The Senate is ‘an absolutely useless body’

April 13, 2018: Maclean’s readers weigh in on the Senate, the dangers of political partisanship, the Wynne government’s big-deficit plan for Ontario and more

Kill the Senate

In a March column, Scott Gilmore argued that Canada’s Senate is an expensive anachronism that should not be able to overrule the will of a democratically elected government, as it seemed poised to do with the marijuana bill, and that Canadians should try to get rid of the upper house.

How refreshing to see that Scott Gilmore has overcome his obsession (rehab maybe) with Donald Trump to present a clear treatise on abolishing the Senate. His presentation of an unelected group of highly entitled political appointees sucking dry the public trough and being able to hold up legislation by our elected officials is right on. When is enough enough? We waste taxpayer dollars or, worse, borrowed dollars to support an absolutely useless body. — Ken DesRoches, Ottawa

Oops, Scott, looks like the Senate did pass the bill on marijuana instead of sending it back as you mentioned in your article. Actually, I completely disagree with your comments on the Senate; I believe that this body does provide a sober second look at bills passed by enthusiastic governments with either little experience on the part of many members or a dictate from the PMO. A good second look is needed in many instances to amend or mitigate the plethora of bills passed through the Commons (especially by majority governments). Our Canadian system was based on the British system, which has a long and distinguished history of reviewing government laws. It has stood the test of time and all in all I think Canadians have benefited from this secondary review in many instances. Personally, I only wish the Senate had not passed this marijuana Legislation. Having been in pharmacology all my life, I believe both Houses are making a big mistake in legalizing this drug and much mental and physical harm will come to many Canadians. In fact, I know that it will. Oh, well, that’s what the Commons/Senate have the right and power to do so, even though the science is sorely lacking. — Kevin Sullivan, Ottawa

I disagree completely with Scott Gilmore’s estimation that Canada should do away with the Senate. In New Zealand during the Great Depression, the government did away with an upper house of parliament to save costs. What a unicameral parliament has done there, is to effectively create a “democratic dictatorship.” That is to say, any party which holds the majority seats can essentially pass any bill they want, completely unimpeded. A particular horrific example of this was during the tenure of the late prime minister Robert Muldoon (in office from 1975 to 1984). When a not-for-profit criticized the New Zealand government because about 20 per cent of the children in that country were living below the poverty line, Muldoon quickly passed a law to remove their tax-deductible status. Is this the kind of lack of checks and balances we want in Canada? I surely hope not! — Matthew Davidson, Halifax

RELATED: Why a more independent Senate is working better for Canadians

I admit to being a Senate supporter. Rather, I admit to being a supporter of a Parliamentary body which takes on the role of a grandfather who brings the discussion to its reasonable point, an agent of sober second thought, if you will. Our Senate has been mangled out of its purpose over the decades, mostly due to: 1) the imposed influence of party politics, and 2) the veto power it has been given over legislation. At this point, the Senate is not working, and most people understand that. But eliminating it will leave a disturbing void in the way our governments govern and legislate. By all means delete the Senate, but for God’s sake, put something in place through which knowledgeable, intelligent and experienced minds will have input into the issues affecting our country on a daily basis. — David Watts, Fredericton

Bill Frampton on Facebook: Only a person who doesn’t understand federalism would ever advocate abolishing the Senate. A fundamental principle of federalism is that federal legislation must be broadly acceptable across the country, and a second House whose composition has nothing to do with population is necessary to that principle. The problem with the Senate is merely that Senators lack the democratic legitimacy to carry out their vital Constitutional responsibility to amend or reject legislation which does not meet the requirement of broad acceptability, because they are appointed and not elected. We need a Constitutional amendment providing for Senators to be elected at general elections to serve for terms aligned with the terms of MPs and a mechanism for resolving disagreements between the Houses, as they have in Australia. Prime Ministers would then have to govern for the whole country, not just pander to their base or region(s).

Chris Cook on Facebook: Keep the Senate. But set it up like a board of governors. One seat for each province & territory. 13 members only. And they’re elected every 3 years. Maximum 2 terms. And set an age limit of no one over 70. And by that if there’s a sitting Senator that tuns 70 during their term, they must retire and have a election. And if there’s a Senator who isn’t showing up for work, whoever came in second takes that seat.

Radek Bedic on Facebook: Appointments are a fossil of absolute monarchy, our system isn’t perfect but these lathargic usless senators, who no one voted for, have to go. These powerless elites undermine our democracy. Some say they protect us from evil politicians, no this system was put in place to prevent laws that may undermine the old realm. Aka the queens power.

READ: More letters from our readers >>

Today’s political partisanship is hurting Canada’s best and brightest

Clouds pass by the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Tuesday, November 28, 2017. (Adrian Wyld/CP)

In a March column on how toxic partisanship is affecting mental health in Ottawa, Ian Capstick described how that climate convinced him to quite his position as a commentator on the CBC News Network program Power & Politics.

I want to congratulate Ian Capstick for such a great article. It feels good to read this thoughtful reflection on hyper-partisan politics in Canada and its effects on us. This article should be read by all citizens and decision-makers alike. Great work; thank you! – Paul Carrière, Ottawa

I enjoyed the article written by Ian Capstick and I will miss his input on Power & Politics. I was hoping that guest host Terry Milewski would be running the P & P show, since he is so insightful and knows his stuff. If we are being left with “yes” commentators on this program, then I’ll find other ways to occupy my time. After Charlie Angus spoke out about Hamilton NDP MP David Christopherson’s decision to break ranks with his caucus and support a Conservative motion, the NDP did restore Christoffersen to his rightful place on position as deputy chair of the procedure and House affairs committee. We unwashed out here knew that removing him from that position was wrong thing to do in the first place—some thirtysomethings do not have the wisdom of their elders. — Elisabeth Roejskjaer, Sudbury, Ont.

RELATED: Ultra-partisan social media is an addictive hazard—and detox is a last resort

Thank you, Ian Capstick, for your humble and informative article regarding political partisanship. I hope many of our MP’s will post it on their bathroom mirrors so it can help to focus their approach to their workday. I’m not a politician, but my clients, family and friends will all benefit from my having posted it on mine. — Rae Trajan, Nanaimo, B.C.

What I see is partisanship caused by the party system that we must try to get rid of. I hate voting for the party line. We voted Darrel Stinson in, one of the best people I know who has been in Ottawa. Darrel was pushed out because he tried to bring his constituents’ wishes to Ottawa. Where is our so called democracy? —Ken Caldwell, Lumby, B.C.

Chris Kern on Facebook: The Ottawa bubble has always been ultra partisan but what has changed is that unhealthy partisanship has burst out of the bubble and into our palms.
Unfortunately too many people either by choice or ignorance only have confirmation bias, echo chambers, one-sided or out right propaganda infinite scrolling through their social media feeds. This exasperates the partisanship issue and makes people susceptible to the data pirates tasked to influence their vote digitally. The on-line disrespect and vitriol that accompanies the partisanship makes people intransigent in their views when interacting with people face to face and healthy debate of ideas denigrates into 140 character intelligence which threatens our democracy more than most realize.

Ontario budget 2018: In an election year, Wynne bets on deficits

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne speaks to media at Legislative Assembly of Ontario in Toronto on January 25, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

In March, Joe Castaldo wrote that the Ontario Liberals’ pre-election budget would put the province in deficit mode until 2024-25—providing it could stay in power until then—a big risk at a time of economic uncertainty and rising interest rates.

Kathleen Wynne’s government will not show a surplus for 2017-18. The budget’s interim estimate of a $0.6 billion surplus is based on bogus accounting. The Financial Accountability Office in its fall economic outlook forecast a $4.0 billion deficit for 2017-18 using the auditor general’s accounting standards as compared to the $0.2 billion surplus forecast in the Liberals’ 2017 budget. This was Wynne’s signature promise in the 2014 election campaign that she would balance the budget in 2017-18. She failed to do it, although according to AG Bonnie Lysyk she wasted $4 billion of the taxpayers’ money in additional interest costs related to the Fair Hydro Plan alone and who knows how much elsewhere to provide the illusion that she did so. Since the Liberal budget balances are phony, their debt estimates are phony too. In the fall economic outlook, the Financial Accountability Office showed a net debt-to-GDP ratio of 39.6 per cent for 2017-18 as opposed to the 2017 Liberal budget forecast of 37.7 per cent. To have a good idea of the impact of the Wynne government’s planned fiscal excesses on the net debt-to-GDP ratio over the planning horizon we will probably have to wait on the FAO spring economic outlook. It will likely confirm that the net debt-to-GDP ratio for Ontario will exceed New Brunswick’s, and that it will exceed Quebec’s a few years later. — Andrew Baldwin, Ottawa

I am very concerned about the bias in this article. Please make sure you apply the same scrutiny to Doug Ford, whose real knowledge of the province is lacking, and who has never been in the provincial legislature. The Ontario Progressive Conservative leader wants a “change” from the Liberals. But does change imply taking us back to the Harris era, when Ford’s father was in the Harris caucus? Cut taxes, cut the fat, cut red tape, balance the budget and all will be well is nothing but the same old Tory mantra.

RELATED: Ontario budget 2018: The Liberals promise fiscal prudence. Really?

Ford says by cutting taxes and the foreign buyers’ tax, more provincial revenues and jobs will be produced. He provided no facts or proof of this. For a salary of $50,000, the saving would be $336. Ford said I could buy a refrigerator, but he left out the fact that it would take at least four years. Ford says he is for the little guy, but what percentage of the tax cut will his elites get? Will he tell us? As for balancing the budget by 2020, will he follow such Harris moves as giving away the Highway 407 cash cow? Goodbye LCBO? Privatize marijuana sales? More cuts to health care? Cancelled infrastructure projects as per Harris cutting Highway 69 north construction? And then there’s cutting red tape, which is code for cutting environmental rules and labour codes. Another Walkerton coming? Ford has little respect for environmental concerns.  Cap and trade will be cancelled, causing a loss of $6 billion.

Ford plans to cut hydro bills by 12 per cent after the Liberal’s 25 per cent. Does that mean going back to the old rates and then cutting 12 per cent? There’s no clarity. Meanwhile, in order to finance Ford’s tax cuts for his elites, do we forgo dental care, drug benefits for those under 25 and seniors, free child care, improved wages and benefits in labour contracts, expanded Go Train and northern bus serice, increased mental health spending? The risks to Ontarians if they vote PC are enormous. We should make sure that we are not voting for a single issue but consider the complete platform that is best for our province now and into the future for the most voters. — Neil Truman, Elliot Lake, Ont.

Brett Cavanagh on Facebook: After breaking the law by running deficit budgets 15 years ago,the Liberals have successfully gone 15 and 0 (the last budget was only balanced by questionable accounting according to the AG). It makes me wonder how people who are so incredibly incompetent can keep getting elected. What is wrong with the voters of this province that we elect people who flush our hopes and dreams down the toilet and don’t think twice about doing it.

Reid Byer on Facebook: The social benefits of pharmacare, dentalcare and childcare are undeniable. Moreover the benefits outweigh the cost. Some will say we cannot afford it, but these same programs have been successfully implemented in numerous places around the world. Why would they insist that it cannot be done here in Ontario? The question is not why, it is why not.

In Saskatchewan, the Stanley verdict has re-opened centuries-old wounds

Skyler Brown

Skyler Brown, cousin of Colten Boushie, visiting the grave of his cousin on the Red Pheasant First Nation, SK, February 16, 2018. (Photograph by Liam Richards)

In March, Kyle Edwards reported on the tensions, fear and hatred that have been stirred up in Saskatchewan’s Battlefords in the wake of Gerard Stanley’s acquittal in the death of Colten Boushie.

Saskatchewan was the focus of this article, and a few years ago the focus was on Ontario and the community of Caledonia, indicating that beneath all the nice words of reconciliation and working together, we are a long way from getting there. In the not too distant future, spending by all levels of government over many decades will approach a trillion dollars, and yet the disconnect, the poor housing, the poor water quality, the lack of proper food, education, medical care and economic opportunities still exist. It should have become apparent some time ago that what our governments are doing is simply not working, and yet we act surprised when the Battlefords and Caledonias happen. Close to the end of the article a statement by a band councillor on the Red Pheasant reserve puts things very clearly: she states that, “You go into the white world, and they make you feel like we are the ones that did you wrong.” As long as there are “two worlds,” an aboriginal world where they are always victims and a white world where they are always the perpetrators, reconciliation will continue to be elusive. — Jeff Spooner, Kinburn, Ont.

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