Sunday, March 9, 2008

Senate and Democracy

I recognize that as a supporter of the NDP, I am supposed to be against the Senate and in favour of its abolition but I'm not sold on that argument.

My undecided position on this issue is not simply due to the ongoing situation between Stephen Harper and the Liberal dominated Senate but is really due to a whole host of situations.

While I think our sort of democracy has worked out reasonably well in a number of ways as compared to other systems, too much democracy really can be a bad thing.

I know that is a very unpopular thing to say these days but one only has to look at California to see an example of excessive democracy. In California, ballot questions have tied the hands of the State legislature to the point that it might as well not even exist.

Furthermore, how many of us would truly want our personal rights to be subject to the whim of the majority?

In a few classes that I have taught, I've given the students a lesson in democracy without limits by getting them to vote for one student who they believe should become the class clown. I allow them to introduce ballot measures to call upon any student to do anything. Example: "How many people think Jill should be required to sing and dance for five minutes at the end of each lesson?" 25 yeas, 3 Nays. While that might be fun for most of the class, it is terrible for Jill.

In much the same way, democracy can be taken too far. Rights must exist outside of democracy. In the same way, leader's cannot be overly beholden to every whim of the majority. People hire a government to look after the country, and a good Prime Minister should be appointing Senators that he or she feels will protect the interests of Canadians.

Perhaps some degree of Senate reform would be better than no change, but any change risks upsetting the balance, or increasing the power of the Senate risking gridlock. So, in my mind there is no clear answer but this does not believe that abolition is the best.

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