Monday, June 8, 2015

Senate Reform Needed

Recent events in the Senate have provoked me to comment. The thing I find most disconcerting about the events of late, is that in the media blitz of “scandal” has yet to produce a clear statement of culpability, who did exactly what. What is really happening is that we have taken what should be a honourable institution and through oppositional pettiness, reduced it to ruble in the eyes of the citizenry, most disturbing isn’t that I’m peeved, our young people are watching – PG 13 please. 

There seems to be a mountain of legal interpretation that has gone uncommented on. Apparently there is a fairly broad degree of “abuse” with respect to senator defining what home means. Clearly, when someone harkens from a given region and then their career takes them far and wide, they can effectively attend to the interests of their home region; regardless of whether they are “immediately resided” there or not. There is the spirit of the law and the letter of the law, we need to exercise caution as to whether “rules” preclude action or contravene the spirit of the law. Living expenses are granted so that the realities of dual housing that fall out of senate duties are covered, the durations of inhabitance of a “home” residence really has no significance; what has significance is whether honourable people have honoured the spirit of the law and their overall mandate. Rules are for people who are unable to understand their responsibility in the context of society at large, if you need rules and guidelines to run your day, you belong in an elementary school as opposed to a senate.

There is a concept in the world of assessing human actions known as “fundamental attribution error” whereby, too much weight is given to character in human action rather than environment. The environment we create for people does affect their behavior, remuneration patterns, whether we are in a confrontational setting or not and a multitude of other factors, come to play on how people conduct themselves. We have been hard on people in our assessment of recent events in the senate; perhaps we should be examining their environment to see if they are being “bumped” “out of bounds” do to poor organizational structure. There has been plenty of criticism of the senate, very little however, has been constructive.

The role of senate as the “house of sober second thought” is clearly challenged when the senate effectively functions as a rubber stamp, when the inhabitants are partisans – often the most partisan of the partisans or when it is viewed as a patronage plum – offered as a reward rather than as activation of a functionary. The functionality of the senate, as is our whole political system at times, is marred by confrontation, often dragging it into the mire of discrediting political pettiness. It is very difficult to avoid tit for tat confrontations when partisanship is at play. If we want a house of sober second though, where policy is given honest assessment at its introduction and post implementation, then we need to find a means to de-politicize the senate, to have one actuary in governance that is unscathed by concerns of their own election or another’s.  The single biggest element missing in governance is accountability, a crisp dash board on government policy and action being watched diligently on behalf of the Canadian public, yet far enough from reach that unfettered assessment and frank dialog are possible, the senate could be such a chamber.  We need only to restructure the selection criteria and processes, effect some cultural imperatives and systematize & regularize the peer review processes. As for remuneration, just give the senators a flat rate, and now they are serving a real function rationalized to the interests of the Canadian public – make it a flat rate of a million per year. Senators have honourable in front of their name, when peer review processes determines a senator is less than honourable, there should be no quarter given – they should just be gone.
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