Sunday, May 22, 2011

On vestigial entitlements

In the midst of the justified outrage surrounding the Cons' latest Senate abuses, a few people are starting to point out some of the other distortions created by the status quo which Stephen Harper seems so pleased to keep in place.

By any measure, Canadian voters cast their ballots for an NDP Official Opposition, as it ranked a clear second place by votes, seats or any other standard for popular support. But the party actually favoured by mere voters as the alternative to a Con government will continue to receive zero input in one of the two chambers that exercises formal power in considering and passing legislation.

Instead, because of the Senate's archaic structures, the Libs will continue to hold the title of official opposition in the Senate for now and the foreseeable future. And indeed, an individual who served as a campaign co-chair in the election that rejected the Libs is seemingly set to stay in a role which allows him to use the trappings of public office to promote his party over the actual opposition.

And what's worse, there's effectively no way of remedying the problem within the Senate structure as it stands.

Even if Stephen Harper were to make the utterly implausible decision to do everything within his power to deal with the glaring distortion among the opposition parties - including appointing NDP senators to rectify the imbalance - he wouldn't be able to advance the NDP to official opposition status in the Senate in time for the 2015 election. Likewise, a start to Senate elections would have no chance of overcoming the Libs' built-in advantage with senators of any political stripe in the Cons' first term in office.

And based on the more likely path where Harper keeps on using his appointment power for patronage purposes, the Libs could continue to benefit from an undeserved Senate advantage over the NDP even through nearly a full term of NDP government beginning in 2015 - to say nothing of the Cons' own exploitation of publicly-funded patronage in the meantime.

Of course, the problem isn't a particularly new one. In fact, one of the longest-serving Senate opposition leaders in Canadian history held that role primarily on behalf of a PC party which ranked in fifth place in the Commons party standings.

But now looks to be the first time that the gap between electoral outcomes and Senate standings has been so glaring under a government which pretends to be interested in dealing with the undemocratic nature of the Senate. And the fact that the Libs' vestigial caucus will ensure that the Senate will remain unrepresentative regardless of what reforms might happen for the better part of the next decade (or more) should serve as an indication that abolition is ultimately both an easier and fairer choice.

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