Effect Senate Reform via Elections


I believe I have come up with a solution for how to get each party represented in Parliament without adding new steps to a citizen’s electoral process, and even without the need for additional stumping on the campaign trail. If you read this and have actually come across the same, or similar, idea before please let me know. I’d be interested to talk to like-minded people about this.

Here goes…

Current Situation

Current Senate, courtesy of Wikipedia

The Senate – currently an unelected body of representatives that are appointed by the current governor general (under advice of the current Prime Minster) whom hold their positions until they turn 75 – is the part of our government that has to approve bills after they pass the House of Commons (where our elected MPs sit and discuss bills and other issues). Since new Senators are chosen by the sitting PM, all of them are either Liberal or Conservative, and the Senate rarely rejects bills passed by the House.

It’s bad enough the House of Commons doesn’t reflect the true will of the people thanks to the existing first-past-the-post (FPTP) system. Why does the Senate purely reflect the will of past PMs?

I propose that we impose a proportional representation system on the Senate, so that the number of seats assigned in the Senate are directly proportional to the percentage of votes each party has received, with a minimum of 1 seat being assigned to any party that receives a significant number of votes, or maybe even to any party that has received any votes.

The Solution

Going back to the 2008 Federal Election, here are the results for percentage of nationwide votes by party:

  • Conservatives – 32.67%
  • Liberals – 30.23%
  • NDP – 17.48%
  • Bloq – 10.48%
  • Green – 4.48%
  • Other – 4.66%

Note that only the top 4 parties won seats in the House, and the Bloq wins a disproportionate amount because all 10.48% of  votes come in Quebec. But what do those numbers mean for the Senate? Well, currently the Conservatives hold 52 out of 105 seats, the Liberals hold 46, Progress Conservatives hold 2, Independents hold 2, and 3 are vacant. Instead of this current oligopoly, the makeup of the Senate using proportional representation would be quite different:

  • Conservatives – 34 seats
  • Liberals – 32 seats
  • NDP – 18 seats
  • Bloq – 11 seats
  • Green – 5 seats
  • Other – 5 seats

Looking that over, I suppose it would be best to split those other 5 seats amongst the next top 5 polling parties (I think we have to draw the line somewhere, but that’s up for debate). Whether they be fringe parties like the Communist Party of Canada, the Rhinoceros Party, or the Christian Heritage Party – as much as you may disagree with their politics and policies – the people who voted for them deserve to be heard.

So what now?

At this point it’s important to note that each province has a set number of seats in the Senate. I’m not sure whether this should be continued or not. In the USA, each state has a junior and a senior Senator. I think, for the sake of provinces currently feeling under represented in Parliament, this should be done away with. Instead of each province having a set number of seats, instead each party should be able to choose their best and brightest to sit in the Senate.

One other thing that I’m open to suggestions on is term limits. I think a limit of, perhaps, 8 years or two elections should be in place. While the Senate should theoretically provide a steady, guiding hand for the country, fresh ideas are still needed. I suppose we could let previous Senators back in after being out for one or two elections, but I think most of us are a bit tired of “career politicians,” especially those Senators that were appointed for life prior to recent changes, and even those that are appointed until 75 yet don’t sit in the Senate nearly as often as our MPs do in the House.

What I like about this is that it’s easy to implement. Citizens are already voting for their favourite party/candidate at the local level, and this practically guarantees them representation in Parliament regardless of the results in their riding. It doesn’t require extra effort, math, deciding which parties they prefer in what order, etc. Same tick in the same box as before, with Elections Canada applying the numbers to the Senate, and then calling upon each party to send their best and brightest to the Senate for whatever term we decide appropriate.

Is it perfect? No, of course not. The existing FPTP system stays in place, but I think this is a quick and easy way to bring about electoral reform without confusing the populace (including me).

So let’s open this up for discussion. Love it? Hate it? Suggestions for improvement? What say you?

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  • Steve H

    A simpler solution than that would be to just abolish the senate entirely. I mean, when the senate stops rubber stamping and blocks legislation we are rightfully outraged. We clearly don’t need them to create legislation and electing them based off of the lower house election results wouldnt get us much. We would still need to contend with an out of proportion lower house.

    Here’s my solution. Get rid of the senate. It’s pointless. We keep electing our candidates based on geographical ridings made up by Elections Canada, but we make the ballots slightly more complex.

    Instead of simply selecting your preferred candidate what you would do is rank them based on preference. Say you have four candidates: NDP, Liberal, Tory and Green. Here is how my ballot would look:

    (3) Liberal Candidate
    () Tory Candidate
    (1) NDP Candidate
    (2) Green Candidate

    I list the ndp candidate as 1 because I want them to win and i leave the Tory blank because I do not want him to get my vote at all.

    So you do a tally based on the primary selections of all the ballots and total those votes. We’ll say the tories got the most and the greens the least. Since the greens got the least, they’re out of contention. You then take all of the green ballots and add up the their secondary choice and add that to the other parties tally. So we’ll say most went to the liberals, a bunch to the ndp and a few for the tories.

    Now let’s say the tories are still in first and the ndp last. Like before, the ndp is out of the running. The second choices of the ndp ballots and third from the green ballots are tallied and added to the totals of the remaining parties. We’ll say that the Liberals received most of the ndp and green ballots by a pretty big margin. At this point the liberals would have more votes than the tories and would have won the election, even though they came in second in the primary tally.

    This gets rid of all that strategic voting bullshit entirely. It’s not proportional representation, so the layout of parliament wouldn’t represent the parties proportionaly, but it would be a lot closet than what we have now.

    Proportional representation presents its own problems. Namely, parties selecting certain
    representatives instead of the people or the second place candidate getting elected due to the national numbers.

    • http://dereksilva.ca/ Derek Silva

      Alright. I watched the video on YouTube about this system, and I’m having a problem understanding how it would be implemented here given the fact that we don’t actually elect our Prime Minister – they are simply, typically, the person leading the party that wins the most seats.

      Are you suggesting we use this ranking system in each individual riding? If so, that’s fine, but I’m confident the existing ballot counting methods couldn’t accommodate it. This sounds like a system that either requires a tonne of manpower, or computerized voting systems that can easily keep track of which candidates received which priority rankings in order to be done properly. That means spending a lot of extra money on in a pretty unpopular way. It’s doable, but it would take some convincing.

      I also don’t think you can abolish the Senate entirely. It’s an extra set of eyes that provides an additional check and balance on the House of Commons. I’m all for reducing the number of seats, which I’ve talked about before (http://dereksilva.ca/2008/10/harper-promises-senate-reform/), but I don’t see the need to get rid of it when we can use it to easily represent voters’ true desires without making the electoral process any more complex.

      I think if we moved ahead with Senate reform, either as I’ve described here or similar, then it would be a lot easier for Canadians to accept a change to their ballots, along with the costs associated with that.

      • Steve H

        I was referring to individual ridings, yes. I don’t think it’s too complicated. I think it could be accomplished with the current number of EC officials, but just take a little longer. I mean, intead of them counting the votes one and report just after the polls close, they count up to 50% of the ballots again. It could be done by hand and give us next day results instead of 10pm results.

        If I understand your argument correctly you want to link senate representation to the results of the lower house election. I don’t think that’s a good idea. If we were to create an elected or semi elected senate we would need the ability to directly vote for the people or party they want representing them there.

        This us because the way we elect the lower house creates situations in which people vote strategically instead of voting for who they want representing them. Or you could prefer a certain party, but prefer a candidate from a different party. It creates a distribution based on the votes received for a completely different body that would have a completely different election process.

        If you wanted proportional representation in the senate you have to add either candidates or parties to the ballot so voters can decide on that directly, not indirectly. If we added senatorial selection to the ballot it would complement my system just fine.

        You would select your lower house candidates like I described in my previous post and then select the party which you would prefer form the government. You distribute the senate seats based on the party popular vote and select senators by appointing the most popular lower house losing candidates.

        I still prefer just abolishing the senate because it’s currently just a glorified rubber stamp, but if we absolutely must keep the damn thing we need to fill its seats in a more direct manner than the implementation you propose imo.