Another Alberta election is history and we have a new crop of senators-in-waiting. Betty Unger, Bert Brown, Cliff Breitkreuz and Link Byfield were duly nominated and received a total of 1,090,246 votes from Albertans. That’s four times more votes than all 28 Alberta Liberal candidates received in the June federal election. All that remains now is for the Prime Minister to make good on his avowed desire for Senate reform by appointing these democratically elected people to the house of sober second thought.
The trouble is that The Right Honourable Democratic Deficit is having second thoughts of his own. He and his right hand person, The Honourable Anne McLellan, solemnly state that they are in favour of Senate reform. The latter went so far as to say that “it’s unsustainable to have an unelected upper house of whatever kind.” (Edmonton Journal, April 6, 2004). As is the habit with this Prime Minister and his Deputy, words speak louder than actions. Their position is that reform must be total and carried out in one fell swoop nationwide. They both know full well that this will never happen, so they carry on blithely and fraudulently claiming to support Senate reform while doing nothing to promote it.
There is something fundamentally wrong with a body having the power to legislate without having the checks on its power resting with the electorate. In this and in so many other practical ways, such as the unfettered power of the Prime Minister’s Office, Canada is not the democracy than we think it to be.
At the risk of being labeled pro-American, I think that we can look south for an example of how Senate reform can be carried out in a progressive manner. For well over one hundred years the United States Senate was made up of state appointees. Around the turn of the Twentieth Century, the people of the State of Oregon decided that this was not democratic and elected two Senators, much as Alberta has been doing. Like ours, they became Senators-in-waiting because Washington refused to recognize their legitimacy. They persevered and eventually were accepted several years later. Other states followed suit and, one-by-one, started sending elected senators to Washington. Today, the United States has a Triple-E Senate – Elected, Equal, and Effective. We still have a Triple-A Senate – Appointed, Asymmetric, and Anachronistic.
Are Albertans (and other Canadians) so uneducated and irresponsible that we can’t be trusted to make our own choices? Obviously not. Is the federal government so weak that they feel threatened by the exercise of democracy? Obviously so. It’s just one more way that the “natural governing party” keeps Canadians and their regions beholden to the Liberal version of Big Brother. Alberta and Canada deserve better.