Departing from the red chamber this week on his 75th birthday, Bob Runciman notes his disappointment at “the failure to move toward an elected Senate.”
Back when Runciman was appointed to the upper house in 2010, it was still possible to believe an elected Senate was a distinct possibility.
But now, more than 30 years after Bert Brown plowed “Triple-E Senate or else” into an Alberta barley field, the cause of an elected Senate seems dead. Or at least fast asleep.
“I think that an important body like that should have a significant degree of accountability to the taxpayers and people of this country, and that’s missing,” Runciman said in an interview with CBC Radio’s The House on Wednesday, as he reached the Senate’s mandatory retirement age.
That will continue to be lacking, he said, “until someone’s prepared to come to grips with it.”
Perhaps only a significant crisis will motivate anyone to try.
Harper’s Senate woes
In a way, former prime minister Stephen Harper did his level best to build support for reform.
Not only did he appoint Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin, Patrick Brazeau and Don Meredith, the four senators whose assorted controversies (justifiably or not) brought the upper chamber to the new depths of disrepute, but he also made exactly the sort of partisan appointments for which the Senate was already infamous: his party’s former fundraising director, his party’s former president, defeated party candidates and his own former director of communications.
But his government’s approach to actually implementing reform left something to be desired.
After seven years of proposing term limits and “consultative” elections, and arguing that Parliament could make such changes on its own, the Conservatives belatedly asked the Supreme Court in 2013 to rule on whether provincial agreement was required.
Up to the provinces
When the court responded in April 2014 that the agreement of seven provinces representing 50 per cent of the population would be necessary to implement the Conservatives’ desired changes, Harper threw up his hands and declared it was up to the provinces to change the Senate.
Had Harper’s government referred the matter to the Supreme Court immediately upon taking office in 2006, he might have had seven or eight years to rally provincial…