Senate ignores 'public disgust' at its own peril: Preston Manning
Published Tuesday, June 18, 2013 7:30PM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, June 18, 2013 8:11PM EDT
Preston Manning has some tough words for senators: reform the Senate or prepare to see it abolished.
In a fiery open letter posted to his website, the founder of the Reform Party and former leader of the Canadian Alliance ripped into the upper chamber over its inability to adapt in the face of what he calls “public disgust.”
Four senators are embroiled in a raging scandal over allegations that they inappropriately claimed living and travel expenses.
Taxpayers currently contribute more than $100 million to the Senate each year but Manning writes that senators “continue to grievously abuse these provisions.”
“If the Senate cannot properly govern itself, why should the public believe it should have a role in governing them?” Manning writes in his letter.
Speaking to CTV’s Power Play on Tuesday, Manning said the Senate needs to reform now or its days will surely be numbered.
“Frankly, I think if that’s not done, if Canadians don’t see a strong group within the Senate actively promoting its reform, there’s going to be this demand for abolition and very few people to stand in its way,” he said.
The topic is nothing new for Manning, who has been an outspoken advocate for Senate reform for the last quarter century. But even long-time advocates are starting to harshen their tone, he said.
They’re now saying “Senate reform if possible, but if not possible, abolition,” Manning said.
The problem is “conscientious” senators are being discredited by the actions of a few “delinquent” senators, he added.
“I think the Senate’s got to disassociate itself from those folks,” he said, suggesting that embattled senators should resign or face expulsion.
“If they’re proven innocent later, reinstate them.”
The Senate was first introduced to keep the House of Commons in check with “sober second thought” on bills and national issues. This hope has been “suffocated by the stench of party patronage that clings to so many Senate appointees,” Manning writes in his letter.
The greatest weakness of the Senate, according to Manning, is that senators are unelected and unaccountable to electors.
The Senate, therefore, needs to become a democratically elected body, he said.
“You can’t judge the effectiveness of the Senate … until the place is democratically accountable,” Manning told CTV’s Power Play. “Then make a judgement as to whether the institution adds something or not.”
In Alberta, more than three million votes have been cast in province-wide elections to select senators in 1989, 1998, 2004 and 2012.
The results, however, have largely been ignored, said Manning.
“There’s been no recognition of that demand for democratizing the place,” Manning said.
And even senators have been surprisingly quiet on the issue of Senate reform, he said.
“Where’s the proactive, reform-oriented coalition in that Senate itself? It’s time for them to step forward,” he told CTV’s Power Play.
Manning refused to cast any blame on Stephen Harper, who appointed many of the senators currently caught up in controversy: Pamela Wallin, Mike Duffy and Patrick Brazeau.
“I think he’s frustrated,” said Manning.
He believes Harper appointed the senators to quietly carry out Senate reform.
“The fact that that’s not occurred, I’m sure, is a source of frustration for him,” he said.