Had it with outdated fixtures and furnishings? Fed up with legislative bottlenecks and immovable members? Then you're likely considering some serious Senate renovations.
The best advice is to treat this project like any other home renovation. After all, the Senate is just another house of Parliament.
The first thing experienced renovators will tell you is to get a contractor. If you just leave the job to the individual trades or parties, it's likely that nothing much will ever get done. Since they all have a vested interest in keeping things pretty much the way they are, they're likely to make only superficial fixes.
Trades or parties often promise the owner all kinds of wonderful changes but then fail to deliver. The carpenter, for example, may promise you a new triple-E structure, then turn around and try to satisfy you with a single, nine-year term. The plumber, on the other hand, might suggest a new improved, fully elected Senate with increased powers and improved legislative flow but fail to mention that you'll need all kinds of hard-to-get government approvals, including, perhaps, a constitutional building permit.
So get a neutral third party to act as your contractor. Someone, say, like a royal commission. That way you'll get a handy report telling you what you can and can't do, the costs involved and potential problems such as how to navigate any unforeseen amendment procedures.
Most contractors will tell you that, when you undertake a renovation job, it's best to gut the room or rooms you intend to redo. Of course, you can always just cover over the existing cracks and flaws, but they'll eventually show up again. Painting a red chamber blue, for example, won't solve the cracks in the foundation.
For your Senate reno, start by tearing out all the floors, walls and members. By ripping up the floors and tearing out the walls, it's easier to discover if there are any hidden structural problems. You might find things such as lifetime tenure and exorbitant expense accounts that are driving up costs and turning the place into a money pit.
Tearing out everything might also reveal suspected defects such as no accountability or rampant patronage. If you don't strip the place down to the studs, that kind of mould and rot will still be there and will continue to grow, fester and undermine the structural integrity of the whole enterprise.
Getting rid of all the existing joists, beams and members will also help immeasurably. Once the walls are down, you're likely to see that most of the members are old and way past their useful life. It doesn't pay to try to pick and choose which members are sound and which need to go. Best to tear them all out and replace them with new, strong, easily replaceable elected members.
One final piece of advice: Assess the risks and benefits before undertaking such a massive renovation. So long as the current residence is functioning okay and still standing, you may want to leave it alone. Oftentimes, gutting an existing structure reveals a whole new set of unexpected problems that may take years to fix.
On the other hand, if the structure is falling apart and costing you millions to maintain, the preferred option may be to simply tear down the property altogether. Especially, as in this case, where you have one House already and the Other Place is expendable.
David Martin is an Ottawa-based humorist.
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