Michael Bliss, Professor at U of T, argues in the Globe today that the Senate must be abolished, and lays out why it can’t be reformed.
I’ll put aside that part of the argument for now; what I’m interested in is how he feels abolishing the Senate would be any easier then reforming it as an elected body. He argues that it should be put to a vote in a national referendum, and if the consenus is to abolish – dare the provinces who oppose abolishing it to stand against a referendum vote. He doesn’t think they will, they’d be shamed into supporting abolition or be afraid of the electoral consequences if they defied it.
That seems rather presumptuous to assume on his part that provinces are just automatically going to bend to a non-binding referendum vote, regardless of its outcome. What if Maritimers in their region vote no to abolishing the Senate? Would Maritime Premiers automatically tell them the rest of Canada voted yes, so we have to ignore your vote? That would be electoral suicide for them potentially… not so cut and dried as Professor Bliss assumes, I submit.
I’m also leery of putting issues like this to referenda – an old Reform Party populist plank. I can think of a lot of important progressive reforms (end of slavery, etc) that would have been a lot longer in coming to our society if we had put them to referenda at the time they were first being discussed, rather then just through legislation as they were.
Still, I could theoretically support a referendum – as long it has a “reform” option to vote on it, not just a straight “yes or no – keep it or get rid of it”. A couple of current polls show a plurality of Canadians prefer reform to abolition – reform meaning “elected” – so I think just putting a yes – keep it, no – get rid of it question out there does a disservice to those of us who want elected reform to the Senate.
Speaking of Michael Bliss’s presumptions on bending to the will of the people, if a “reform” option is included on a theoretical referendum ballot, and a plurality or majority of voters pick that as the preferred option, under Bliss’s theory, the NDP, Liberals, Conservatives and provinces should also bow to the will of the people. Will that happen? I’ve my doubts, but if my friends on the NDP would like to jump in and comment and affirm that yes, in their case, they’d automatically drop their abolition plank and bow to the elected reform will of the people if that scenario were to occur, feel free. (I specifically mentioned them because its mostly NDP supporters who are linking on Facebook or retweeting this article approvingly this morning, but if any of my provincial friends in Ontario at Queens Park would like to comment on their willingness to follow a referendum result on this, by all means, go nuts)