In the past two weeks, “democratic reform” has been on everybody’s lips within the spectrum of federal politics, from Trudeau’s supposedly “bombshell” announcement that Liberal senators would now sit as “independents” in the upper chamber of Canadian parliament or the dreaded Fair Elections Act which was tabled this week by Pierre Poilievre, Minister of Democratic Reform.

Now all this talk about democratic reform would be fairly encouraging if it wasn’t just mere talking points concocted by an array of political spin-doctors. Both Justin Trudeau and Pierre Poilievre’s “blueprints” for democratic reform are the epitome of double-speak, a perfect representation of how the debate to reinvigorate democracy in Canada has been hijacked by buzz words and catch phrases.

The fact is that it seems, that within the Liberal and Conservative parties, there is a severe lack of courage and imagination. The question to be asked is how can the Liberal and Conservative parties truly understand the profound systemic change that Canadian democracy is itching for, when the system in place has benefited them time and time again?


The polarization of Canadian political life between a centre-right wing Conservative Party and a centrist –whatever that means- Liberal Party has been the configuration of the Canadian political spectrum since time immemorial.

The first truthful challenge of this system came with the rise of the Reform Party in the 1990s. The Reform Party challenged in many ways the homogeneity of Canadian political life; the ascendency of this unorthodox political formation of libertarians, social-conservatives and neo-liberals repositioned the point of equilibrium of Canadian politics towards the right.

This movement of transformation of Canadian political life wasn’t initiated by Stephen Harper. It was continued by him and since last election has found in his government its apogee.

But the Reform Party and later the Canadian Alliance had to conform to this Canadian binary vision of politics and thus, throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, Progressive Conservative Parties on provincial and federal levels were increasingly infiltrated by the “new right” until the final merger of the Progressive Conservatives and the Canadian Alliance in December of 2003.


During the period from the 1993 election and the final merger of right-wing forces in 2003 the Liberals reign was undisputed in Parliament. The Reform Party and its successor the Canadian Alliance had indeed profoundly changed the political discourse in Canada but unfortunately within the boundaries of a First-past-the-post voting system, the potency of your message doesn’t count when a majority can be achieved with merely 38% of the vote.

The right-wing forces compromised and this gave birth to the biggest political re-branding (or takeover, which ever you want to call it) in Canadian history, the birth of the contemporary Conservative Party. But the newly anointed Conservatives in many ways were caught at their own game.

Moral of the story: yes the point of equilibrium of Canadian politics had shifted with the “Reformist Revolution” of the 1990s but in joining forces with Progressive Conservatives, the ideological “unity” of their group was compromised. Their “radical ideas” such as abolishing the Senate were thrown to the dustbin of history; they adopted a new position, which was an elected senate.

Then this newly formed coalition started winning elections and now shortly after the mid-mark of their first majority mandate it looks like the Conservatives have adopted status-quo as their modus operandi when it comes Senate affairs. Status quo was saved.

Anti “Fair Elections Act” messaging from

This is the question that isn’t addressed by either of the so-called reforms introduced in Parliament in the past two weeks: the question of representation, the representation of divergent political ideologies, of every single Canadian voice. Trudeau’s idea of an “independent” but still non-elected senate is the brilliant idea that wasn’t.

It quite simply puts a fresh shade of paint on a collapsing structure, because independence is nothing when you’re accountable to no one but yourself. Who would an “independent” unaccountable Senate represent but themselves as they already do quite well.

When it comes to the Fair Elections Act, it’s anything but fair. The changes give accrued importance to money and disenfranchises scores of Canadians.

The system of first-past-the-post has a twisted way of self-preservation; it excludes the “unwanted” voices, banishes them to the sidelines thus upholding the status quo. This is how this morally bankrupt system and has survived since the days of Confederation.

The senate scandal is merely the most recent manifestation of a crisis of democracy in Canada, not the crisis itself. And the only solution to this crisis is to reopen the debate of defining a system that truly represents all Canadian voices, all political affiliations and all groups within the boarders of this Canadian federation.

The Canadian Senate

In Canada, there are two houses of parliament; the elected members of the House of Commons represent the lower house while the non-elected senators represent the upper house or the senate. While both houses are required to pass legislation and both have the ability to create legislation (although the senate can’t create bills that involve money), the House of Commons has always controlled the ins and outs of the Canadian Government.

The Senate has always been as Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first prime minister, once put it, “a place of sober second thought”. It has remained relatively powerless and has seen even less reform since the Constitution Act of 1867. Powerless that is, until Stephen Harper decided that Conservatives in the senate call a snap vote on The Climate Change Accountability Act, a climate change bill that would have required the Canadian government to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The bill was defeated without a debate.

The Canadian Senate usually doesn’t defeat bills, but has on occasion. In the entire decade of the nineteen nineties the Senate defeated bills four times, already in the last six months the Conservative led Senate has killed two. In Harper’s four years plus reign, he has appointed 34 Conservative Senators out of 105 seats, A bit odd considering he is one of the biggest supporters of senate reform.

If Harper had his way, we would be the United States of Canada

To his Credit, only 5% of Canadians believe the senate should stay the way it is. 44% think the senate should be elected and 28% (46% in Quebec) believe the senate should be abolished altogether. I don’t believe in either of these solutions and I’ll explain why later.

The problem I have with Harper’s Senate “vision” is that it completely Americanizes our upper chamber. Harper would like to see an elected senate with a maximum term limit of eight years. This would no doubt lead to the same partisan stalemates we see in Washington. Imagine a party that wins a majority in the House of Commons, but can’t get legislation through because the Senate is controlled by another party. Sound familiar? The Government would grind to a halt and Canadians wouldn’t stand for it.

I have no interest in seeing our country try and copy a system that doesn’t work, but like most progressives, I do believe in change and that includes limiting senate terms. Under the current rules, a senator is allowed to sit until he reaches the tender age of seventy five. There are still senators serving that were appointed by Prime Ministers Trudeau and Clark.

One thing I’ll never support is an elected senate. An election for senators would cost taxpayers too much money and the streets and airwaves would be filled with signs and advertising to promote men and women no one has ever heard of. It would also do little to fix the problem of representation by population. Do we elect 24 senators from Quebec and only 6 from British Columbia as the current representation allows? Do we add a hundred more seats to the senate?

After every national election there are always complaints from the lesser parties about the lack of proportional representation. For instance, the Green Party will receive 10% of the vote, but not have anyone elected to the House of Commons. You might also see that the NDP gets 15% to 20% of the vote, but get elected to only 5% to 10% of the seats. I think this is where the Senate should come in.

I think proportional representation based on federal election results would be perfect for the senate. The Green Party that gets 10% of the vote would have about 10 members in the senate, if the Conservatives get 35% of the vote they would get about 35 senators and so on. The senators would be chosen by the party leaders and would sit as long as parliament does thereby fixing the term limit problem.

The representation by population that should be essential to the senate would have to depend on what region (not Province) the parties get the majority of their votes so that you won’t wind up with a Green Party Senator representing Alberta… God forbid.

Representation by Population in the Senate. Is it 2010 or 1867?

I think this is a very viable solution, it may have a few holes that need to be plugged, but overall it’s better than what we have now. Mind you, we can always get rid of the senate altogether. After all, the House of Commons was created in order for the common people to make the decisions, hence the name. The senate was created for the elites; in fact to be a senator it is the law that you have to own a certain amount of land, about $4000 worth. The amount hasn’t changed in a hundred and forty years of course, but then again, neither has the senate.