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All Canadians should elect Members of Parliament Print E-mail
Written by Link Byfield   
Monday, 21 March 2005

Exactly one year ago Martin promised to end "the politics of cronyism" and fix the "democratic deficit."

He should start with the Senate.

It's ridiculous that 138 years after Canada became a federal democracy, the Prime Minister still appoints one-quarter of the members of Parliament. For that, of course, is what senators are.

Word is out that he will soon fill 16 Senate vacancies across the country. That is, he will name 16 new members of Parliament.

The whole point of democracy is that people choose their own representatives, and give them control of government policy.

Whenever I think of Alberta senators, I think of Tommy Banks.

Nice guy--sincere, hard-working and a much-honored jazz piano player. Now pushing seventy, Chretien "summoned" Banks to Parliament five years ago.

Tommy plunged right in, joining a dozen committees and learning the issues. He was soon named chair of the Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources.

Last year, Banks came out pumping hard for the Kyoto Accord, urging Canadians to take the "one-tonne challenge," whatever that is, and explaining to Albertans why they should support a federal clamp-down on oil production.

This from an "Alberta senator" who went to Ottawa only a few years earlier calling the National Energy Program an attack on his province?

Now here he was spear-heading a new attack.

I'm not questioning the man's motives. I'm sure he's honestly persuaded that this (steadily-collapsing) global warming theory is true, and Albertans are causing the problem, and Kyoto might solve it.

But the point is, he is not representing Albertans to Ottawa.

That's why most Alberta senators don't maintain offices in Alberta the way elected MPs do, only in Ottawa. Why meet with the locals?

Martin has an easy way out of this dilemma.

Albertans cast over two million votes this fall for candidates to fill the province's three Senate vacancies. (I myself placed fourth, and serve as an alternate nominee.)

Martin could appoint the first three: Bert Brown, Betty Unger and Cliff Breitkreuz. But his office has said all along he won't. Despite all his fine talk about "ending cronyism" and curing the "democratic deficit," he'll make excuses.

He'll say that naming elected senators requires a constitutional amendment. It doesn't.

He'll say that elected senators don't fit the parliamentary system. Tell that to Australians, who elect their upper house of Parliament.

He'll talk vaguely about "better approaches"--maybe selecting senators from the Order of Canada, or subjecting nominees to review by a parliamentary committee.

None of which satisfies the most elementary principle of democracy: that voters choose their own members of Parliament.

Albertans were right to give Martin a positive alternative by electing four standing nominees.

They aren't surprised he isn't willing to give up power. Politicians rarely are.

If, however, more provinces now do the same as Alberta, and start electing nominees of their own, the pressure to end this ridiculous anachronism will become irresistible.

To this end, our senator-elect caucus has opened discussions with Atlantic provincial governments, and we appear to be making progress.

In the meantime, prepare to welcome your 16 new members of Parliament, whose names you probably won't know (and will probably dislike if you do), whose offices you can't visit, and whose ideas you will probably disagree with.

- Link Byfield

Link Byfield is chairman of the Edmonton-based Citizens Centre for Freedom and Democracy, and an Alberta senator-elect.
"Just Between Us" is a feature service of the Citizens Centre for Freedom and Democracy. The purpose of the Citizens Centre is to enhance freedom and democracy by enabling ordinary citizens to become active and effective on important issues outside the normal processes of party politics.

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