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The Senate of Canada-Change needed now

Hard on the heels of last month's musings by Penny Collenette, former appointments director in the PMO, that the unelected Canadian Senate might be conceived as undemocratic, into and out of the fray jumped Stéphane Dion, federal Intergovernmental Affairs Minister.

"To have somebody that becomes a Senator at 35 and stays until they are 75-to be a parliamentarian of a democratic country for such a long time-I'm not sure is very normal," said Mr. Dion.

Having tip-toed to the edge, Mr. Dion then backed away from anything that might be construed as haste in tackling the problem.

"What we need first-it is not a matter of governments so much as a matter of public debate in universities and so on-it is to have good studies," he said, and mentioned the German, Austrian and Australian Senates as examples that might be examined.

The unelected, undemocratic Canadian Senate has been a festering sore on the Canadian body politic for too, too long. It has been the subject of debate for far too, too long. To suggest further university debates and more studies of institutions in other countries is an affront to the intelligence of Canadians.

Canadians know that the first step to changing the unelected Senate to conform with democracy does not require changes to the Constitution of Canada. What is required is one person with the gumption to state publicly:

"If I become Prime Minister I will not appoint anyone to the Senate until that person has been elected by the qualified voters in the province which that person is to represent."

There is a race underway among members of the Liberal Party to become the next Prime Minister of Canada. The leading candidate has so far declined to make such a commitment.

Another wishes to abolish the Senate completely, an action which will require changing the Constitution of Canada. That could take years of debate, provincial agreement, and a series of events that Canadians have experienced three times already, and do not wish to undergo once more in their lifetime.

Let's do what we can do now. Is there anyone willing to take that first step towards achieving democratic Senate? A slice of democracy in hand is worth more than all the pie in the sky promises of a better Senate in the far off future.

As a matter of record, Senators decided to adjourn sittings of the Chamber for a three-week period in April, their second vacation in two months.


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