Stephen Harper now has a Conservative majority in the House of Commons. He has a Conservative majority in the Senate. And so Mr. Harper is right to proceed with Senate reform - he just needs to manage the issue carefully, and dispense with the curious notion that eight-year, non-renewable terms for senators is an enhancement of democracy.
The limit makes sense when senators are appointed - under current law, they can serve until the age of 75, effectively guaranteeing decades of service, and salary, for the lucky appointees.
But the logic for such limits in an elected body is not clear. First, duration of parliamentary service should be an advantage in the Senate, which can be made more democratic without sacrificing its historical role as a chamber of sober second thought. That sobriety increases with experience.
And "term limits" come with direct election - the voters can effectively decide that a senator's time in Parliament is up.
Requiring these limits, moreover, could unleash logistical havoc if the terms expired simultaneously. The provinces may have to run the elections on a separate schedule from House of Commons or provincial elections; electors in Ontario and Quebec might each be forced to elect 24 senators, all at once.
Instead, a reform bill could allow for six-year, renewable terms for senators. That would allow senators to serve longer than a single majority government, adding to the long-term perspective senators ought to bring, and would imitate other bicameral countries.
There are now two main obstacles. Existing, unelected senators may say it would be unfair to impose term limits on them without putting them on new senators. Some provincial premiers, fearing a loss of their own influence at the expense of a newly legitimized Senate, may continue to delay holding senatorial elections. These issues will have to be managed, and they will test the Constitution and national unity. But Canadians have had enough of an appointed Senate. It's the responsibility of all political leaders, federal and provincial, to deliver credible reform.
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