Senate – What’s next?

Justin Trudeau took a big step and brought Senate reform back to the fore with an interesting Senate reform proposal supported by some decisive action – expulsion of all Liberal Senators from the Liberal caucus!

One can and should (in my humble opinion) applaud this initiative! Consider the reaction from the Canada West Foundation.

However, this proposal, although decisive, is far from inspirational.

As Jeff Jedras asks: “what’s next?

In exploring an answer to this question, a design approach (see “Design, is it not merely politics?”) can be applied.

This design approach would evolve as follows:

Recognizing a need: Enough is written on this subject (Rampart against dictatorship, From rampart to rubble). There is definitely a need for Senate reform.

Defining the problem: Problem definition aims essentially at defining the criteria that describe the desired state that would meet our need. These criteria will then be used to evaluate alternative solutions to meeting the need.

The following table describes those criteria that for me best describe what would be the ideal Senate reform proposal.



Evaluation Scale


Impact on reducing the potential of an elected dictatorship


0:   no impact on reducing dictatorship potential

10:   maximum impact on reducing dictatorship potential

This   criterion measures how a potential Senate reform option can reduce the   possible effects of an elected dictatorship.
Impact on partisanship


0:   no impact on reducing partisanship

10:   maximum effect on reducing partisanship

This   criterion measures how a potential Senate reform option can reduce the partisanship   dynamics in the Red Chamber.
Impact on increasing the effectiveness of the House   of Sober Second Thought


0:   no impact on effectiveness

10:   maximum impact of effectiveness

This   criterion measures how a potential Senate reform option can contribute to   bringing the Senate back to its original mission.
Cost of reform


0:   high cost of reform

10:   no cost of reform

This   criterion measures the potential cost to a particular reform option.
Degree of implementation   ease


0:   difficult implementation effort

10:   easy implementation effort

The   criterion measures the potential ease with which a particular reform option   can be implemented (ex the need for a constitutional amendment would mean   that it would be very difficult while the status quo would be the most   easiest to implement).
The MacDonald   factor


10:   high MacDonald  potential

0:   no MacDonald potential

After   the criterion on “elected dictatorship”, the MacDonald factor addresses the   degree to which a reform package addresses the original spirit of the Senate   nomination “that these Senate worthies would surely be   representative of the best of the colonies”.

Gathering information: Understanding both the options and the role of the Senate in the Canadian Parliamentary system will help in understanding the impact of different Senate options on our democracy.

A search of the web (Thanks Google!) reveals a number of senate reform options which include government, Wikipedia (Triple-E, reform history), journalistic (Hebert,  Coyne, Wherry, etc.) and political party sources (Conservative, NDP, Liberal, Green PEI).

Further, it is important to revise what is the role of the un-elected Senate with respect to the democratically elected House of Commons and underline its impact on. A number of sites can be cited: Munroe, Makarenko, Senate, etc.

Developing alternative solutions: Ever since the effort of the Reform Party to promote the triple-E Senate a number of different options have been proposed. These are:

Triple-E Senate – Equal, Elected, Effective. This option would require a constitutional amendment which would be quite difficult to obtain. Further, if obtained would only guarantee an increase in partisan politics and potentially leading to “dead-lock”.

Elected Senate – The current Conservative Senate reform proposal is to have senators elected at the provincial level and submitted as recommendation to the PM for nomination. It is expected that the Supreme Court will indicate that this option would require a constitutional amendment which would be quite difficult to obtain. However, if successful, this would most likely lead to increased partisan politics.

Senate Abolishment – This will undoubtedly require a constitutional amendment which would be difficult to obtain. Further, abolishment would remove the only real “rampart” to and “elected dictatorship”.

The Black OptionConrad Black prepared a Senate reform proposal where the number of senators is increased to 180 which are distributed amongst appointed and elected nominations. Here again, this proposal would require a constitutional amendment which would be quite difficult to obtain. However, if successful, this would most likely nevertheless lead to increased partisan politics.

The Trudeau Option – This particular reform option underlines that the PM, any PM, has the power to create precedent by defining and applying a selection criteria above and beyond that what is found in the constitution. Will this option reduce partisanship? Possibly not, as has been highlighted by the reforming of the ousted Liberal Senators into the “Liberal Senate Caucus”. Further, this option does not inspire or add to a Canadian national myth.

House of EldersDoug Cuthand in a column for The Star Phoenix outlined the using the First Nation’s Senate as a model for reform of Canadian Senate. This, in my opinion, is an excellent alternative to the current model and could be easily incorporated into say the Trudeau option. Considering that the Senate is to promote a regional point of view and that our First Nations are “A Mari Usque Ad Mare” populating the Senate with First Nations Elders could potentially bring the symbolism and spirit of “Turtle Island” to oversee and inspire our collective Nation’s future.

The OC Option – The OC option is defined by limiting nomination to the Senate to members of the Order of Canada who have demonstrated that they live by the motto: “Desiderantes meliorem patriam” (They desire a better country). These people come from all walks of life having excelled and marked their particular communities and disciplines. This particular option can also be easily incorporated into the Trudeau option.

Status Quo – Technically, doing nothing is still a possibility despite all of its limitations. The main advantage is that it would not require any more cost and no constitutional amendment.

Evaluation: The evaluation of the alternatives requires a set of criteria such as those defined in the problem definition. When I review these different options as a function of each criterion defined in the previous table, the result obtained is found the following table.

Based on these criteria, the OC option comes out as the best option in the weighted scale while it ties with the House of Elders option in the un-weighted evaluation. Both of these options as followed in the distance by the Trudeau option.

As a result, the answer to “What’s next?” can be summarized by the pursuit of defining and writing a national myth through combining the values of the First Nations with the pursuit of excellence in our communities. 

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