The thing that seems a good idea at the time is often the thing we should have thought more about before we went ahead and did it.
Abolishing the Senate sure seems like a great idea to Premier Brad Wall right now. Frankly, it seems like a great idea to most everyone … including most everyone in rural Saskatchewan.
But — believe it or not — it’s the interests of people living in places like rural Saskatchewan that Wall must consider in his push to abolish the Senate.
Now, don’t get me wrong.
I’m as appalled as anyone by the antics of the Liberal and Conservative hacks in the Senate who see no reason to represent the province from which they were appointed. Their first loyalty is to their political masters that appointed them.
It is precisely for that reason that people seem so angry over Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin claiming travel expenses for trips home to provinces they haven’t lived in for decades.
And as an un-elected body, what real democratic authority does the Senate have to question anyone’s law, anyway?
These are but a few of the reasons why Wall was pushing hard for Senate abolition prior to the premiers’ annual gathering at Niagara-on-the-Lake.
“There are a number of different options to pursue,” Wall told Joe Couture of the Saskatoon StarPhoenix.
“The principle’s abolition. That will be the underlying principle. It’s just, what’s the best way to advance that cause? We’d like to try to do it in a way that might have a bit of traction outside of our borders. It’s pretty important for me to canvass my colleagues here at the Council of the Federation (premier’s meeting).”
But even in the unlikely circumstance that the premiers will eventually agree to do away with this $100-million-a-year patronage waste, will abolishing the Senate really change all that much?
Can premiers, as Wall suggests, always effectively represent regional interests to the federal government? For Wall — a premier from a small province far away from Ottawa — that’s a tougher question to answer.
Of course, any provincial premier will argue that he or she speaks for his or her province. But under Stephen Harper’s administration in which this Prime Minister has only met once with the premiers, collectively, it’s not always been easy to present the case for regional interests.
Harper has moved arbitrarily on federal transfers and a health accord without much consultation with the premiers or consideration of regional interests. And he is hardly the first prime minister to place the federal government’s interest ahead of the interests of the regions. (See: ending community pastures; the Indian Head tree farm.)
So the question perhaps isn’t so much whether today’s Senate does its job. We all know it really doesn’t. The real question is: How will doing away with the Senate actually improve representation of regional interests?
After all, premiers don’t review federal laws.
If Harper or any future Liberal or NDP prime minister chooses not to listen to the premiers in advance, might it be still be in our interests to have a reformed, elected Senate representing the regional interests of places like rural Saskatchewan?
Maybe Wall and most everyone else is instinctively right. Maybe the Senate can’t be reformed, meaning that we might as well get rid of it because it’s virtually useless.
But maybe we need our own moment of sober second thought before we completely do away with any chance of ever again having a true upper house of sober second thought.
Murray Mandryk has been covering provincial politics for over 22 years.