Jack Layton's ultimate goal is to abolish the Senate but he knows that isn't about to happen any time soon, so he is urging Stephen Harper take some baby steps toward reform.
Mr. Layton is calling for "two modest but vital" initial changes. First, the Prime Minister should stop appointing "failed candidates and party insiders to the Senate." Second, Mr. Layton wants all senators "banned from fundraising for political parties."
He made his comments at speech Wednesday morning to the Canadian Study of Parliament Group.
It's a common practice of the Conservatives and Liberals – when they're in government – to appoint party bagmen, unsuccessful candidates and even their national campaign managers to the Red Chamber. That allows them to work on re-election and campaign strategy on the taxpayer's dime – and not on their party's.
Mr. Layton says it costs $859,000 a year for each senator in the 105-member chamber. "All for an institution that won't play any relevant role in the lives of most Canadians," the NDP chief complained.
However, it played a pretty relevant role in his party's life this fall when the Conservative-dominated chamber vetoed NDP climate-change legislation that had passed the House of Commons, where the membership is elected.
Mr. Layton believes the Senate is poised to do the same thing again, this time with an NDP private member's bill calling for bilingual Supreme Court judges. That proposal has also passed through the House of Commons.
"Well, let me tell you, just because someone flipped pancakes for the Conservative Party doesn't give them the right to override the wishes of elected MPs," Mr. Layton said.
So, he is asking that Mr. Harper remember how he felt about the Senate when he was first elected opposition leader. At that time, Mr. Harper vowed if he ever became prime minister he would not appoint people to the Senate.
"But Mr. Harper has turned his back on those democratic principles," Mr. Layton charged. "Instead of solving the problem, he's become part of the problem. Stephen Harper now holds the all-time record for appointing the largest number of senators in one day."