Elected Senator Doug Black’s 7-point plan for Senate reform

It is interesting, that according to comments made by elected Senator Doug Black (at the Reform Foundation Symposium in Calgary last week), it might actually be possible to reform the Senate. (H/T MP Pierre Poilievre’s website and fh at Blue Like You.)

In fact, Black seems so sure Senate reform is possible, he outlined a 7-point plan to make it happen. Which is good news worth repeating given the media and opposition meltdown regarding the allegations and noise coming out of that venerable Chamber in recent months.

  1. Improve Accountability by Tightening Residency Requirements: What does primary residency actually mean? While you can’t live in two places at once (unless you are fortunate enough to be an Ontario Senator), should Senators be physically present in the province they represent most of the time they are not sitting in Ottawa? As Black says, “You can’t represent your region if you don’t know it and you can’t know it if you don’t live there.” Without a doubt, if this issue had been clearer, neither Mike Duffy or Patrick Brazeau would have had to be suspended yesterday.

  2. Include external members on Audit Sub-Committee: As is done at the UK’s House of Lords, qualified Canadians who are not Senators or elected MPs should be added to the Senate Audit Committee to ensure that the rules make sense. The reason that seems like a good idea is that Senators may not want to question a colleague but an outsider, on behalf of taxpayers, would have no qualms in doing so.

  3. No Senator convicted of a crime contributes to or receives a Pension: It seems self-evident that no Senator should be able to benefit from a public pension if convicted of a crime. Yet, it appears that is not the case at the moment with former Liberal Senator Raymond Lavigne. Recently, former Liberal appointee Mac Harb, while still under an RCMP investigation, resigned so that he could receive his pension, no matter what the outcome of the investigation. That is not right.

  4. Full transparency in defining general Senate business expenses:  As Black says, the expense rules can’t be so restrictive that Senators cannot travel throughout Canada meeting Canadians. But, I believe such restrictions would have helped Pamela Wallin, who was also suspended yesterday. From what she said on her own behalf when she was interviewed by the CBC’s Peter Mansbridge, she had the impression that she was a Senator 24/7, therefore, could claim most expenses. If that is not the case, defining what are legitimate general expenses is important.

  5. Full transparency in defining Travel and Hospitality expenses: This point relates to # 4. Again, using Wallin as an example, I heard her explain in her CBC interview, that flying home to Saskatchewan might be via Halifax where she had been invited to speak. So, she’d fly from Ottawa to Halifax, stay over, then from fly from Halifax to Toronto and then onto to Regina. In a round about situation like that, the Senate needs to be clear on what part of a trip like that is she a Senator and what part is she not.

  6. Provide full accessibility in the Chamber with live video: Black’s point of view about accessibility has merit. The House of Commons is televised, why not the Senate? At the very least, why not webcasting? As it is, only those who live in Ottawa have access to watching Senate proceedings. Allowing all Canadians to look in would be helpful in terms of seeing the work they do as important.

  7. Initiate a 2-way dialogue with Canadians: Black is not clear about what he means by 2-way dialogue. But, it is feasible that Senators could go out into schools and community charitable or non-profit organizations to give talks on what they do, such as the Rotary Club. The Senate could also hold open consultations on certain legislation pending passage.

Speaking of a 2-way dialogue, what I would like to know is why these seven points, which reflect good old common sense,  are not Senate procedure now? In my opinion, while most Conservatives agreed that the three Senators should be punished, I am not one of them. While I certainly don’t condone what the suspended Senators allegedly did, and last week might have agreed with suspensions out of anger in a comment or Tweet, if, as we know now, the rules were as unclear as Black seems to suggest, they were treated unfairly — scapegoated as it were. Leaving me to wonder — who’s next?

Anyway, to comment on this 7-point plan readers can leave a comment here or contact Senator Black directly at doug.black@sen.parl.gc.ca.  And, for those who are interested, here are the Senator’s remarks in PDF format.

7 thoughts on “Elected Senator Doug Black’s 7-point plan for Senate reform

  1. I agree with your comments and think two more items are key:
    1. Senators must be regularly elected directly by the voters, Elected then appointed from a group elected is not directly accountable.

    2. Reform of the senate should not be limited by the need for Consitutional reform or Provincial approval.

    The lack of an independent elected Senate means there is no checks and balances on the power of the PM or PMO. I see a need for controls on abuse of power.

    Thank you for doing this.
    David Blain CA

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  2. The last thing this country needs is more government, more politicians, more bureaucrats. I agree with the NDP (never thought I’d say that). Get rid of the damn Senate, it’s a useless, expensive anachronism.

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  3. Good suggestions David. The problem Lorne, with abolishing the Senate is that the HOC would then have no checks and balances whatsoever. The problem now seems to be that party discipline flows into the Senate.

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  4. Bill S-4: An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867
    (Senate tenure)*

    Prepared by:
    Sebastian Spano
    Law and Government Division
    17 November 2006
    Revised 5 October 2007

    PDF (129.72 Kb, 18 pages)

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  5. Pingback: Sandy: Elected Senator Doug Black’s 7-point plan for Senate reform | Jack's Newswatch

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