Monday, June 8, 2015

Senate Solution or Solution for Senate

This comment is offered in the spirit of improvement of an awful system called democracy, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, democracy is an awful system - it is just better than all the rest. Democracy, perceived to be the most accountable form of government, has embedded in it a paradoxical obstruction to accountability.  Democracy is confrontational and competitive, in this reality lives a circumstance that prevents accountability from occurring; clean, clear, consistent, long term and thorough analysis of policy is nearly non-existent in modern government, non-existent because the reporting of this type of analysis can cost leadership its job. There is as much, perhaps more, effort spent on obfuscation than on clear communication related to predicted outcome and actual outcome. This reality is an inherent flaw in our system, this phenomena’s presence is as old as humanity itself, the good news is we can minimize it.

In business we have a “dash board” to guide use, firstly, there is always the bottom line as a gross measure of performance – there is just no hiding from that. Secondly, in business we have key metrics and accompanying indicators that we use to measure performance. We also benchmark our performance relative to the norm or our peers, indicators like market share, gross margin, internal rate of return, return on assets – a nearly endless list ratios and measures are used to ensure our decision making is taking us on the right path. The quality of a decision can only be assessed if it is measured, if you can’t measure you can’t manage it. We need a dashboard for the Canadian public, so they have an objective measure of governance; presently we have no clear dashboard or clear communication of governmental performance.  

Every piece of legislation passed into law should be accompanied with a clear statement of intended outcome, a clear set of metrics it is to function by and a clear set of indicators for the public to watch. The challenge is that governance of a country like Canada is very complex, by way of example, the effects of marginal tax changes are very subtle – any two economists, even in an objective circumstance, may make a different assessment of the effect of a marginal change in a given tax. Due to this complexity, the average Canadian, busied by family, work and hopefully a little play; is absent the capacity to assess the full breadth of the governments’ activities. Given this reality, the task needs to delegated to an entity within government that is above the fray and apart from politics.  Another paradox exists here, in order to have an unfettered flow of information to Canadians that is accurate; the entity we charge with the task of delivering this information must be isolated from the political process and the ire of the public that often finds expression in political process.  The Bank of Canada is an entity that is at arm’s length from the political process, has a clear mandate, is personned by appointment – that offers benefit to the Canadian public is very clear.  We need objective assessment of government actions, we are absent objective assessment now, and most of the time, we are absent the knowledge of whether government has done what is says it has done.

We have an appointed body now, the senate, it is espoused by government to be the “house of sober second thought”. The challenge we face is that we have loaded it will partisanship and regional concern. Within the present constitutional configuration and just by changing appointment process from the PM to a peer driven process, narrowing the mandate by agreement of parties and overtly effecting a dominate NATIONAL imperative in the mission and culture of the senate, we can transition the senate form a rubber stamp, to the monitor of government action. This would give a meaningful role for the senate to play, one that is presently painfully wanting in government.  

The House of Commons can take care of regional concerns. The senate, through peer selection can select people that “fill the regional requirement” and that hold Canada as first concern. A person from PEI can effectively address and hold concern for British Columbian interests, particularly when the mission is narrowed to the assessment of policy relative to what it was promised to do.
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