Friday, February 10, 2012

Baby Steps

One of my earliest political memories is the talk around our dining room table that surrounded the Senate.

Like many Albertans, my father was (and is) a strong proponent of what came to be known as the "Triple E" Senate - Equal, Elected, and Effective. The issue, pro and con, was debated at great length around our table, and I was encouraged to make my own judgements.

I decided, after much debate, that I was in favour of the "Triple E" concept, while knowing full well that the issue - while being championed by Alberta - was going to be ultimately decided in 3 cities in Eastern Canada: Ottawa, Toronto, and Quebec City.
The reality is, we can't formally and officially reform the way our Senate is built, the number of seats, the distribution thereof, or the way people end up in the Senate without the co-operation of BOTH Houses of Parliament. At the time, the notion of a House of Commons friendly to an Albertan cause was unlikely, to say the least. Likewise the notion of a Senate full of people willing to vote themselves out of a guaranteed, well-paying gig. But I'm the hopeful, optimistic sort...  so, as unlikely as it was, I could see this as a possibility.

The more unlikely requirement to effect constitutional change was, and remains, securing the support of the country's most populous - and, constitutionally, most powerful - provinces, Ontario and Quebec. The formula for constitutional change requires the support of these provinces - who, arguably, have more to lose than to gain from a change to the Senate that would put more seats in the West.

I don't really have any suggestions to that second end... to my mind, it's simple common sense to have the people elect their representatives. But what's common sense to me, may be backwards to someone who grew up with different values, and I won't presume to force my world view onto you.

The first sticking point, a co-operative Parliament, seems a whole lot more likely these days. While Parliament can't, by itself, make ALL the changes that I'd like to see in the Senate, what it CAN do is ask the provinces to hold elections for Senators-in-Waiting, as Alberta already does. And it can ask that the Prime Minister of the day fill Senate vacancies from those lists of duly elected individuals. It can even ask those Senators to commit to voluntarily step down after a term of 8 years, in order to run in their home provinces for another endorsement from their fellow citizens and a possible return to the Senate.

The majority Conservative House of Commons will support such measures. And it was only a matter of time before enough Senate vacancies were filled by Stephen Harper - Prime Minister for 6 years, as of this past Monday - to swing the balance of the Senate towards that view, as well.

Is this idea, as conceived, a full "Triple E" Senate?

No. It will not be equal. It will be populated by elected people, who were still appointed by the Prime Minister, as required by the Constitution. It will be effective, so long as Senators see their jobs as being on the line rather than guaranteed, lifetime appointments.

It's a baby step towards Triple E. And I can live with that, because it's progress.

My friend Jack Redekop is running for one of the PC slots on the Senatorial Ballot. Jack knows I don't do "endorsements" - I know you're all smart enough to decide for yourselves whom to support. But I know Jack to be a man of character and integrity, someone who doesn't sugar-coat his opinions, and calls it like he sees it. Most importantly, to me, he truly believes in the kind of fundamental, democratic reform that is needed to return the Senate to the people. If he's entrusted with a Senate seat in the future, I know he'll be a fine addition to the Upper House. Shane over at CalgaryRants did a write-up on Jack yesterday, if you're in the mood for some more reading after plowing through this post.

I know many of my readers will be present at the PC Campaign College in Edmonton this weekend, where the party's nominees for the Senatorial Election will be chosen by a vote. I encourage you to get to know the candidates - both inside and OUTside their hospitality suites. Do your research - their information is laid out on the party website, along with links to their own sites. I know and like several of these candidates - Doug Black is another good man who would represent our interests well.

As always, I implore you to cast an informed ballot. We're not electing the Prom King and Queen - ideas and character matter more than whether you'd sit down over a beer with these people, or what part of the province they live in.

At the end of the day, the voters always get what they deserve.

Choose well, delegates. Because your choices will be judged next by the voters of Alberta as a whole.

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