Saturday, August 17, 2013

Let's Not Be Too Quick to Do Harper's Bidding - Again

Stephen Harper's overarching goal since he signed up with the Reform Party has been to shift Canada's political centre far and permanently to the right.  With the collaboration of the Liberals, now Conservative-Lites, and the NDP, now Latter Day Liberals, Harper has succeeded handsomely.

A secondary goal was to change Canada's Senate.  Either an elected Senate with new rules for distribution or outright abolition.  It seems we're all lining up to hand him that win too.

It's not easy to hold much regard for the Senate any longer.  That in large part results from how Harper has stacked it heavily (but not entirely) with hucksters, hangers-on and rank third-raters.   Go to the website, check out their biographies and see for yourself.  These are the "best and the brightest"?    As you drag yourself through the Harper appointees it becomes apparent how they qualified to be chosen - they're all Conservative and they're all utterly obedient.

There hasn't been one Conservative senator turfed from caucus for disagreeing with or standing up to Harper.  Those ousted from caucus - Brazeau, Wallin, Duffy - get dumped because of scandal that gets beyond the ability of Harper to conceal.

The prime minister is going to miss Pam Wallin and Mike Duffy's fundraising prowess but he will enjoy their parting gift - a growing clamour for the abolition of the Senate.

What becomes obvious as you work your way through Harper's appointments is the blatant contempt in which he holds our country and its institutions.   Unlike every Liberal and Progressive Conservative prime minister, Harper did not cross partisan lines
even once in his appointments.  Unlike every Liberal and Progressive Conservative prime minister you would be hard-pressed to find many of his appointments of really top-rate experience or achievement.  These are not the calibre of individual needed for "sober, second thought."  These are Conservative turnstiles.  They exist to allow Harper's legislation to pass through and to block, wherever possible, anything remotely resembling sober, second thought.

Our deviant prime minister, in his unbridled contempt for Canada and our institutions, has perverted the Senate and now he wants to use that as leverage to get everyone to go along with its abolition.  He's not ready to move yet but he's biding his time.  He's even got his newly-minted minister of democratic reform, Pierre Pipsqueak, to opine that Harper can transform the Senate to his liking without the consent of the provinces.  That Poilievre's mind is as deviant as the prime minister's is obvious in the logic that any future prime minister with a majority could then also rejig the Senate to suit his whim.  And we're supposed to look to this guy for advice on our democracy?

We don't need to do Harper's bidding and wage a campaign to abolish the Senate.   There is a vital role for it to play.  It simply needs to be reconstituted with the sort of people best suited to serve the country in an overseer role.  To those who say we need an elected Senate I would ask them to take a hard look at the calibre of people electoral politics seats in the Commons.

What might work is a clear statement of who should be appointed to the Senate, what type of person, to fulfill what obligations.  We should stipulate that a prime minister should nominate individuals representative of the country at large, across party and ideological lines.  It should be made clear that those becoming Senators are beholden solely to their country and home province.  It should be provided that those nominated for appointment should be of the best character with a demonstrated record of achievement and service.

We need to rebuke Harper.  We need to reconstitute the Senate, not abolish it.  We need to ensure that no future Harper can ever repeat his disgusting deed.


Anonymous said...

To abolish the senate would give Herr Harper, even more control Can you imagine giving that monster full control?

Owen Gray said...

An excellent post, Mound. Word is that both Harper and Mulcair are going to campaign on abolishing the senate.

Abolition would be a terrible mistake -- and it would provoke a constitutional crisis. The problem is the man who made the appointments, not the institution itself.

Lorne said...

Enjoyed your post immensely, Mound, replete as it is with 'Moundisms' like 'Conservative turnstiles,' 'Latter Day Liberals,' and our 'deviant prime minister.'

However, could you elaborate on your suggestion about the nomination process that you suggest for the Senate? Who would ensure that the people meet the criteria you stipulate? Would there be confirmation hearings? Who would be part of the confirmation process? How would such hearings guarantee against the kind of poisonous partisanship that currently dominates the political scene?

Purple library guy said...

MoS, I think you're way off on this one. I agree with a good deal of what you say, but I think your analysis here is way off.

Harper was never actually interested in Senate reform, let alone abolition. The Reformers always championed Senate reform, specifically the "Triple-E" Senate, because it let them sound populist and pro-democracy and because "Triple-E" was code for "the West wants in" because it made smaller prairie provinces just as big as Ontario and Quebec. But Harper's been in office for ages and never showed any sign of making a move. The whole platform plank was just like half their other planks, those things politicians say to get elected--the technical term is "a lie".

Harpo quickly realized, perhaps knew all along, that for a corrupt party like the Cons (and Libs), the Senate is an invaluable source of rewards for cronies and is never dangerous because you can stack it. Before you're finished stacking it, anything it does against you is worth the damage just for the mileage you'll get fulminating against your opponents' unprincipled use of an unelected body to frustrate your democratic government.

Harper was never interested in Senate reform, let alone abolition. If he's making noises about it now it's because he has no choice. The scandals are getting so bad and so numerous that his party is tanking in the polls. This senate scandal stuff is not the result of some Harper N-dimensional chess game to make it easy to get rid of. At the rate things are going, it won't matter if the Libs and NDP split the vote because the Cons could end up the third party in parliament after both of 'em; this rather superficial stuff has been really damaging him like nothing else. So Harper has no option but to huff and puff some and pretend he's shocked, shocked, that there is payola going on in this establishment. Maybe it'll get so bad that he'll actually have to do something, maybe it won't and he'll just gradually stop talking about the Senate as the heat dies down. But I'd pretty much guarantee you that Harper's preference would be to keep the Senate just the way it is: A body with little power, where he gets to appoint the members personally. He just wishes the commons was more like that.

The NDP on the other hand has been for the abolishment of the Senate for as far back as I can remember. They have some solid reasons for their stance. I don't think it makes sense for them to abandon a long held policy position because there's some threat that Harper might be forced by expediency to let them actually get the policy they want. "No, don't win! That's just what he wants you to do!" No, it really isn't.

The Mound of Sound said...

Lorne, I believe I mentioned Ed Ratushny to you, the Ottawa U. Law Prof who trolled the country, province by province, consulting law societies, bar associations and the bench for their recommendations on judicial appointments. Those candidates were then vetted and the chosen were approach to accept appointment. As I noted, they tended to be of a calibre that few of them wanted the job and had to be cajoled, often with appeals to their professional duty, to give up their lucrative practices and join the bench.

The Senate should be recruited for similarly, in consultation with groups representing the broadest cross-section of our society. Especially today we need voices of labour in the Senate; people to represent the weak and vulnerable; representatives of the highest echelons of business; people of proven sacrifice and public service outside of government; great artists, scientists, historians and philosophers - in short a collective resembling our national DNA. I would like them to sit as independents, not participating in any caucus of any Commons party, no matter their personal political affinity.

With a statement of purpose, qualification and intent, we would be able to judge a prime minister's deeds and misdeeds by the calibre of those he nominates for appointment. We would see cronies and third-raters for what they are.

I don't think confirmation hearings would be appropriate. These people wouldn't be part of some executive branch with sweeping individual powers. I just think we would find many of the best unwilling to become footballs in some vicious partisan scrum.

@ PLG. I see no sign that Harper ever gave up his interest in either reforming the Senate or its abolition. He simply hasn't seen it as politically viable in a country that has never come to trust him.

Put it this way. If he thought he could outlaw abortion today without paying too steep a political price, he wouldn't hesitate. If he thought he could reinstate the death penalty without paying too steep a political price, he would. Harper is a man of pretty fixed ideology with no capacity for either reason or vision. In his ideology the Senate is an ongoing injustice to the West. Harper hasn't gambled any of his dwindling political capital on it because there's been no prospect of return. If that changes I don't think he'd hesitate to act, especially if he thought he could overwhelm everyone east of the Ottawa Valley.

Anonymous said...

I agree with your selection criteria, my suggestion would be for each party to search the country for those ideal candidates, place them in a ranked list, and have the senate elected using the general election results but on the basis of proportional representation. The senate is the greatest opportunity to bring PR to Canada, and it could work beautifully. If all parties agreed that a particularly senior senator was indispensable to the senate, they would all put her at the top of their list, every party would be disclosing its biases in terms of patronage vs patriotism through its list, and it would refocus the discussion in the general election away from the 'my vote is always wasted' or 'I voted strategically' whining to 'at least my vote will help my party's senator, even if it has no effect here'

The Mound of Sound said...

Think about where that could go sideways, Anon. Your notion is fraught with peril.

Purple library guy said...

The idea of a house of sober second thought, with relatively little power but none of the pressures involved in worrying about re-election, is not actually an irredeemable one. I could potentially back a Senate filled by lot, randomly like jury duty. Then it would on average be vaguely representative of the people of Canada, rather than being filled with people who've spent years learning how to be corrupt before getting appointed.

But that's not going to happen. The other reform possibility would be some kind of elected Senate, which would instantly due to the credibility of being an elected body become an effective legislative body. Like in the US. You know, one of the few systems of "democratic" governance more skewed against the public than our own. The notion of checks and balances from a bicameral legislature cuts no ice with me; it would just reduce transparency even further, diffuse responsibility in a way that would make it easier for everyone to claim the latest outrage wasn't their fault. For every one time it happened to lead to some vested interest missing a few crucial bits of payola and not getting something vile passed, there would be ten times where the confusion would allow outrages to get slipped in unnoticed.

Incidentally, Harper has never had the political mojo for Senate reform, no. But the Senate's never been popular. If he wanted to go for abolition, he could have made a damn good shot at it and paid no political price. And the problem with a reformed Senate is it would be elected. We both know what Harper is like. Are you really trying to tell me that Harper would prefer an elected body, subject to the democratic whims of the people, over one where he gets to contentedly indulge his power-hungry, control-freak self by appointing every single person who goes in there? If he perceives and wants to redress a "not enough Albertans" problem, which solution would Harper prefer? Setting up an elected process with more seats for Albertans, or simply personally appointing a bunch of Albertans who answer only to him? I'll say it again. Harper has never been interested in Senate reform, any more than he's ever been interested in legislation by direct referendum. And if he'd been interested in abolition, that was within his grasp all along.

The Mound of Sound said...

Well, PLG, it's pretty obvious that I'm not convincing you nor are you convincing me. On this one we shall simply have to agree to disagree.

I however shudder at the thought of essentially commandeering a busload of passengers and designating them senators. That would be too easy meat for the hucksters and manipulators who would flock to them.

Anyong said...

"In The House" on CBC radio Sat. morning at 9:00 am, dealt with a lot of what MOS has said in his blog. There have been questions as to P. Wallin's ability as a Senator.

Purple library guy said...

MoS, on your first point of 1:34, yup that's about the size of it.

On your second though . . . that sounds a tad bit elitist. Guess we better not let the general public decide innocence or guilt in court cases either; they'd be too easy meat for the huckster, manipulator lawyers. Probably we shouldn't let 'em vote either.
I think a varied crowd of people would include enough bullshit detectors that they'd manage once they got the hang of things. But even if you're right, what we have now isn't senators being manipulated by hucksters and manipulators; rather, the senators are the hucksters and manipulators. They aren't vulnerable to the corrupt, they are the corrupt. Surely the current situation is worse.

Anonymous said...

Lorne you give him too much credit and he isn't about to tell you. He is far too aggrogant for that. For your information.
CAIR Called ‘Turnstile’ for Terrorist Suspects
Posted by Joshua Price on December 5, 2007

Latter-day Liberal
My “liberal” Latter-day Saint Political Opinion. Does Glenn Beck support the slave trade or is he just an “idiot”? 2009

by ~ Deviant Prime-Minister-Desk, Jun 12, 2007, 6:06:38 PM Journals / Personal Australia

The Mound of Sound said...

Anon, you really need to get a life - or professional help. Thanks for stopping by.