When scandals break out like they have in the Canadian senate, the easiest thing to do is say, simply, get rid of it.
There is absolutely no justification for the performance of senators who have been caught with their hands in the proverbial cookie jar. These people are being taken to task for their fiscal indiscretions and lack of proper judgment, and rightly so.
Liberal Marc Harb resigned from the senate this week, abandoned his legal fight, and repaid $231,649. That comes on the heels of Conservative senators Pamela Wallin ($138,970) and Mike Duffy ($90,000). There are other senators on the Auditor-General's radar. Stay tuned.
When it's time to clean house, it's not a pretty sight, and cleansing the upper house from fiscal improprieties is something that has all taxpayers, voters and pundits retching and grimacing. It would be an opportune time for Prime Minister Stephen Harper to harken back to his earlier cries for a Triple E senate - Elected, Equal and Effective, or call for abolishing the senate altogether. Perhaps he may choose these paths, or simply the clean-up route. It's impossible to predict.
What we need to do is remind ourselves why we have a senate in the first place: A group of esteemed individuals whose task it is to take a reasoned second look at legislation crafted It's easy to look at the senate and dismiss it as a place of patronage, for rewarding old political friends for loyalty and past deeds, in exchange for having someone like-minded waiting at the end of the line to approve legislation crafted by the sitting government.
The senate was set up as a nonelected, reasoned second look at legislation, prior to presenting to the head of state for final approval and becoming law.
Is it flawed? Of course. It always is when people are involved. Are there abuses and grave errors? Absolutely. But that doesn't mean that the goal and the ideal are incorrect.
When the founding fathers set up the constitution of the United States, they took into account the need for accountability and balanced off the House of Representatives with the Senate, and limited the power of the presidency so they couldn't have a de facto dictatorship. The result is plenty of gamesmanship and a pace of process that can be glacially slow, skidding to political gridlock. But Americans realize they need to make deals and compromise in order to move forward for the collective good.
Our system is different, following in the British tradition, with different checks and balances. Our senators are not elected, but appointed. Some of the appointments have been questionable. Former PM Jean Chretien appointed Frank Mahovlich to the senate, and Harper put Jacques Demers forward. What were their qualifications? Stanley Cup championships? As we continue to cry for mercy concerning the spending habits of government from all levels, it would be tempting to eliminate the senate on fiscal grounds alone.
What we need to remind ourselves about, however, is why there even is a senate in the first place, and its function.
The senate can, and does, on very rare occasions, reject legislation or send it back to the House of Commons for another look. We could look at the senate's approval of what is set before them as confirmation that the elected representatives of the people have indeed gotten it right.
As we see right now, the senate needs some serious tweaking. It still has a valid service to perform for Canadians.
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