Reforming the Canadian Senate

As published on The Economist website, Letters to the Editor
February 22, 2014

PoilievreP lowSIR — Since our nation’s founding 147 years ago, Canadian prime ministers have had the authority to fill all vacancies in the Senate. It is hard to imagine a less democratic approach than that. Yet a growing group of commentators have found one, as well as someone to champion it. Last month, as you noted, Justin Trudeau (pictured), the leader of the Liberals, adopted an old idea to turn over senatorial selections to an appointment commission (“Kicked out”, February 1st).

The problem with Canada’s Senate is that it is unelected and unaccountable. Mr Trudeau’s solution is to make the people who choose the senators unelected and unaccountable, leaving the Senate two steps removed from voters instead of one.

Think of the enormous power this unelected appointment body would have. In a system with two Houses that have roughly the same legal powers, one would be chosen by roughly 25 million eligible voters and the other by roughly 25 unelected commissioners. Each commissioner would have the political weight of a million citizens. That is oligarchy defined.

Stephen Harper, the prime minister, has asked the Supreme Court for a legal instruction manual on how Canada’s archaic Senate can be elected or abolished all together, so we can finally move from the 19th century to the 21st.

Pierre Poilievre
Minister of State for Democratic Reform
Ottawa, Canada