Eyes roll in Alberta

Worth A Look, Municipal Government, Frontier Centre

When it was announced on Monday that the prime minister has appointed two of his Quebec friends to the Senate, someone in the East asked me if Albertans were outraged.

I guess we’re supposed to be permanently outraged over things like this.

Actually, we aren’t. Disgusted would be closer to the mark. Permanently disgusted.

Speaking for myself, I see nothing wrong with the new senators as individuals. The problem lies in who chose them.

One of them, Francis Fox, was a longtime Liberal MP and cabinet minister who left a lucrative private-sector job to run the Prime Minister’s Office for Paul Martin. The other is a Montreal lawyer with a track record in volunteer community work.

Both men might be well-suited to represent their province in the Senate. But we’ll never know, because the people of Quebec didn’t choose them, and have no way of getting rid of them.

For that, of course, is what senators are supposed to do — represent their province in Parliament. It states this explicitly in Sec. 22 of the 1867 Constitution Act. MPs represent constituencies, and senators represent provinces.

So why then does the prime minister of Canada choose members of Parliament for Quebec? And for Manitoba? And for Alberta? Are we all too stupid to pick our own?

The objectionable thing about the Canadian Senate is not (for the most part) who sits in it, but that the senators owe their loyalty and gratitude to the man and party that appointed them, not to their province.

No other federal democracy on the face of the Earth lets the boss of its executive branch staff its legislative branch. It’s constitutionally ludicrous. The reason we have a Parliament is to hold the chief executive and his cabinet accountable.

If Canadian senators were elected by provincial parties, and were thus independent of party leaders in the Commons, they would fulfil two very useful functions they don’t serve now.

They would monitor the honesty and competence of government — quite a challenge these days. Six years of unconfirmed rumours might not elapse before things like Adscam were ferreted out and exposed. (And Ottawa is becoming exceedingly corrupt under one-party rule. Since Chrétien took power, Canada has sunk from fourth-best in the world to 12th on the global corruption scale.)

Second, senators would speak for the cultural and economic interests of the provinces that elected them, not shill for the prime minister. We would not see, for example, an “Alberta” senator, Tommy Banks, heading the Liberals’ Alice-in-wonderland Kyoto initiative in the upper house — not, at any rate, if he cared to keep his job. But then, he probably wouldn’t have run for the job in the first place. He’s actually a jazz piano player. Quite a good one.

That this man could serve in so powerful a position for decades without once reporting to either the legislature or the electorate of the province which (in theory) he represents, is too preposterous for adult discussion.

This is why eyes rolled in Alberta when Martin declared, in his customary meaningless and overblown way, that he’d consider appointing elected senators, would end the democratic deficit, and will have failed if he doesn’t solve western alienation.

I strongly sense (for whatever that is worth) that we in Alberta are about to end this tiresome charade once and for all. There’s a growing realization that we live in a country that can’t defend itself, can’t govern itself and can’t explain its existence. Decade after decade it elects national governments that use Alberta money to bribe voters in Eastern Canada to take more money.

What will come next out of Alberta is not another futile plea to appoint our Senate candidates. We have asked nicely too often.

Rather, I predict that Canada will be sent a constitutional ultimatum to institute (among other things) a full Triple-E Senate. If it isn’t accepted within the requisite three years, I predict Albertans will vote on secession, using the referendum process laid out for Quebec in the federal Clarity Act.

I can’t prove this, obviously, and I may be wrong. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Link Byfield is one of four Alberta senators-elect and chair of the Citizens Centre for Freedom and Democracy in Edmonton. He was raised and educated in Manitoba.