One week till Albertans go to the polls. A good day, perhaps, to talk about the way Senators come to be Senators in Canada. Senators are appointed, not elected. And there are important historical reasons for that. #abpoli #ableg #cdnpoli #SenCa
(Oh, this is going to be a thread. So be warned.) #SenCa #cdnpoli #ableg #abpoli
In the words of the Supreme Court of Canada, an appointed Senate is part of the fundamental architecture of our Constitution and our Confederation. Here's why. #SenCa #ableg #abpoli #cdnpoli
The framers, said the court, sought to endow the Senate with independence from the electoral process, "in order to remove Senators from a partisan political arena that required unremitting consideration of short-term political objectives." #ableg #abpoli #cdnpoli #SenCa
In other words, the fact that Senators weren't elected (or re-elected) meant they could take the long view. It allowed them to defend the Constitution, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and minority rights, even when such views were unpopular. #ableg #abpoli #SenCa #cdnpoli
But that wasn't the only reason. The framers also didn't want the Senate to be in a constant power struggle with the House of Commons. So they created an appointed upper chamber which would show proper deference to an elected House of Commons. #abpoli #ableg #SenCa #cdnpoli
"The appointed status of Senators, with its attendant assumption that appointment would prevent Senators from overstepping their role as a complementary legislative body, shapes the architecture of the Constitution Act, 1867", said the SCOC in its Senate reference decision.
Then-PM Stephen Harper had asked the court if he could set up a system of "consulative elections" for provinces to pick future Senate nominees. The court said no. #ableg #abpoli #cdnpoli #SenCa
"They would weaken the Senate’s role of sober second thought and would give it the democratic legitimacy to systematically block the House of Commons, contrary to its constitutional design," said the court. Elections, even consultative ones, were unconstitutional. #ableg #SenCa
In order to elect Senators, said the court, we'd have to amend the constitution. And that would require the consent of at least 7 provinces, representing at least 50 per cent of Canada's population. #ableg #abpoli #SenCa
Alberta has "elected" Senate nominees in consultative elections in the past. And I've been honoured to serve Alberta in the Senate with my colleagues Doug Black and Scott Tannas, who came to the Senate via that route. But they were appointed BEFORE the Supreme Court ruling.
Now that the Supreme Court of Canada has clearly outlined its objections to consultative Senate elections? Well, we may be in a somewhat different situation.…
So how are Senators chosen? They used to be selected through a straight-up patronage appointment system - often quite a partisan system. But we have been moving away from that system since 2015. Here's how it works now. #SenCa #abpoli #ableg #cdnpoli
Any "property owner" over the age of 30 who is a Canadian citizen can apply to be a Senator - in a competitive application process that is designed to be based on merit. You don't have to be political connected. Or partisan. Quite the contrary. #ableg #abpoli #SenCA #cdnpoli
Then, the applications are reviewed by an independent, arms-length panel of experts, a panel with three permanent members, and two members from the province that has empty seats to fill. They make a very short short list for the PM to review.
(Thought it must be said, the PM makes the final decision, because that's what the constitution requires. That way the PM is accountable, too, for any appointments that might go off the rails.) #ableg #abpoli #cdnpoli #SenCA
Is it a perfect system? Of course not. But I think it has recruited a much wider range of candidates and Senators, from a much more diverse set of backgrounds, people who would never have been considered for appointment under the old patronage system. #ableg #abpoli #SenCa
Also? All the Senators who've been appointed since 2015 are independent. They sit in three different independent "groups" in the Senate, and are not accountable to any party or leader from the House of Commons. #SenCa #ableg #abpoli #cdnpoli
We are actually in the midst of quite a radical Senate reform - and it has its detractors and critics, as well as its champions. We don't yet know how all these Senate changes will play out. But Senate reform is well underway. I hope this helps clarify things! Thanks for reading.

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More from @Paulatics

10 Oct
With our daughter away at university, our Thanksgiving Covid bubble is just my husband, his mum and me. I bought the tiniest turkey. It’s roasting up nicely, though it still has a ways to go.
(Normally, my husband cooks the turkey - and he’s very good at it. But today is his birthday, so he’s relaxing and I am cooking my first ever turkey. Wish me luck - as I wish all of you a happy Thanksgiving.)
Read 4 tweets
9 Sep
A thread. My mother was a smoker. A dedicated, passionate smoker. She wasn’t just an addict. She loved the coolness of smoking. She loved cigarettes as fashion accessories. She loved the conviviality of hanging out with other smokers. And for years, she would not quit.
Nothing would convince her. Her children begged her. Her non-smoking husband cajoled her. She was not a stupid woman. She read the news. She understood the science. But she would not give up smoking. It helped to define her.
Then, her friends & family started dying - in their early 50s - of smoking related diseases. Heart attacks. Strokes. Lung cancer. Her best friend. Her favourite cousin. I thought that might change her mind. It did not.
Read 7 tweets
10 Jun
A difficult moment in the Senate tonight. ISG Senator Mary Jane McCallum, speaking to Bill C-15, held an eagle feather. Conservative leader Don Plett rose on a point of order, asking the Speaker to decide whether the feather was allowed. Debate ensued.. @ISGSenate #SenCa
The Speaker was compelled to break for dinner moment later, at 6 pm EDT. Debate over whether an Indigenous Senator can hold an eagle feather when they speak will likely be debated more then. The Speaker may rule tonight - or may reserve his decision.
For context: props are not allowed in the Senate. No charts. No T-shirts with slogans. But is an eagle feather a prop? Or more akin to a sacred symbol?
Read 7 tweets
1 Jun
There's lots of talk on Twitter today about whether we should take down the Grey Nuns mural in the Grandin LRT station. I talked about that issue of @aaronpaquette last winter, as part of @AlbertaUnbound. Here's an excerpt. #yeg #yegheritage
Here's my whole conversation with Aaron about truth, reconciliation, the intergenerational legacy of residential schools, and how we, as Albertans and Canadians, need to confront (and depict) that history.… @aaronpaquette @AlbertaUnbound
Aaron and I recorded that conversation in December - before the horrible details of the Kamloops burials were known, but with both of us well aware of the horrific legacy of residential schools. But I feel as if last week's news was an epiphany and turning point for many.
Read 4 tweets
31 May
At the Alberta Legislature. A sunny day. A solemn vigil. #215children #ableg #yeg #SenCA ImageImage
The vigil begin now with smudge and prayer. #215children #215CanadaDayOfMourning #yeg #ableg #SenCA ImageImage
“We’re feeling this grief, coast to coast on Turtle Island,” says Kookum Kathy. “We’re feeling it in the marrow of our bones.” #215children #215CanadaDayOfMourning #yeg #ableg Image
Read 5 tweets
13 Apr
Debate begins now on @jeneroux 's Private Members Bill C-220 is beginning now.… #cdnpoli #SenCa #yeg
The report of the committee was adopted unanimously - and third reading begins now, with @jeneroux, the MP for Edmonton-Riverbend.…
Matt Jeneroux begins by thanking Liberal MP @AHousefather for his championship of the bill, and then thanking many MPs from all parties for their support of this bill - which will grant workers under the Canada Labour Code an additional 5 days of bereavement leave. #cdnpoli #yeg
Read 10 tweets

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