Time to rep­re­sent our re­gion

The Compass - - OPINION - — This ed­i­to­rial first ap­peared in the Halifax Chron­i­cle Her­ald.

On Thurs­day, Feb. 6, Halifax’s Chron­i­cle Her­ald ran the fol­low­ing ed­i­to­rial on the front page of its print edi­tion. It is a call for At­lantic Cana­dian se­na­tors to act to­gether as a group to rep­re­sent the in­ter­ests of their re­gion, as the founders of the Se­nate in­tended.

Nova Sco­tia and New Brunswick each have 10 se­na­tors, while P.E.I. has four. When it joined Canada, New­found­land and Labrador was al­lot­ted six se­na­tors. In a cham­ber of 105 mem­bers, this means At­lantic Canada has a much stronger voice in the Se­nate than in the House of Com­mons, where mem­bers are elected by pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion.

As a show of sol­i­dar­ity with The Her­ald, The Com­pass and other At­lantic pa­pers in the TC Me­dia chain are join­ing forces to ad­vo­cate for a strong re­gional voice in the Cana­dian Se­nate.

——— Justin Trudeau’s re­moval of 32 Lib­eral se­na­tors from his par­lia­men­tary cau­cus, en­abling them to be free­thinkers and free vot­ers, if they’re up to the chal­lenge, cre­ates pos­si­bil­i­ties for a po­lit­i­cal Se­nate Spring that even Mr. Trudeau may not have imag­ined.

What the Lib­eral leader has en­vis­aged is a less par­ti­san Se­nate where mem­bers ex­er­cise in­de­pen­dent judg­ment in ex­am­in­ing and vot­ing on leg­is­la­tion would be a wel­come im­prove­ment. It would make the Se­nate a more com­pe­tent and use­ful law­mak­ing body than the toe-the-line place we have to­day.

But in slip­ping party bonds, se­na­tors have an even greater op­por­tu­nity to make the Se­nate mat­ter.

They can fi­nally choose to do what the Se­nate was pri­mar­ily cre­ated to do — rep­re­sent Canada’s re­gions in Ottawa.

In that spirit, we are to­day call­ing upon At­lantic Canada’s se­na­tors, both the eman­ci­pated Lib­er­als and the stillchained-to-the-party Con­ser­va­tives to make re­gional rep­re­sen­ta­tion their first duty from now on.

To make this duty a re­al­ity, we call upon the se­na­tors of Nova Sco­tia, New Brunswick, Prince Ed­ward Is­land and New­found­land and Labrador to or­ga­nize them­selves as an At­lantic cau­cus.

We chal­lenge them to be­gin work­ing as a group to consult with the peo­ple, com­mu­ni­ties, leg­is­la­tures and other stake­hold­ers in the re­gion to de­ter­mine their needs and pri­or­i­ties. We urge them to start act­ing as a co­he­sive body to fur­ther those in­ter­ests in Par­lia­ment and in the fed­eral gov­ern­ment.

To ac­tu­ally en­gage the cit­i­zens they are sup­posed to rep­re­sent, and to make a con­certed col­lec­tive ef­fort to fight for their in­ter­ests, would do more to en­hance the le­git­i­macy and cred­i­bil­ity of ap­pointed se­na­tors than any­thing else we can think of.

With 30 of the Se­nate’s 105 seats, an At­lantic cau­cus would also have some se­ri­ous vot­ing weight.

Be­sides, this is a bet­ter way for se­na­tors to do their real job.

As Don­ald Savoie, At­lantic Canada’s lead­ing gov­er­nance scholar, wrote in a Pol­icy Op­tions ar­ti­cle last fall, “the Se­nate’s pri­mary role as a pro­moter and de­fender of re­gional in­ter­ests ... is what the Fa­thers of Con­fed­er­a­tion had in mind for the up­per cham­ber when they mid­wifed it.”

For the Mar­itimes, the Se­nate was to be a “coun­ter­force” to the in­ter­ests of the more pop­u­lous prov­inces, says Savoie.

That’s why Mar­itime del­e­gates made the Se­nate a con­di­tion of sup­port­ing Con­fed­er­a­tion. That’s why the Mar­itime re­gion got the same Se­nate rep­re­sen­ta­tion as On­tario, Que­bec and the West. That’s why our se­na­tors should start liv­ing up to the job of think­ing, act­ing and, yes, even vot­ing to­gether for the over­all ben­e­fit of this re­gion.

The Se­nate’s real pur­pose still seems to be a rad­i­cal idea to some se­na­tors. Even the lib­er­ated Lib­er­als have unimag­i­na­tively restyled them­selves the “Se­nate Lib­eral cau­cus” in ho­mage to their “en­dur­ing val­ues.” This is just as likely a re­flec­tion of com­fort­able old habits of as­so­ci­a­tion.

It is en­cour­ag­ing that not ev­ery­one in the up­per cham­ber is com­fort­able with the clubby past. In an ar­ti­cle pub­lished by the Macdon­ald-Lau­rier In­sti­tute in the cur­rent is­sue of In­side Pol­icy mag­a­zine, Nova Sco­tia Con­ser­va­tive Sen. Stephen Greene also ar­gues that se­na­tors “must re­ori­ent their rep­re­sen­ta­tion” to be true to their re­gional man­date.

“Whether se­na­tors at­tend their na­tional cau­cus or not,” he writes, “all se­na­tors from a re­gion should cau­cus to­gether, ir­re­spec­tive of party. This would en­able se­na­tors from a re­gion to work on is­sues im­por­tant to a re­gion, like the Con­sti­tu­tion man­dates, re-es­tab­lish­ing the re­gional rep­re­sen­ta­tion as­pect of the Se­nate.”

There is no bet­ter place than At­lantic Canada to be­gin this rel­e­vance re­set for the Se­nate. Two years ago, this news­pa­per and five other At­lantic Canada dailies jointly called on At­lantic pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ments to be bold and in­no­va­tive in re­mak­ing the Se­nate as a true re­gional cham­pion. In re­sponse to fed­eral leg­is­la­tion that aimed to re­form the Se­nate with­out amend­ing the Con­sti­tu­tion, we pressed the At­lantic prov­inces to work to­gether as a re­gion to de­vise a non-par­ti­san process that would en­gage the pub­lic in nom­i­nat­ing can­di­dates for Se­nate ap­point­ments.

That leg­is­la­tion is be­ing re­viewed by the courts. But there are other ways for At­lantic Canada to be bold in align­ing our Se­nate rep­re­sen­ta­tion with our in­ter­ests. We can and should press all our se­na­tors to join — and work as — an At­lantic cau­cus.

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