Harper’s plan to abolish the Senate

Sacrificing Duffy is the 2nd prong in a 2-prong strategy that clearly indicates a shift in his attitude toward the Senate

Harper’s plan to abolish the Senate FREE to subscribers

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EDMONTON, AB, Apr 13, 2015/ Troy Media/ – The Crown prosecutor’s argument seems to be “well, Mike Duffy broke the Senate’s expense rules; he must be punished to the full extent of the law for his heinous crimes.”

The problem for most Canadians is the punishment (and general excitement) does not seem to fit the ‘crime’. Not to underestimate expense fiddling, but lax expense management is almost a national sport in Canada.

As important as it is, the expense ‘scandal’ is a mere sideshow; Duffy himself a tantalizing pawn in a much greater game.

Abolish the Senate only option left?

The governance problems facing our nation and the state of our antiquated ‘democratic’ institutions are much worse than most of us imagine. Ironically, while our eyes are diverted towards Mike Duffy’s trial, a constitutional slight-of-hand is underway that could change Canada dramatically.

By his own admission, Mike Duffy was an eager Conservative Party cheerleader. His appointment to the Senate by Prime Minister Steven Harper was a reward for services rendered, and a platform for his continued support.

Is it time to roll up the red carpet and abolish the Senate?

Mike’s Senatorial role did not involve a lot of policy deliberation and he spent precious little time on ‘sober, second thought’. According to his expense reports, he occupied most of his time travelling, speaking at Conservative Party events and fundraisers across the land; most of this activity was approved by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and expensed to the people of Canada.

Clearly the Prime minister approved, going so far as to sign a photo for Mike expressing hearty congratulations for being “one of my best, hardest working appointments”.

It comes as no surprise that Steven Harper has a deep and abiding contempt for the Upper Chamber.

His political DNA was formulated decades ago in the West. He’s a Calgarian with strong connections to the oil and gas industry. He earned his political stripes labouring in the trenches of the Reform Party and continues to carry a long-standing resentment towards the Senate for its inaction on Pierre Trudeau’s National Energy Program (NEP).

Harper has spent decades promoting serious reform for the Senate. As a Reform and Alliance Party insider, he was a strong advocate for a Triple E Senate – an Upper Chamber that’s more like the American Senate, equal, elected and effective. “[My] preference”, he has said, “is to see a reformed and elected Senate. . . . If the Senate cannot be elected, then it should be abolished. Those are the choices.”

Alas, it’s more difficult to reform the governing institutions in Canada than anyone imagined. Harper has made many attempts, but is powerless when it comes to Senate reform because it requires parliamentary and provincial government approvals and levels of popular support that are nowhere in sight.

After his frustrating failure, Harper’s constitutional strategy has clearly shifted from reform to abolition. What’s emerged is a two-pronged strategy. One prong of the government’s Senate abolition strategy involves Bill C-7, a legislative ‘end-run’ that’s designed to overcome the complex constitutional reform process, the other is a propaganda war to demonize the Senate and win over public opinion for abolition.

Bill C-7 is a Trojan horse, brazenly authorizing the Government of Canada to unilaterally reform the Canadian Senate. The Bill has already been shot down in Quebec by the Court of Appeals as unconstitutional.

So far so good: Bill C-7 was designed to trigger a Supreme Court ruling sometime after the next Federal election. The government is anticipating that by that time public disgust with the Upper Chamber will be so toxic the Supreme Court will rule in favour of the government, granting it the right to abolish the Senate altogether.

Prong two is playing out in the court of public opinion as we speak, hence the orchestrated ‘outrage’ over Senate expenses and the blood sacrifice of longtime party loyalist Mike Duffy.

Leaves us vulnerable to arbitrary power

Ironically, this trial could backfire. Many see Senators’ expenses as a minor ‘perk’ for services rendered by serious, public-minded individuals chosen for their dedication to Canada. Bottom line . . . the Mike Duffy affaire is obviously contrived and its lack of legitimacy could turn public opinion.

The democratic principle behind the Triple E Senate was to strengthen Canada’s system of checks and balances in order to protect regional interests from a runaway Prime Minister bent on imposing unfair legislation. If Harper succeeds in abolishing the Senate, one of the most important checks in the system will be lost and we’ll all be a lot more vulnerable to arbitrary power.

Robert McGarvey is an economic historian and co-founder of the Genuine Wealth Institute, an Alberta-based think tank dedicated to helping businesses, communities and nations build communities of wellbeing. Robert is the author of The Creative Revolution, an historical guide to the future of capitalism.

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