Issues

January–February 2016

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Re: “We have the technology,” by Hugh Segal

Hugh Segal is remarkably well qualified to write on the future of the Senate, having served the Senate and the country with distinction. Never was this more true than when he stood against the rush to judgement of colleague senators and defended the right of everyone, including unpopular senators, to the rule of law and the presumption of innocence.

For many years I favoured abolition of the Senate and its replacement by constitutionally guaranteed meetings of first ministers. Two realities have persuaded me to accept that the Senate is here to stay and we should improve it within our constitution. First, abolition is simply unobtainable. Second, over the past decades a number of Senate committees have done important policy work. In particular, Senator Michael Kirby led a Senate committee that, among other achievements, brought the Mental Health Commission into being and the issue of stigma onto the policy agenda. Senator Sharon Carstairs led an insightful look at what we need to address on end-of-life care and support. It is less easy to find the same policy work in the committees of the House of Commons where partisanship has too long trumped statesmanship.

I believe that what Segal proposes is practical and I hope that it will be implemented. Among the proposals that should garner broad support is that the Senate follow the decision by the British House of Lords to relinquish its ability to defeat government legislation or measures in favour of a power of delay. Sober second thought is accomplished by delay, focusing public attention on the reasons. A continued ability to defeat measures passed by a democratically elected Commons is offensive and brings our Senate itself into disrepute.

Segal also suggests that the prime minister and cabinet base the appointment of a Senate speaker on a secret ballot by senators themselves. Allowing the Senate to select their own speaker would enhance the speaker’s legitimacy. Another recommendation already seemingly embraced by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is that prime ministers should refrain from overwhelmingly partisan appointments. A Senate appointment should be for service to country not to party.

Public confidence not only requires these changes but also the further Segal prescriptions. The Senate has fallen a long way and will need time and reforms to regain public confidence. Hugh Segal’s thoughtful words should be required reading for those wrestling with the challenges facing the government with regard to the Senate.

 

Michael Decter
Toronto, Ontario


Re: “Flotsam & Jetsam,” by Adriana Craciun

A note of clarification

In “Flotsam and Jetsam” by Adriana Craciun in the January-February 2016 issue, the statement “The RCGS’s involvement with Shell in 2014 included plans for Shell to develop educational materials on Erebus and the Arctic for free distribution to Canadian schools” should be expanded to read “The RCGS’s involvement with Shell in 2014 included Shell Canada donating money alongside The W. Garfield Weston Foundation, Jim Balsillie and One Ocean Expeditions, to enable Canadian Geographic Education to produce educational materials on Erebus and the Arctic.” Regarding “the parting of ways” between RCGS and Parks Canada referred to in the review, it should be noted that this parting occurred after RCGS completed all its commitments with respect to the 2014 Victoria Strait Expedition under its memorandum of understanding with Parks Canada and declined an invitation from Parks Canada to participate in “Mission Erebus and Terror 2015.”


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