What’s the problem with Trudeau’s senate?
One of the Liberal Party’s platform points is senate reform. Specifically, on their website, the party states that they want to bring an end “to the partisan nature of the Senate.” But, is Trudeau’s senate reflective of this goal? I argue not.
University of Queensland law professor James Allan argues, the PM has an easier time enacting laws because the Senate is an appointed body, and thus, is criticized to be too partisan. Of particular interest is the appointment of senator Peter Harder, under Justin Trudeau, who serves as the government’s leader in the Senate—a supposedly “non-partisan” position. Harder’s responsibilities include introducing the government’s legislation in the Senate. Nevertheless, given Harder’s responsibilities, the degree in which Harder’s position is truly non-partisanship is questionable. Conservative senator Leo Housakos criticizes Trudeau’s attempt of reducing partisanship, and denounces it as a “charade.” He further notes that Harder himself was previously a public servant under Trudeau, who helped prepare the Liberal party for governance.
Hence, this casts doubt upon Harder’s partisanship. As a result, Trudeau’s attempt to reform partisanship in the Senate is questionable. Accordingly, it seems that the supposed non-partisan position of the government leader in the senate in no way inhibits, and may actually facilitate, the government’s passing of its laws.
Another problem related to the senate concerns its democratic legitimacy. As Allan notes, the senate is still an unelected body, and as such, lacks the democratic legitimacy found in countries like Australia whose senators are elected and can be held accountable to the people. This lack of legitimacy is concerning since the Canadian Senate is tasked with certain legislative powers such as the reading of bills. The Canadian Senate, by being appointed and not elected, is not accountable to the people and arguably does not have the legitimacy to possess such legislative powers.
CBC writer Aaron Wherry objects by considering the benefits of an unelected senate. In particular, Wherry states that senate appointment results in a diverse senate body, since it allows the appointment of those who would otherwise not pursue an elected office position on their own. These people, Wherry notes, are often distinguished and have a history of accomplishments. Although it is true that senate appointments results in a diversity of expertise, Toronto Star writer Nicholas Keung begs differ and suggests that the senate is not truly diverse—at least, not in a socio-demographic sense. Keung cites economist Kai L. Chan’s 2015 demographic study of the senate, and observes that women make up less than 30 per cent of the senate. Visible minorities make up less than 25 per cent. In addition, the executive director of Samara Canada, Jane Hilderman, notes that profile bias can come into play during senate appointments. Whether ideologically or ethnically, senate nominations have featured those closely reflecting the existing predominant government image. As can be seen, the Senate is not truly representative of the Canadian mosaic society.