Roundup: Promised term-limits?

In yesterday’s Hill Times, the question of promised term-limits for Harper appointees in the Senate was discussed, with a variety of responses in return. Some confirmed that they had agreed to an eight-year limit and would try to hew to it, while others said that it was some great myth that they agreed to such a limit when they were appointed, and expressed bafflement as to where the media got such an idea. (Hint: A bunch of senators said that they agreed to it, including Senators Wallin and Duffy). And while some of those senators noted that things changed, and that it wasn’t a realistic promise to keep if it wasn’t applied evenly, I would also add that it would have been an unconstitutional promise (if indeed they had made it).

While there is some fairly clichéd grumbling about how terrible it is that some senators are appointed for thirty-some year terms, the concept of term limits in the Senate is generally a bad one for a number of reasons. First of all, most terms that have been bandied about are too short to be effective. The Senate is the institutional memory of Parliament, given that we have a fairly low rate of incumbency and a high rate of turnover in the House of Commons. Eight year terms are not only too low for much in the way of memory (twelve being better), the bigger problem with eight-year terms is that it would allow a prime minister with two majority mandates to completely turn over the composition of the Chamber, which is a Very Bad Thing when much of the raison d’être of the Senate is to be a check on a majority PM.

The other, bigger point, about having a Senate where they are appointed to age 75 and are difficult to remove is that the tenure allows for institutional independence. If you have term limits – especially shorter ones – it means that you stand a greater likelihood that senators start trying to curry favour with the government toward the end of their term so that they can get some kind of post-senatorial appointment, whether it’s a diplomatic posting or heading a tribunal. By ensuring that they stay until the mandatory retirement age, it means that they aren’t going to be trying to leverage their position for post-senatorial employment because they will beyond the age by which any federally appointed positions will have them. That’s an important consideration that often gets overlooked.

While this debate around whether these senators did or didn’t agree to such a term limit, there is no enforcement mechanism, and as stated earlier, it was an unconstitutional promise so it should be considered moot. As to the point as about senators with very long tenures, that remains something that the government that did the appointing can be held to account for (and indeed should be) if they consistently appoint young senators.

Good reads:

  • It looks like Julie Payette was involved in a fatal accident a couple of months before the assault charge (that was withdrawn).
  • Justin Trudeau isn’t offering any clarity as to the vetting process that Julie Payette went through before she was named as the new GG.
  • The outgoing GG, David Johnston, says that he talked human rights in China, as his visit coincided with the death of Nobel peace laureate Liu Xiaobo.
  • Johnston also talks about the importance of the monarchy and the fact that most people don’t understand it. Can I get an amen up in here?
  • The premiers have formed a marijuana legalization working group, and want more clarity from the federal government.
  • Here’s a deeper dive into the Americans’ proposals for NAFTA renegotiations.
  • Apparently, our warships are harbouring black mould. Yay!
  • The government has launched a new digital service to modernize its operations.
  • The government is still consulting on possibly selling airports.
  • The government has missed their deadline on making a decision about mail delivery, and are now saying they’ll decide toward the end of the year.
  • Changes in the budget implementation bill mean that some departments can negotiate to opt out of the gong show that is Shared Services Canada.
  • If you’re still concerned about the PM’s visit to the Aga Khan over Christmas holidays, new documents show the diplomatic complexities of the trip.
  • Paul Wells talks to François-Philippe Champagne about trade, but could barely get a word in edgewise.
  • Andrew Scheer is expected to unveil his critics today, and word has it that Lisa Raitt is the new deputy leader.
  • Andrew MacDougall takes on Cheryl Gallant’s bizarre video as an entry into the mindset of Conservatives feeling put out by the media.
  • Colby Cosh digs into new data about minimum income and what it might mean going forward.

Odds and ends:

Here is a deeper look at the Canadian citizenship laws that tripped up that Australian senator, and why it’s such an issue in Australia.

Here is a look at the sesquicentennial medal struck by the Senate to honour unsung heroes in this country.

Here is a preview of the renovated Science and Technology Museum.

2 thoughts on “Roundup: Promised term-limits?

  1. Excellent article on the rationale of long-term appointments to the Senate!

  2. I’ve been waving the flag to whomever will listen for the following model:
    1) Senators remain appointed…initially, for a first term of some duration that doesn’t make them pension-eligible, but provides enough time for them to demonstrate adding value..
    2) Upon completion of that first term, they may choose to continue or not. If they do wish to continue, they are subject to a provincial plebiscite (that could be rolled up into the closest provincial or federal election, to save on costs).
    3) For the plebiscite, the senator runs against their *record*, not against other candidates. If the public feels they have been doing a decent job, they are extended for another term (conceivably shorter, e.g., 3 years after an initial 5-year term), and may continue to run for reconfirmation and additional terms until the existing mandatory retirement age..

    I like this because it increases the visibility of work done by the Senate, and sidesteps the American-style senate elections, whilst still giving the electorate a voice in the matter. Matthew Mendelsohn had a terrific paper a few years ago, while at the Mowat Centre, on the difficulties that would be created by a purely elected Senate. As compelling as his arguments were, that doesn’t stop Canadians from feeling like they have no say in the matter. I think what I’m proposing provides that say, while avoiding the problems Mendelsohn noted.

    I have some other ideas about how initial nominations are to be done, but I’ll keep the note short and leave that for another day.

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