I’m sorry, did he say he feels bad for the Senate?

Ok, first the requisite disclaimer: I fully agree that the Senate, in its current form, is a largely undemocratic, relatively archaic insitution.  Senators lucky enough to be appointed at a young(ish) age never have to work a “real job” another day in their lives (though many do) and there is something generally… icky… about an unelected body holding up or rejecting legislation that has been duly voted in by a democratically-elected body.

But I kind of like our Senate.

Sure, the institution suffers for some of the less-than-desirables that call it home but can’t the same be said for just about any major national institution? There are also a lot of genuine, sincere people in the Senate who do great work for Canadians.

Have any of you ever actually read through (or at least skimmed) some of the many committee reports that the Senate generates?  In my experience (which is limited but likely exponentially greater than most Canadians), Senate reports are less partisan, better researched and more thoughtful than the reports generated by their equivalents in the lower chamber.

Why? For many of the same reasons that people want to abolish or reform the Senate in the first place. Senators aren’t bound by the tight schedules that MPs – who need to “show results for Canadians” before the next trip to the polls – are. They can take the time do do their homework on the complex issues they are dealing with. They also don’t feel the same pressure to bow to partisan pressures. Think of the headaches Liberal Senator Colin Kenny gave his party colleagues as chairman of the Senate defence committee during the Chretien and Martin years. Ditto for Senator Michael Kirby and his work on healthcare.

These rogues can get away with pissing all over the party line for the simple reason that they can’t be turfed out of office. For a nice juxtaposition, have a look at the way MPs Bill Casey and Joe Comuzzi have been marginalized since they ran afoul of their party masters.

Compounding all of this is the fact that the Senate can never really defend itself. With a few notable exceptions, Senators are largely unwilling to defend the institution because they inevitably get accused of defending their space at the federal trough.

I tend to agree that the Senate needs some sort of reform, just as I believe the House of Commons needs to be reformed. But I feel bad for the Senate, in a lot of ways. The low-key approach Senators take to their work all but guarantees they will continue to be a target of whichever party (lately the NDP and Tories) feels the need to score some cheap political points.

I just hope Canadians, should we be faced with a referendum on the issue, take the time to do a little research and don’t just vote on the reputation that the abolishionists have worked so hard to create.

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