The Conservative government's decision to proceed with incremental Senate reforms is the correct one, although the threat that they could "entertain more dramatic options" - namely abolition - if the reforms are obstructed in the Senate, would amount to a disastrous fit of pique.
Such a move would fail those, particularly in the West, who have long sought to improve regional representation in the federal Parliament. It would also see the Harper government reopen the Constitution in order to satisfy a long-standing demand of the NDP.
In the Commons on Monday, NDP critic David Christopherson called for a "straight-up" referendum that would ask Canadians: "Do they support abolishing the Senate, yes or no?" But are the New Democrats being straight-up themselves?
The NDP wants to abolish the unelected Senate, but perpetuate the imperfect rep-by-pop system in the Commons, by granting one region, namely Quebec, a permanent 25-per-cent share of seats.
In effect, Quebec would have a Senate of its own, by way of an enshrined allocation of ridings, whether supported by population figures or not. Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario are overdue for an increase in seats in the Commons, which the government's bill in the last Parliament would have achieved.
Opposition Leader Jack Layton insists that his party supports "more seats for Ontario and Alberta and British Columbia," but "we also support retaining the current weight of Quebec in the seat calculation." Of course, either Western Canada and Ontario get proportionally more seats or they don't. Under Mr. Layton's plan they don't, there would just be more seats overall.
The Conservative measures to allow provinces to consult voters on senatorial appointments are a step toward needed reform. It would add to the legitimacy of senators, and would likely see strong, regional voices emerge outside the federal party apparatuses. Limiting senators to one nine-year term, rather than letting them contest their seats again, is dubious. (Why not allow them to run for re-election as MPs can?) But it is still preferable to the current system of appointments until age 75.
The Senate Reform Act should be passed.
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