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Change must come from within the Senate: My opinion piece in the Journal

Posted May 2nd, 2014 in blog, Op-Ed and tagged , , by Doug Black

Yesterday in the Edmonton Journal, I gave my assessment of the recent Supreme Court Ruling and my thoughts about what should be done to reform the Senate. You can read my piece below.

Court’s Senate decision doesn’t preclude reform

Change must come from provinces – and from senators themselves

Senate of CanadaThe road to fundamental Senate reform just got a whole lot steeper, no doubt about it. The Supreme Court of Canada’s ruling has clearly placed the issue of reform at the feet of the provinces and the Senate.

Albertans and Canadians have no desire to reopen the Constitution at this point.

So where does that leave those of us who want to see progress toward a more democratic, accountable and transparent Senate? First, provinces should follow Alberta’s lead in running Senate nominee elections. The Supreme Court’s ruling does not forbid the prime minister from considering the results of such elections. Indeed, Alberta’s example has demonstrated that public pressure and a government with a pro-democracy agenda can come together to deliver real change. The last four appointments to represent Alberta in the Senate have all been individuals selected by Albertans. This is a powerful example. It shows Albertans would rather have their own say than have the prime minister choose who represents them in Ottawa.

Second, although senators can’t be forced to observe term limits, they can voluntarily do so. And Canadians should be vocal in calling for them to do so. Term limits must be sufficiently long to preserve independence and develop institutional knowledge, but they must also be short enough to encourage new blood and fresh thinking. I have committed myself to a term of no longer than ten years, a number that strikes the right balance between those two competing goals.

Third, the Senate must move urgently to implement a comprehensive transparency and accountability agenda. This is more important than ever given the Supreme Court’s ruling. For starters, the Senate needs to broadcast video of its debates to the public. We are the only upper chamber in the western world that does not do so. As a Senate working group considers broadcasting options, an opportunity exists to offer a new level of transparency to Canadians. Additionally, following the results of the Auditor General’s review of senators’ expenses, we should add external members to our Audit Subcommittee. This is one of the most basic principles of corporate governance, and should become a basic principle of parliamentary governance as well. These two reforms I have outlined in my seven-point plan, a proposal for improving the transparency and accountability of the upper chamber. Through these and other simple reforms that fall within the authority of the Senate, we can create a more modern institution that goes further to meet the expectations of modern Canada.

Finally, senators must help Canadians understand why the upper chamber is a valuable component of our democracy. I ran for the Senate in 2012 because I believe it is a place where long-term thinking can be done, new ideas explored and advanced, regional interests represented and important policy questions given careful consideration. The recent amendments to the Fair Elections Act proposed by the Senate and adopted by the Government are only one recent example of why it makes sense to have a legislative check on the House of Commons.

It’s not fair to ask Canadians to judge the value of the Senate when we aren’t doing all that we can do to help them understand why we’re here and how our work serves their interests. Communicating the role and the potential of the Senate will continue to be one of my main goals during my time representing Albertans in Ottawa.

Senate reform – now is the time to stop talking about it and to get doing it. To create a more democratic Canada, the Senate must change from within and become the effective institution envisioned by this country’s founders.

Albertans expect their senators to have a role in making this happen.

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