By Ben Perrin
Criminal record? No problem!
Poor attendance record? No sweat!
Qualifications: Must be good golfer, able to toe party line without questions.
Salary: Make your own and raise it whenever you like.
Apply to: 24 Sussex Drive in person for "Senate patronage appointment ’98."
Note: Elected, accountable and representative applicants need not apply.
It’s the dream job none of us had this summer, but you’d better act fast if you want a shot at this one. With last week’s resignation of Alberta Liberal Senator Jean Forest, there is speculation that the Prime Minister will act quickly to fill that embarrassing void with yet another of his political buddies.
This resignation could probably not have come at a worse time for the pm’s office, which is facing showdowns with opponents over the diving loonie and civil servants over the government’s decision to appeal the pay equity ruling.
What makes Senator Forest’s resignation such a dangerous situation for the all-nonsense Chretien has almost all to do with timing. In just two weeks, nominations close for Alberta’s landmark Senate election. Critics of this event have continually dismissed the election as a waste of time since Alberta will not have a Senate seat vacant until the year 2001. If this excuse ever flew before, it has certainly crash-landed today.
The election is here, the seat is open, and the time is ripe to shake up the impotent, old-boys’ club that is the Senate. It is absolutely unacceptable for Chretien to decide for us who should make laws affecting us.
I’m sick of having the pm appoint his hockey heroes like
left-winger Frank Mahovolich to the Senate, just to get an autograph. I’m tired of paying the salaries of convicted criminals like Michel Cogger on the Senate payrolls. I’m ashamed that we’ve had people like truant and now retired Senator Andrew Thompson making our government a laughing stock.
We are already going toward a "Banana Republic" dollar. We don’t need to keep a Banana Republic government full of the pm’s friends to back him up.
This is a serious issue touching on everything from wasted tax-dollars to how our federal system functions, to what laws govern our country.
For all the things thrown in Premier Ralph Klein’s direction, he did something significant for Alberta last week. He wrote to Chretien to demand that he respect the results of Alberta’s Senate election. Klein firmly stated that it would be clear provocation for Chretien to jump the queue on Albertans and make a crack appointment to fill our vacant seat.
Klein’s letter inspired two Calgarians and some Alberta Members of Parliament to technically take the pm to court. They are filing for an injunction against Chretien appointing anyone to Alberta’s vacant Senate seat without first being elected Oct. 19 by all Albertans. Federal court agreed to hear the case.
Fully 91 per cent of Albertans polled just a few months ago by Environics Research supported electing our next Senator. Only 7 per cent maintained that the current patronage system was acceptable. There is an overwhelming number of Albertans who want the chance to vote for their representatives. They come from all partisan aYliations and walks of life.
The Liberals are even feeling the heat from their younger party members and Nancy Macbeth’s Alberta Liberals. The most recent copy of Plenary, the bathroom reading newsletter for young Liberals, had a full-page column calling for an elected Senate. So I guess we shouldn’t feel so bad that Chretien is ignoring Alberta, he’s also ignoring the Young Liberals too.
Instead of advising their leader to cut out the patronage, some Liberal mp’s are joining mp’s Roger Gallaway and Lorne Nystrom on their quest to abolish the Senate. It’s no surprise that the New Democratic Party supports this wild manoeuver since they have a tough enough time electing their mps and, with all due respect, will likely never be in the position to form a government in their current form.
But why would a Liberal mp support abolishing the Senate? As contempt for the appointment process grows, Liberal candidates will need to distance themselves from the status quo Senate. Add that to the fact that they hold a majority in the House and would gladly like to consolidate their power in just one house of government. That’s why circulating a petition to abolish the Senate in a metro-Toronto Liberal riding is so appealing. The only cost involved is losing some Senate golf buddies at the pm’s annual tournament.
For Alberta, and indeed all the other provinces, electing our senators is a no lose situation. The gross majority of Canadians agree change is needed. Throwing the Senate out is not the answer, but throwing the appointed senators out to make an honest living could very well be. With all the arguments that can be made for an elected Senate, the most powerful comes down to an undeniable response: you pay for them to govern and represent you in your country’s highest government, so why should they not have to answer to you in an election?