No value for the millions of dollars

Canadians should consider getting rid of an undemocratic, expensive, and deeply problematic institution.

The Senate is an anachronistic institution modeled after the British House of Lords and intended to protect the propertied class from the excesses of the nascent democracy in the elected House of Commons in early Canada.  In 2013 the Senate will cost Canadians about $91.5 million to operate, and will deliver little of value that is not better delivered by elected MPs in parliamentary committees.

All senators are Prime Ministerial appointments, most of which are partisan rewards.  The institution is a public disgrace for its cost to citizens; for the lack of democratic legitimacy; and for the excesses of certain porksters which make even some senators blush.

The political sideshows featuring Duffy, Wright, Wallin, Brazeau and Harb imply a lack of personal accountability, of systems of accountability, and of the failure of existing systems to protect public monies in the cases of senators’ questionable expenses.  But it is ultimately the Prime Minister who makes these appointments and his judgment should be questioned.

The response of the Prime Minister and his spinmeisters has been to throw a few sacrificial lambs under the bus, throw muck at Opposition MPs, and suggest that Senate reform will erase current problems.

Far from it.  Institutional and constitutional changes are unrelated to failures of ethics and of systems, of accountability and transparency.  No institutional or constitutional transformation can make it impossible for dishonest people, appointed as partisan reward by highly partisan Prime Ministers, to abuse the public purse and trust.

Hence MP David Wilks’s letter of May 27, in which he is confident that Senate reform will somehow magically clean the place up, demonstrates a failure to understand the two distinct problems of institutional reform, and public actors’ behaviours.  He is right, however, when he suggests that “any person who holds a public office … should not only withstand public scrutiny, but … explain any shortcomings”. The Prime Minister, head of government and appointer of the porksters and of his incredibly generous former Chief of Staff, can go to the head of that lineup.

Canadians should consider getting rid of an undemocratic, expensive, and deeply problematic institution.

Joyce Green (Cranbrook) and nine other members of Professors for Peace and Education (University of Regina)