Canada can take action now to reform the Senate and not have to wait to change existing legislation.

Senators must be citizens of Canada, at least thirty years of age and maintain residency in the provinces or territories for which they are appointed. Over time “maintain residency” has been liberally interpreted with any property even undeveloped land deemed to meet the “residency” requirement. A Senator must own land worth at least $4,000 which was a large sum but ironically nominal today. Finally, a Senator may not sit in the Senate after reaching age 75.

Using the aforementioned precedent of liberal interpretation of the rules a new “convention” on term limits for new randomly selected members could be developed. Perhaps three years to start and then a further and final three years based on a simple majority vote of confidence from their peers in both houses. Randomly selected Senators would simply sign a contract accepting these Terms and Conditions.

Since 1989 Alberta has elected three “Senators-in-waiting” and provided their names to the PM for appointment. By appointing them they actually established another precedent that a variety of methods can be used for identifying the names on the Senate appointment list.

Using current powers, a PM could appoint Senators from a list generated by random selection from the population at large similar to our current jury system. This style of democratic government is known as demarchy. Demarchy is similar to our jury system and both evolved from the ancient Athenian system of randomly selecting decision makers.

Senators selected at random would definitely provide a chamber of “sober second thought” on legislation forwarded from the House for approval. Random selection would create a Senate with approximately 50% women and a percentage of minorities, occupations, levels of wealth and political views that would statistically mirror their percentage share of the population. Current Senators would have to be retained but moral suasion might convince them to voluntarily resign in favour of the more democratically appointed Senators.

It is entirely likely that the randomly selected Senators will do a great job and clearly they can’t do worse. This would lead to a natural desire for legislative change to further improve it. One of the first changes would be to increase the number of Senators to a more statistically relevant sample of say around a 1,000.

In one of the first political uses since the ancient Athenians, sortition was used in the 2004 Citizens Assembly in British Columbia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citizens%27_Assembly_on_Electoral_Reform_(British_Columbia)

And now sortition is gaining ground in France and elsewhere in Europe. It is already in use in Noosa, Queensland Australia. Colorado and Arizona recently launched Citizen Initiative Review Panels.

Its not too late for Canada to exploit the competitive advantage of our Senate and get out in front of this worldwide phenomenon and be the recognized world leader in putting sortition into action.

Advertisements