon and complete the necessary investigation to guide us as to details; and this investigation will be promptly followed by the requisite legislation.
“It may not become a member of the Commons to criticise too severely the merits or performance of the other branch of the Legislature; but those who have watched with any care the work of our Senate in recent years must be convinced that it is not playing the part which was intended by the framers of our Constitution. There seems little sense of individual responsibility, little desire to grapple with public questions, little disposition for effective work, but intense inclination, and indeed resolve to make its sittings as infrequent and as brief as the barest decency will permit. In saying this I do not overlook important individual exceptions. When one considers the problem to be solved, he is met with the declaration, not easily disproved, that the present method of appointment is sufficiently good if the power were properly exercised. It is beyond question that while some appointments to the Senate by the present Administration have been excellent, a very considerable number have been absolutely improper and even absurd, so that the status, character and tone of that house have notoriously deteriorated since the advent of the Government. The Senate if properly constituted under the present system should be greatly superior to the House of Commons in the chief essentials of a legislative body, and should be one of the main safeguards of our Constitution. It does not occupy that position either in fact or in public estimation. I realize certain possible dangers of an elective Senate, but conditions may force it upon us; and I shall stand for:
“Such reforms in the mode of selecting future members of the Senate as will make that chamber a more useful and representative legislative body.
“It is necessary to add that a constitutional change of such importance could not take place without the consent of every province of the Dominion.”
—Robert Laird Borden, MP (1907)
This appeared in the July/August 2013 issue.