Doug Rutherford

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Why No REAL Canadian Want to Abolish the Senate

May 2011
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Today, in a demonstration of possibly the most arrogant act in Canadian political history, Stephen Harper announced the appointment of three senators. These were Josee Verner, Larry Smith and Fabian Manning. What was so arrogant about this?

First, considering the Mr. Harper has gone on record on numerous occasions against the actual existence of the Senate, he has appointed more members to it than any prime minister in Canadian history. Secondly, the three members appointed were people rejected by voters less than three weeks ago in the election. Basically, these nice patronage appointments were cheerfully handed out to “Capital L” losers.

Lastly, two of these losers’ names should be very familiar. Fabian Manning was elected to the riding of Avalon in Newfoundland in 2006, taking the seat formerly held by John Efford who had retired. However, Manning was beaten by Liberal, Scott Andrews in October 2008 and was appointed shortly afterward to the Senate by Stephen Harper. He resigned his Senate seat to run in the same riding in the May 2nd election, but was soundly defeated by Scott Andrews again. In short, Manning is a two-time loser who left his senate seat to get his arse beaten, only to be reappointed before his cushion even cooled off.

Larry Smith should also be familiar. He was formerly a defensive halfback with the Montreal Alouettes and eventually was hired as club president. He was appointed to the Senate in December 2010. His tenure was quite short, as he resigned his seat in March to run in the May 2nd election, as well. He, also, was beaten in the election but was reappointed to his Senate chair today. Larry Smith, of course, was famous for his remarks after his appointment in December that his Senate salary of $132,300 base was a hardship and he would find it difficult to live on that amount. I guess he’s just going to have to go back to biting the bullet again.

All told, with the salary (a large percentage of which is untaxed), the many perks, the guaranteed job security to age 75 and the gold-plated pension plan, no real Canadian wants to abolish the Senate. Why would we, when most of us would love to be appointed to it…



  1. The senate COULD have an important, meaningful role to play – if only the partisanship didn’t get in the way. If only.

  2. Gabriel says:

    “…on record on numerous occasions against the actual existence of the Senate…”

    It takes the Senate to change the Senate.

    • Actually, it takes constitutional change to remove or seriously alter the composition or the function of the Senate. Sadly, Prime Minister Harper has stated he has no interest in reopening any constitutional talks with the provinces at the same time as saying he wants to change or remove the Senate entirely.
      Also, you have to consider the point that the Senate cannot block the passing of a bill. They only have the ability to amend it and there is a procedure whereby this is dealt with.

  3. Linda Leon says:

    Nice article, Doug. I’d love to see Senate reformed and not abolished. But I don’t think the reforms I have in mind would ever get passed by any politician. What if the Senators drawn by lottery from a group of community nominated individuals who are vetted for the respect they hold in their communities, a demonstrable understanding how our political system works, for not ever holding office higher than municipal and not having a criminal record? Sure we’d get a few flakes and sociopaths, but on the whole they would be individuals who would take seriously their responsibilities of holding Government to account. (Might wish to wave the criminal record bit if the individuals in case have shown themselves to be truly outstanding otherwise.)

    • Actually, if you look at the Canada Elections Act, you will notice that a criminal record is not an impediment to running as a Member of Parliament (it apparently isn’t to be a senior staffer in the PMO either) unless its a violation of the Canada Elections Act within the last five years. I believe, as a rule of thumb, that there really isn’t any set of guidelines on eligibility to the Senate except holding Canadian citizenship and being under the age of 75.

  4. Pete says:

    Don’t hate the player, hate the game.

  5. Krysta says:

    Do senators still have to be landowners?

    I actually support the Senate in its present state. I guess I am a traditionalist, but it is something like my attachment to the Monarchy, perhaps. And, though I am certainly not a capital “C” conservative and did not vote for Harper’s crew, I don’t even have a problem with Harper’s recent appointments. It is expected that a government of one stripe will appoint senators of the same.

    • Technically, yes. Under the Constitution Act (1867), a senator must own real property worth $4,000 in the province or territory in which he or she is appointed. For some reason, this has never been repealed and since the value has never been appreciated for inflation, it could be argued that ownership of property worth $4,000 shouldn’t be a hardship.

      However, Sr. Peggy Butts, who was a Roman Catholic nun who had taken a vow of poverty was appointed in 1997 and this clause did come up. The situation was settled when her order transferred a small parcel of land into her name.

      There has been a maximum age 0f 75 for Senators since 1965 (prior to constitution act amendments at that time, the Senate was a “for life” appointment), but there has always been a minimum age of 30 since the Constitution Act of 1867.

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