Among the many platform promises that helped the federal Conservatives win the 2011 election was having senators voted into office instead of being appointed, and having term limits.
The Conservative election platform complained that Liberals “blocked us at every turn” under the minority government. In earlier elections, Prime Minister Stephen Harper vowed senate reform, which was touted by Conservative candidates across Canada, including in Victoria.
Harper has seemingly reversed course, appointed dozens of new senators over the past six years and has been largely silent on reforming Canada’s un-elected Upper Chamber.
With Conservative senators now mired in accounting scandals, the Harper government could have parlayed this public relations disaster into renewed calls for making the senate accountable and democratic. Instead, it finds itself drawn into trying to explain a secret loan for improper expenses.
Instead of acting, the government opened the door for the federal NDP to capitalize on senate reform. Its “roll up the red carpet” campaign – a call to abolish the senate – does an effective job laying out the cost of the upper house at $92.5 million this year for a privileged group that works on average 71 days per year.
It’s a good political move by the NDP and an effort the Conservatives can’t credibly oppose.
With all the Conservative rhetoric about senate reform over the past years, it took until July for the federal government to apply to the Supreme Court of Canada to rule on if Parliament alone can change rules on term limits and appointments, or if the provinces must be in unanimous agreement.
The Harper Conservatives perhaps are finding a majority government has its pitfalls – they can’t blame others for blocking reforms (or increasing deficits for that matter).
Now is the time for government to show leadership. If the latest scandals don’t show the need for senate reform, we don’t know what does.