Senate by phonebook? One Conservative thinks so

John Williamson
Prime Minister Stephen Harper welcomes MP John Williamson at the start of caucus meetings in Ottawa, Wednesday June 1, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld. Adrian Wyld / THE CANADIAN PRESS

It’s a refrain we will likely hear from Conservatives in the months to come: even the NDP is better than this.

With Trudeau’s bombshell announcement Wednesday that he had kicked 32 Liberal senators out of caucus, one Conservative backbencher says the Liberal leader’s plan for the upper chamber is worse than picking “names at random from the phonebook.”

John Williamson, an outspoken MP from New Brunswick who has proposed a private member’s bill that would strip convicted MPs and senators of their pensions, said Trudeau’s proposal to have a non-partisan committee appoint Senators is a mere public relations strategy. (And he would know; he’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s former director of communications.)

“Given a choice between abolition and rule-by-experts, I’d side with the NDP,” says Williamson.

Here are some of Williamson’s thoughts, expressed in an email this morning:

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I’m not impressed by the change because the way to make the Senate accountable and useful is to elect it.

The Liberal scheme will not improve the Upper House and would, in fact, make it worse if unelected individuals, named through an Order-of-Canada-like process, believe they have legitimacy and suddenly exercised the great powers our Constitution gives Senators. We would have a situation where an unelected and unaccountable body blocks legislation from the democratically elected House of Commons. 

I find it most disappointing that Mr. Trudeau is willing to accept a recommendation from a group of so-called experts, but not directly from voters.  He claims we are engaging in ugly populism by going to the people to fill Senate seats. 

His approach offers Canadians government by elites and intellectuals without elections. 

Indeed, I would prefer and believe it would be more representative to pick names at random from the phonebook to sit in the Senate rather than rely on unelected officials deciding the membership of an unelected Senate. His plan will generate good (public relations) because it appears to offer change, but it will ultimately maintain the Senate as an unelected body with no legitimacy.

Given a choice between abolition and rule-by-experts, I’d side with the NDP.  Of course, my long preference is election to maintain the Senate as a regional and legitimate check on the House.

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