OFF THE RECORD: Ottawa’s grimiest running amok

The Senate of Canada and communist governments both look very well on paper.

Dan Walton is a reporter with the Penticton Western News.

Dan Walton is a reporter with the Penticton Western News.

The Senate of Canada and communist governments both look very well on paper.

But in their practical application, corruption becomes rampant at the expense of peasants. They have the most secure jobs in the country.

Our members of Parliament on the other hand are held accountable to their local constituents every four years (or less) by federal elections. It’s easy to flush the toilet if an MP stinks. But Senators get to ride the gravy train until they’re forced to retire at 75 – just in time to forfeit their drivers licences.

To justify their $138,000 salary (plus frivolous expenses), senators are supposed to oversee resolutions made in Parliament, since MPs can be tempted to make short-sighted decisions for the sake an election campaign, rather then act in the best interest of the country.

So to keep their minds off the desire to win an election/popularity contest, senators are supposed to look at the big picture and forgo electoral tunnel vision. They earn the role by getting hand-picked by the Prime Minister. Technically, honest people who are capable of critical thought can fill the role, though it’s much more strategic for a Prime Minister to appoint a political ally who will tow the party line. After accepting a veiled bribe of a six-figure salary, it’s unrealistic to expect a Senator to free him or herself from party affiliation. A Prime Minister gets the opportunity to plant a new lackey in the red chamber every time another one hits the forced retirement age. But to the credit of Stephen Harper – who advocates the Senate needs to reform or abolish – he hasn’t been filling many of the vacancies despite the obvious advantage, and 20 seats are currently sitting empty.

If senators did think for themselves, the system would work. But in the entire chamber, only two parties represent 78 Senators out of 85. That leaves only seven (*see footnote)  that can vote independently – and three of them have been suspended in disgrace (their hands were caught really far down the cookie jar).

In theory, the Senate prevents any rash decisions from being made in Ottawa by providing sober second thought. It’s purpose is very relatable to alcohol, which can entice exciting brainstorming sessions; ideas that seem really clever when drinking. But oftentimes, once the alcohol has worn off those ideas turn out to be nonsense, and hopefully they weren’t acted upon. But with the current state of the Canadian Senate, a 4 a.m. voicemail left with an ex would be approved without hesitation.

Senators are mostly intelligent people, but they don’t use their brains to think about anything altruistic. Voting against the team is unheard of over anything that matters. And since the majority of seats in both the Senate and the House of Commons belong to the same party, the Conservatives don’t have much trouble shapeshifting the law.

Take for Bill C-51 as a testament to the uselessness of Senate. The bill loosened the Criminal Code’s definition of “terrorism offences” to the point where CSIS will have Gestapo-like spying powers, and with all of the Conservative lubricant in the chamber, it slid right through Senate last week without any amendment.

Then again it can be hard to take seriously the abilities of our virtual security – a group of teenage hackers who were upset about Bill C-51 managed to take down four of the federal government’s most-used websites on Wednesday.

The hackers’ efforts provided some value to the news cycle, but it’s going to take more than a cyber attack to instil real change. Those trying to achieve reform or abolishment are faced with some really tough obstacles because of stipulations in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms of Canada. But fortunately, the leaders of all three major parties are trying to do something about it.

The red chamber was originally founded to reinforce democracy, but now it does nothing more than insult its’ integrity. It’s time for the Canadian Senate to go the way of the Iron Curtain.

*Hours before publication, the number of independent Senators rose from six to seven, as Don Meredith was turfed by the Conservatives after they found out he was dating a 16-year-old girl. And we have to pay him for 25 more years until he reaches the forced retirement age.

Dan Walton is a reporter with the Penticton Western News