Not more than a couple days after I say one of the biggest problems with the Senate is culture, Justin Trudeau comes out and says the same thing:
“It needs to be fixed by demanding better of the people that we choose to appoint to the Senate. That’s the answer for me,” he said after a pep talk late Monday to several hundred Liberal supporters at a pub near Ottawa.
Well, yeah. But how do we get there? My single biggest concern with the idea of Trudeau as leader is that as much as he's talking a great game on the democratic/electoral reform file, the nature of democracy is such that if he wins, he'll have some pretty strong disincentives to do the great things he's currently proposing. That's not an issue specific to Trudeau, mind you - any politician who runs on a platform of increasing the checks and balances against their power is going to be faced with the temptation to… not do that once elected. Nothing Trudeau's said or done so far suggests to me that he's impervious to that. I'd love to be convinced of it because his leadership seems inevitable at this point.
But if appointed senators are subject to corruption and an elected senate runs the risk of simply being a second House of Commons, then what? To me, the most interesting idea (and one that's not floated very often) is a lottery system. Give people an opt-out when they file the census, but every 2 years, do a random draft for 1/3 of the Senate from the population of Canadians between 30-65 with a post-secondary degree and no criminal record. Give anyone selected a basic civics test, give everyone who passes that a strict code of conduct and kick them if they break it, and every 6 years you'll have a complete turnover. The specifics of who'd be eligible are all pretty flexible, but I think the basic idea is a good one. It certainly can't be worse than the current system of zero accountability and maximum cronyism on all sides, and it might move the perception of the role away from a gift given as a political favour and more towards a duty to be carried out with reverence.