Cons upset at Harper on lack of Senate Reform

Conservatives lament how little progress Harper has made on Senate reform since he came to power

OTTAWA — The sixth annual Manning Networking Conference wrapped up Saturday evening here with a rapturously received speech by Mark Steyn, who’s pretty much the perfect closer for a crowd of potentially frustrated right-wingers.

“Culture trumps politics,” Mr. Steyn argued. “Once every few years you can persuade the electorate to go out and vote for a conservative party. But if you want them to vote for conservative government you have to do the hard work of shifting the culture.”

“Because if the culture’s liberal, if the schools are liberal, if the churches are liberal, if the hip, fashionable business elite is liberal, if the guys who make the movies and the pop songs are liberal, then electing a conservative ministry isn’t going to make a lot of difference.”

He’s right about that, and it was the right message with which to release the assembled Tories from the fishbowl. The conference is basically designed for big-C Conservatives to set aside practical concerns, reconnect with their small-c conservatism, and then go out and preach it.

It also served as an upbeat end to a day that began with an address from Saskatchewan Party government house leader Jeremy Harrison, on a core conservative issue, that was so relentlessly downbeat as to be almost funny.

“I joined the Reform party as an 18-year-old in part because I believed in Senate reform. I believed that it could be done, that a Triple-E Senate would be the ideal. And in fact I still believe a Triple-E Senate would be the ideal,” he said.

“Some I know still believe it can be accomplished. But the conclusion I’ve come to, and that [Saskatchewan] Premier [Brad] Wall has come to, and our government has come to, is that it simply can’t.” (Indeed, a referendum of Saskatchewan Party members found 86% in favour of abolition, and the legislature unanimously passed a motion supporting it.)

The realism continued: “I’m under no illusions about how difficult [abolition] will be — perhaps this is a politically impossible option as well,” he said, sounding utterly glum. But if the Supreme Court rules it can happen with the agreement of seven provinces representing 50% of the population, and if British Columbia and Ontario are on board, then, said Mr. Harrison, “there’s at least hope.”

There’s at least hope. The Saskatchewan Party should print that on thundersticks.

It fell to Minister of State for Democratic Reform Pierre Poilievre to rally the troops, which he didn’t, really. “I can’t believe that we’re here,” he began. “Ten years has gone by, and nothing has changed in Canada’s Upper Chamber.”

But? But?

“Premier Wall’s push for abolition, I believe, may ultimately help us achieve reform, because it sounds the alarm [to pursue it vigorously],” he argued. “I believe in democratic bicameralism. But it must be elected. To make it so we propose the prime minister should appoint only those who have already won senatorial elections.”

In other words, Mr. Poilievre proposes to get busy doing exactly what the Conservatives have been proposing, to no avail, for seven-and-a-half years.

On Sept. 7, 2006, Stephen Harper became the first sitting prime minister in Canadian history to appear before a Senate committee — specifically the Special Senate Committee on Senate Reform. “This underlines my interest in Senate reform,” Mr. Harper assured the members.

“It has become a right of passage for aspiring leaders and prime ministers to promise Senate reform on their way to the top,” he said — but then “once elected, Senate reform quickly falls to the bottom of the government’s agenda, nothing ever gets done and the status quo goes on.” Mr. Harper insisted he would break the pattern. It is one of his signal failures that he has not.

To be fair, Senate reform as envisioned by Preston Manning’s Reform Party would be bloody hard work — perhaps impossible. But can Mr. Harper really tell the “conservative family” — as Mr. Manning refers to his conference attendees — that he tried his hardest?

This was never going to be something he could just do. It was going to require some serious jaw-jaw with the provinces. Mr. Harper barely even seemed willing to jaw-jaw with the opposition in Ottawa: As Liberal leader, Stéphane Dion was open to 12-year term limits for senators. The Conservatives wanted eight, but wouldn’t 10 or 12 look pretty good now? And could Mr. Harper really not have found a moment before last year to ask the Supreme Court whether even modest reforms require constitutional amendment, and if so how with much support?

It has been observed that the conservative family seems increasingly estranged from the Conservative Party of Canada. It’s not just policy questions, I think, but the simple question of ambition. Like Mark Steyn said, Mr. Manning and his fans don’t want a government called Conservative; they want conservative governance, and back in the day Senate reform was Job One. Once Mr. Harper knows what he needs to do to fix the Senate, he will have to decide how much political capital he’s willing to risk doing it — knowing he might very well fail, knowing what happened the last time a prime minister tried valiantly to tweak the constitution. I somehow suspect it’s not much. The Senate reform session at next year’s conservative family meeting could be a frosty affair indeed.

Chris Selley: Conservatives lament how little progress Harper has made on Senate reform since he came to power
#2  Top Rated Post
Nobody 'laments' anymore man.
Quote: Originally Posted by LocutusView Post

Nobody 'laments' anymore man.

Medievalists do.
No Party Affiliation
Quote: Originally Posted by LocutusView Post

Nobody 'laments' anymore man.

It was a good word though. I lament its passing.
captain morgan
Bloc Québécois
Quote: Originally Posted by ZipperfishView Post

It was a good word though. I lament its passing.

Kinda like lamenting your experience with chlamydia?
It's sounds a bit like having the 'vapours'.

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