Whither “The Other Place”?

When parliament eventually gets back to business after the prolonged winter recess, perhaps one of the most interesting issues up for debate will be that of Senate reform.

Over the past four years, many Liberals have vigorously defended this unelected body of appointed individuals and its function as originally constituted to provide a sobering influence and balancing check on the power of the governing party of the day. Of course, that was quite politically convenient for them to do so at the time. Now that control of the Senate has officially been ceded to the Conservatives however, and it’s stuffed with a preponderance of unworthy “hacks” and “cronies” of the PMO (according to some critical partisans), will Liberals maintain the same degree of enthusiasm they previously held for preserving the Red Chamber’s present form and function?

Update: Unfortunately, I missed CTV’s Question Time (as usual, because it runs here at unpredictable times on channel 103 or something), but apparently Ignatieff talked on that program about the issue of Senate reform:

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff laid out some broad Senate reform ideas Sunday, including term limits and a curb on the prime minister’s ability to stack the Upper House with his own picks.

“That kind of reform, I think, is actually doable,” Ignatieff told CTV’s Question Period.

More specifically, Ignatieff proposed a 12-year term limit on Senate positions and an arms-length committee tasked with vetting candidates.

“I’d even go as far as to limit the prime minister’s prerogative to appoint senators. That is, I’d pass (appointments) through a public service appointment commission, so we scrub it and get the best possible appointees.”

The suggestions proposed aren’t entirely unreasonable, but they’re problematic in their own ways for various reasons. Term limits, for example, are dubious for the same reasons as mandatory retirement rules that are now widely considered discriminatory. If Senators are required to step down after a dozen years of service, then why should not judges and other appointees also be forced to do so? As for the appointment commission idea, its own composition and qualification could prove to be debatable…

Furthermore, these proposals miss one of the most fundamentally dysfunctional aspects of the Upper House, which is the ludicrous regional imbalance that’s been entrenched in its structure from the outset.