SENATE TRACKER: Emergence of the Odd Senators Party

 

However, in November 2017 these so-called Independents ironically ceased to be “independent” when many formed themselves into a united body, which could best be called the "Odd Senators" Party. (When guilds and craft unions were formed years ago, a variety of skilled tradesmen were too few in number to constitute their own union so banded together as the "Odd Fellows" lodge to provide mutual support for themselves and life insurance for their families.)

The Odd Senators Party then negotiated what upper house spokespersons in Ottawa claim is a “ground-breaking agreement” that gives more money and resources to the group’s senators -- because they are a unified association, like the Liberal senators, the Conservative senators, or members of The Odd Fellows Lodge. It is only this party-like status which has triggered a boost in money and staff, ostensibly to help with their work. Yet senators, being unelected, have no constituents to help the way MPs do. And research on public issues is already admirably conducted by the Research Branch of the Parliamentary Library, a resource available to senators. The senate remains a public institution run like a private club for the benefit of its members.

Since shortly after Confederation, ideas for reforming a body that John N. Turner once called "a functionless oddity" have abounded. None has been implemented. The only change has been fixing a retirement age of 75.

This colonial hold-over is currently being dubbed by self-interested folk as "the New Senate" of Canada. But cosmetics cannot disguise reality. The institutional tendency in all parliaments to organize members as "parties" or "groups" is asserting itself in the upper chamber at Ottawa.

Around the time of Confederation, the political parties were loose amalgamations with a number of MPs being “loose fish,” as Prime Minister John A. Macdonald called them. They’d swim in whatever direction they wanted, whenever they wanted. By 2017, the senate increasingly resembles that stage of evolution.

Or, viewed from another angle, the senate's members resemble city councillors –  in the way municipal representatives are independent and one never knows, from issue to issue, how they will vote. That slightly anarchic state is why at least some larger cities like Montreal have political teams or parties that stand for office on a program and, if they win a majority of council seats, proceed to implement the policies which voters considered and then voted for.

Yet both those comparisons (the House of Commons in the 1800s, and municipal councils today) miss the mark for the most important point. MPs and municipal counsillors are elected by the people. Senators are not. They remain – all of them – unaccountable. Cosmetics aside, that is the undiluted reality of our enduring national political scandal: an undemocratic institution making our laws.