Canadian New Democratic Party (NDP) leader Thomas Mulcair, who is also the official opposition leader in the House of Commons launched on Monday, Aug. 26, 2013, his anti-Senate campaign "Roll Up the Red Carpet" tour. Mulcair began his speaking tour calling for an abolishment of the Senate on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, before his first cross-country stop in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The opposition leader is trying to convince Canadians that it necessary to obliterate the upper Parliament chamber. Mulcair's calls come at the height of the Senate expense scandal, where four senators have made false personal expense claims amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The Canadian Senate is the upper chamber in Parliament, unelected with over 100 members that are appointed by the Prime Minister for a lifetime term. The Senate has been embroiled in a scandal since the spring 2013 over senators claiming inflated expenses, which are paid by the government. Mulcair's tour came on the same day that embattled former Liberal Senator Mac Harb announced he is resigning and paid back the over $230,000 he owed the government for housing expenses.
The NDP has always been critical of the Senate for most of the party's existence, and has advocated its abolishment. Now their longtime policy has a moment and is a viable alternative to the scandal ridden chamber. The NDP's goals now is not just to reform the upper chamber like the Liberals and Conservatives wish to, but to actively call to obliterate it, believing it is unnecessary for governing and creating legislation. The NDP hopes to make abolishing the Senate a major policy selling point for the 2015 campaign.
Giving a speech on Parliament Hill, full of snappy sound bits, Mulcair called the Senate an "undemocratic relic," elaborating; "Today we're here to mark the beginning of the end of a discredited, outdated and undemocratic institution." Continuing he said the Senate would not be missed if abolished; "You know and I know that the Senate is a vestigial organ that can safely be removed with no harm to the body."
Mulcair explained the unelected officials should not be creating laws for Canadians saying; "Unelected party hacks have no place writing or rewriting the laws of this country. It's as simple as that." He also referred to them as "The unelected bagmen, defeated candidates, and party hacks that fill the senate have so little useful impact on the way this country is run, we won't even notice it's gone."
The opposition leader stated that his party is "determined to get this done and we will get this done." Declaring the NDP is the only party with the ability to get rid of the Senate, because for the Liberals and Conservatives, "It's hard to be a place of sober second thought when you are drunk with entitlement and power."
The NDP leader then proceeded to Halifax, Nova Scotia for the first stop of his tour. Nova Scotia successfully abolished their upper chamber in 1928, which was what Mulcair was trying to highlight. The province also has an NDP premier, Darrell Dexter who is embarking on his own reelection campaign, before the federal elections. Mulcair toured the "Red Chamber" the old upper-chamber in the Nova Scotia Legislature with Premier Dexter, both of whom gave remarks there.
Mulcair in his statement reiterated many of the points he made in the morning, saying; "In a democracy, you don't let unelected people make laws. No one's pining for the return of the senate here in Nova Scotia, no one will even remember in a few short years the Canadian senate." Continuing he said; "You'd be hard pressed to tell me that there are many cases where those people actually represented the province other than representing the will of the party that put them there."
The opposition leader made it clear that abolishing the Senate is a key NDP 2015 campaign promise, saying "We're going to tell Canadians exactly what we're going to do and once elected, we're going to do it." Mulcair concluded saying; "Even a broken clock is right twice a day. And it's not because once in a blue moon they don't do everything wrong that it means we keep the group of unelected people."
Premier Dexter agreed with the federal NDP leader, stating; "We abolished the senate here in 1928 and I've been through five or six general elections now and nobody's ever asked me to bring it back."
Despite Nova Scotia's past of abolishing their Senate, Atlantic Canada supports the federal Senate, as it gives them the most representation in Parliament; they have control of 30 of 105 Senate seats, which is 28 percent, in contrast they will only have 32 of 338 seats in the House of Commons after the next election, which is only nine percent.
The opposition leader is trying to drum up support for the party heading into the 2015 elections, at the moment the NDP is sitting in third place in the polls with the Liberals leading followed by the Conservatives and then the NDP. Mulcair has been vocal and critical all summer of Prime Minister's Stephen Harper's handling of the Senate expense scandal, and most recently over Harper's decision to prorogue Parliament, end the session and resume in the middle of October rather than the middle of September as was it scheduled to begin after the summer recess.
The Senate expense scandal erupted this past spring causing distress for the Harper government and dominated the Canadian political news headlines this past summer. Four senators are involved in the scandal for claiming housing and travel expenses that were inflated or may have not existed. Three senators were expelled from the Conservative caucus; Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin, and Patrick Brazeau for inappropriately claiming funds for personal expenses that did not exist. The forth senator Mac Harb involved in the scandal had also been expelled from the Liberal caucus.
Additionally, Harper's chief of staff, Nigel Wright gave a personal check for $90,172 in February to cover the money Senator Duffy inappropriately claimed; Wright resigned in May. There is speculation that if Wright is charged by the RCMP for his check covering Duffy's expenses, the Prime Minister might be called to testify. Two weeks ago on Aug. 13, former Conservative Senator Pamela Wallin's audit was released; her travel expenses topped over $139,000 and the troubling results were forwarded to the RCMP for investigation. Now all four members that were under scrutiny are being investigated by the RCMP. Audits will now be conducted for the rest of the Senate members.
The Conservative government believes a better solution for the upper chamber would be Senate reform legislation. Abolishing the Senate would require a change to the Constitution and would be far too complicated. Seven of the provinces would be required to vote to get rid of the Senate, and the vote must equal to 50 percent of the country's population to make the Constitutional change.
The Harper government intends to ask the Supreme Court to determine if the government has the power to reform the upper chamber this fall. However, last week on Aug, 19, Prime Minster Harper announced he is proroguing Paliament, which will essentially kill the Senate reform legislation in the House of Commons; the new bill would have created nine-year term limits and introduced senatorial elections.
The Canadian government will probably not completely abolish the Senate, but calls that highlights the problems with the upper chamber will ensure that there will be reforms made that will make the Senators more accountable for their actions. A hundred years ago the United States reformed their own Senate, making it a directly elected body from an appointed one; it's time for Canada to do the same.
List of abolished Provincial upper chambers, and years:
Ontario, prior to Confederation in 1867
New Brunswick, 1892
Prince Edward Island, 1893
Nova Scotia, 1928
Newfoundland, prior to becoming a province in 1949
- A continuing timeline of Senate woes, Postmedia News, Aug, 13, 2013
Bonnie K. Goodman is the Editor of the Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes History Musings: History, News & Politics. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. Her specializations are US, Canadian & Israeli politics.