THUNDER BAY – Leaders Ledger – Every so often a person or an event reminds us of something that is important, but not always top of mind. This week a person and an event reminded me that we need to abolish the unelected and unaccountable Senate.
While the Senate was originally intended as a place of ‘sober second thought’ and designed to rein in the political power of the elected House of Commons, it has really become nothing more than a $90 million per year parking space for defeated candidates and fundraisers of the party in power. Today’s well-paid Senators owe everything to the Prime Minister that appoints them to their new jobs for life and nothing to Canadian taxpayers and citizens.
Prime Minister Harper once recognized the problems with the unelected and unaccountable Senate and used to believe in reforming it, but those days are long gone. When Mr. Harper was in opposition, he repeatedly and unequivocally stated; “We don’t support any Senate appointments,” for the better part of two decades. Unfortunately, Mr. Harper is a man of weak political character. Since becoming Prime Minister in 2005 Harper has appointed 48 Senators (or nearly half of all current Senators), each of them members of the Conservative Party and eligible to stay on the public payroll until the age of 75.
Enter Senator Patrick Brazeau. Up until recently, this Harper appointed Senator was known for little more than getting beaten up by Justin Trudeau in a charity boxing match. That is until this week when it was reported that he has had the worst record of attendance of any Senator and missed up to 25 percent of its sittings. You would think that Mr. Brazeau, who was appointed by Mr. Harper at the ripe old age of 35 and now has a $132,300 per year job until he is 75, would have a lot energy and desire to fulfill his official duties, or at least show up to work. Not so, but then again it’s not like he can get fired right?
Lending no support to the argument that the Senate is chock full of determined, honourable, and hard-working public servants Mr. Brazeau responded to the revelations about his poor attendance by taking the low road. The reporter who did the leg work and found that Mr. Brazeau has the worst attendance in the Senate was Jennifer Ditchburn, a respected reporter with the Canadian Press. Mr. Brazeau could have issued a simple response to the story, something like; ‘I realize that I have an important job and will try to do better,’ however he did not. Using the social networking website Twitter, Mr. Brazeau took direct aim at Ms. Ditchburn and wrote; “While u smile Jen, others suffer. Change the D to a B in your last name and we’re even!”
It should be noted that Mr. Brazeau has since apologized to Ms. Ditchburn, but the whole thing raises the important question, again, of whether or not we actually need the unelected and unaccountable Senate, and whether or not people of Mr. Brazeau’s grace and stature should be handed $132,300 per year jobs for life on the public dime because the current Prime Minister likes them.
Throughout our long history New Democrats have always believed that our political institutions and representatives must be elected, efficient, and accountable to the people. As such, we’ve always felt that with a strong and representative House of Commons, the Senate should be abolished so that the $90 million per year it takes to run that chamber can be spent on healthcare, education, or economic development. Put simply, the time has come for democratic renewal in Canada and I thank Mr. Brazeau for once again reminding me of why that is so.
John Rafferty MP
Thunder Bay Rainy River