Senate and electoral reform ideas

Stephen LaFrenie

Utilizing the fact that we have two federal houses we could incorporate two aspects of proportional representation one using MMP (mixed member) and the other STV (single transferable vote)

The lower house of 308 members can maintain the concept of FPP with the requirement of the candidate achieving 50 + 1. Each voter allowed to decide on a second choice candidate should their first choice not make it in the same sense as a party leadership contest. If a political party requires a leader to achieve 50 + 1 then why should the Canadian voter not have the same opportunity when deciding their MP. In the Senate model below, second place or even third place candidates in the lower house elections would be eligible for senate seats by being included on party lists and appointed to the senate by the party. In this manner a closely divided riding could achieve almost complete representation in the government.

The Senate consists of 105 seats. Rather than having a separate election for them, we could use an MMP model based on the popular vote in the general election. Senators would then be selected from Party lists. The parties themselves can decide on issues of gender balance and visual minority representation. This would include adding candidates that lost in lower house elections but had strong support in the popular vote. Based on the popular vote in the 2006 election the Senate would, I think, look roughly like this.

CON – 38 LIB – 31 BLOQ – 11 NDP – 18. Greens –4. The spare seats would go to either independents (somehow) or be divided among the parties.

2006 Federal election results. Party Seats Pop. Vote/ CON 124 /36.3 LIB 103/ 30.2 BLOQ 51 /10.5 NDP 29 /17.5 GREEN 0/4.5

One party would not be able to control the Senate, forcing more cooperation in order to pass final approval on legislation. I believe the Senate should be a place of sober second thought and have as much independence as possible (including more free voting) to reject legislation when needed. I think that a term of 8-10 years is acceptable so that the Senate can remain stable as the proportional representative body. So I would propose that the Senate change seats based on the popular vote of every second general election. Moving to either fixed term elections and removing the right of the Prime Minister to call snap elections would help stabilize the process. The parties themselves would decide who loses the seat should the popular vote reduce the number of seats held by a party.

I would further add 15 seats dedicated to First Nations, one seat for each province and territory with two extra seats to represent the larger populations wherever they exist in greater number. First Nations would determine who would represent them in the Senate. I also advocate this because I think it is inevitable that First Nations will eventually win rightful recognition and reform models presented should reflect this in some manner. So whether First Nations achieve Territorial/Provincial status or Sovereignty they will be represented separately in the Canadian Government.

I agree that the Senate should be based on a PR system and elected. I disagree on the need to have separate elections for them. This eliminates the expensive need for two elections. The Canadian voter can decide the make up of both houses at the same time.

The Provincial role is a concern and can be answered by requiring the parties to select on a provincially proportionate basis. The party must reflect provincial balance in their selections along with a requirement that the chosen representative have established residence in the province they represent. If the role of the province is to choose or decide senate seats based on the opinions of the provincial government then I don't think I can agree. Most provinces like Alberta promised to have elections to determine Senators so they do not necessarily want direct input. My reasoning for the alternate election dates was more for stability so that senators were not immediately concerned with losing their seats every four years. Legislation and committee work could still continue on important matters even though an election was in process that would bring changes in the make up of the lower house. The government may lose some seats but retain power and ministers would change but the senate would not immediately change. Work on bills already in the senate could continue. Canadians have not necessarily made radical changes election to election but every ten years or so the Canadian people have wanted to make major changes. So stability is more my motivation rather than anything else.

I don't think that the Senate should be a rubber stamp of approval for the sitting government in the lower house. I think cooperation is needed and should be pursued. The possibility that stalemates may occur but I think free voting and a sense of independence by Senators may actually break more stalemates than the invocation of party discipline would. More independence in the Senate would allow NDP senators from the same province as conservatives, liberals or greens etc. to cooperate with each other in the interest of the region where an individual bill may have more adverse effects than in other regions. Their concern can address the regional impact of legislation rather than simply aping the ideological party line of the lower house.

This blog reflects my personal opinion.
It is not official Green Party Policy.