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

Posted May 2nd, 2014 in blog, Op-Ed 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.

CHED 630 Tencer & Grose Interview: The Way Forward for Senate Reform

Posted April 28th, 2014 in blog, Interview by Doug Black

Last Friday on 630 CHED’s Tencer and Grose show, I spoke to Dan Tencer about the Supreme Court’s decision on Senate reform. You can listen to my response below. You can listen to the full interview here (interview starts at 22:00).

My thoughts on today’s Supreme Court opinion on the roadmap to Senate Reform

Posted April 25th, 2014 in blog, Press Release, Statement by Doug Black

S030305-014_MED6I appreciate and respect today’s Supreme Court opinion on potential and proposed Senate reforms. Although I wish we could move more quickly towards elections and term limits, I am pleased that we now have a roadmap for how to modernize Canada’s upper chamber.

As a result of this decision, it is now for the provinces and senators themselves to improve democratic accountability and transparency in the Senate.

I am hopeful that Canada’s provincial legislatures will follow Alberta’s lead in allowing their citizens a voice in who represents them in the Senate, even in the absence of formal federal legislation recognizing those results. I have yet to meet an Albertan who does not support Senate nominee elections, which are an admirable attempt to bring more democracy to Ottawa.

Term limits are important to ensure that the Senate remains a place of fresh thinking and modern, diverse perspectives. They must also be sufficiently long to preserve senators’ independence. As a result, I have committed to serving a term no longer than ten years, which I believe strikes the right balance between those two competing interests.

It is now the responsibility of the Senate to move to improve its transparency and accountability. Last year I released a 7-Point Plan with simple and practical steps to do just that, including more detailed expense disclosure and the broadcasting of debates. I am pleased that we have already seen progress on a number of those recommendations, and I look forward to continued progress on outstanding items.

Finally, now that we have greater legal certainty from the Supreme Court, senators must help Canadians understand why the Senate 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 Senate performs an important role in creating a healthy, just, and prosperous Canada, and I am honoured to contribute to that work.


Senate moves toward broadcasting its debates – an update on my 7 Point Plan

Posted April 4th, 2014 in blog by Doug Black

An elected senator's seven-point plan to fix the Red ChamberEfforts are underway to welcome a new era of transparency in the Senate with the video broadcasting of debates, as reported on by the Ottawa Citizen’s Jordan Press. The Senate is the only upper chamber in the Western world that does not broadcast its proceedings to the public, which is why I included this reform in the 7-point plan to improve the Senate that I released last year.

It is my hope that the Senate approves this measure as soon as possible, and that, through a portal on the Canadian Public Affairs Channel website, the Senate’s website and television feeds, we can make our debates accessible to every Canadian.

As reported in the article, there is a certain cost associated with purchasing cameras and paying technicians to record the video. We are currently working to identify the best option to ensure accessible, high-quality video. I view this project as an investment in Canada’s democracy and in the transparency and accountability of Parliament.

I will continue to provide updates on this initiative, and I would encourage Albertans and Canadians to complete my survey and let me know how you would watch the Senate’s debates if they were made available to the public (for example, would you watch on TV or your computer?).

Please complete my one-minute survey on broadcasting video of the Senate

Posted February 15th, 2014 in blog by Doug Black

In my 7-Point Action Plan to improve transparency, accountability and public engagement in the Senate, I called for the broadcasting of live video of debate in the Senate Chamber. Broadcasting is the norm in Australia, the United States, the UK and countless other upper chambers around the world. In 2014, Canadians expect and deserve no less.

I now sit on a committee that is studying broadcast options for the Senate, and I am interested in hearing the views of Albertans and Canadians. I am hopeful that the Senate will agree to broadcast live video of its proceedings starting this year. By filling out the brief one-minute survey below, you can help me determine the best way to bring the Senate to Canadians.

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