Tories Should Weaponize The Senate
In the summer of 2015, Stephen Harper officially announced that he would not be appointing any more Senators. Some controversy had broken out about leaving vacancies unfilled, since Harper hadn’t made an appointment to the Senate since Scott Tannis in March of 2013. This controversy was a sideshow to the bigger scandals involving the slew of expense scandals involving Mike Duffy and other Harper appointees. Sensing a fourth-term win and looking to distance himself from the outrage over his dirtbag appointments, Harper decided to leave 22 seats vacant before the 2015 election.
"It will force the provinces over time — who as you know have been resistant to any reforms, in most cases — to either come up with a plan of comprehensive reform or to conclude that the only way to deal with the status quo is abolition." ~ Stephen Harper
As we now know, Justin Trudeau’s Liberals won a majority and filled all those seats with “not-officially-Liberal” progressives. By the time the next election rolls around there will be less than 30 Conservative Senators left in the 105 seat chamber. If Harper had filled those seats, the CPC could still be commanding a majority.
But so what if they did? The Senate is filled with unaccountable, do-nothing cronies just collecting cheques right? They just rubber stamp HoC stuff and go on vacations don’t they? Isn’t this the reality of what Harper failed to fix?
“[C]ommon sense suggests it’s better to just close the place than try to turn it into some deeper-thinking wing of Parliament. Liberals, for decades, used the Senate as a rest home for hacks, money-raisers, loyalists, out-of-work MPs and the occasional feel-good appointee. Brian Mulroney took a similar approach, while Stephen Harper started his first mandate by ignoring it, and more recently has tried to stuff it with appointees pledged to support his troubled plans to reform it.” ~ Kelly McPharland
Reforming the Senate is impossible. We know that now. The process of trying to abolish it would be just as futile as attempting to reform it. So what can be done?
"The impracticality of reform was demonstrated by Harper’s reported plan to block an improved Senate from overruling the House of Commons. There are many reasons that reforming the Senate is a bad idea, but the danger that it could become a rival for power is one of the most compelling. Two houses battling for position could only add to Ottawa’s dysfunctionality. But why reform something that is only going to remain powerless?” ~ Kelly McPharland
Herein lies the path forward for Conservatives. The “danger” of having a rival power is no danger at all. “Two houses battling for position could only add to Ottawa’s dysfunctionality” should be exactly the goal. A stronger, bolder Senate filled with activist conservative-thinkers with an agenda to block any future Liberal/New Democrat legislation is exactly a long-term strategy that the Conservative Party should be pursuing.
If the Conservatives had a Senate majority like this in place right now, they could be stifling and delaying Trudeau's agenda at every turn. If Canada had a Senate like the United States does, then it would function less like an old boys club of rubber stampers and more like a second legislative body that requires negotiation and compromise. In the United States, the three branches of government are constantly struggling and the process creates gridlock... that’s the point! Canadian policy would benefit greatly from a reductionist federal activism. The principles of small government and less intervention would be on display every time a progressive policy is stalled by an insubordinate Senate committee. Conservatism and the principles of conservatism would be alive and kicking long after a temporary federal electoral defeat. For those with longer memories, just think of the trouble Brian Mulroney had dealing with Trudeau’s Liberal Senate in the late 1980’s. Now reverse the partisanship and times it by ten and that is the prescription I’m proposing.
Conservatives need to weaponize the Senate
Isn’t having an unelected Senate purposefully opposing the government of the day a little contrary to the spirit of Canada’s unique democracy?
Yes! That’s the point. In Canada, democracy isn’t a solution for conservatism...it’s the problem. By utilizing the Senate as a barrier to progressive advances, Conservatives can better help to create conditions for a return to Conservative government.
Too often Conservatives have functioned as stop-gap measures between Liberal dynasties. Contrary to Darrell Bricker and John Ibbitson in their book The Big Shift, I don’t think we’re in for some kind of Conservative domination anytime soon. When Conservatives win next time, they need to think bigger about the Senate. No more whining about reform, no more passive aggressive vacancies, no more court challenges... it’s time to stack the Senate with hardcore conservatives.
Rule #1: Senators appointed should be under the age of 45
Most people have their political point-of-view (if they consciously have one) sorted out by the time they’re 40. Oh sure, people change... sometimes quite a bit and you can’t guarantee anything from anyone, but overall, we are who we’re going to be by the time 40 hits.
For this reason, Conservative appointees should be in this age range in order to have the longest career in the Senate that is possible. What’s the point of appointing a retiree only to see them step down in a few years and be replaced by a Liberal? We still have Liberal Senators appointed by Pierre Trudeau sitting in the Senate today! Conservatives need to think long-term and get younger ideologues into power, so their plans can unfold over decades not years.
Rule #2: No celebrities
Harper thought some big name flash might buy some media goodwill and help with the fundraising. This was a horrific mistake. It was corporate thinking. It was a scandal. It was electoral doom.
No media “stars” need apply. The media will not be impressed and if anything it will breed resentment. It also puts unnecessary attention on the Senate and the appointment process itself...something that is better served by staying under the radar.
Celebrities don’t stay under the radar.
Rule #3: Must be ideologically motivated
Stuffing the Senate with politically correct individuals in hopes of gaining brownie points from Canadian media is a fool’s errand. Stuffing the seats with fundraising types or “friends of the party” types is a waste of opportunity. If the Senate is to be weaponized it needs missional people with a focus on ideological advancement.
The point is to push the cultural, political and institutional envelope in a direction that is favourable to a Conservative Party that embodies conservative values and principles. This is long-term thinking that will allow the Overton Window to shift and position the CPC to win elections on conservative platforms.
Rule #4: Appoint some non-CPC Senators in the name of “diversity”
For more contentious appointments, get them to sit as independents. This way an appointed Senator with right-wing views can push the proper agenda without causing any partisan problems for the party.
Another possible example: appoint fringe party Senators. Imagine some Senators sitting under the banner of the Christian Heritage Party or the Libertarian Party. They’d be far more ferocious in their worldviews than a random CPC Senator and this would have the added effect of making the CPC look moderate by comparison.
Diversity is our strength right?
There are loads of grassroots conservatives in this country that could add more flavour and rigor to the Senate Conservatives than simple partisan hacks. Kate McMillan over at smalldeadanimals has offered to be a Senator, especially during the Pamela Wallin phase of the expense scandal. I’d like to see Kathy Shaidle over at blazingcatfur get a seat too. Maybe someone like Jonathon Van Maren over at Bridgehead. How about some of the think-tank guys from The Fraser Institute or The Manning Centre or The Macdonald Laurier Institute or The Montreal Economic Institute or The Frontier Centre for Public Policy or The Taxpayer Federation or Real Women of Canada or The Atlantic Institute for Market Studies or The Institute for Canadian Values?
These groups and organizations could use some of their members in the Senate making a living wage and doing the same sort of work, only from the vantage point of power and prestige. In the U.S. there is a lot of crossover between think-tanks and government positions. When Republicans win, they hire right-wing think-tankers. When Republicans lose...those folks head back to the think tanks.
In Canada, politics seems to be a closed loop. There’s everything inside the party structure of the CPC and then dynamic uncontrolled freelance conservatism outside the party structure. It’s long past time for the CPC bubble to pop. Reaching outside the confines of party rank and file for Senate seats during times of power would be a good start.
Rule #5: One at a time
Never do the gong show that Harper provided by bringing in piles of new Senators all at once. Do it one at a time, on a Friday, so media doesn’t care.
The Senate in Canada is here to stay. Our culture of inertia and inability to change, ensures that we’re stuck with this institution forever. Conservatives need to embrace it and exploit it and use it as a fifth column to promote a conservative agenda outside the confines of democracy. This will sow the seeds for conservative ideas, policies and culture-shifting necessary to position the CPC in a better light during general elections. The next time the CPC wins government they need to immediately begin stacking the Senate in preparation for the next electoral loss down the road. As time goes on, this process will make the party stronger and the culture of Canada more conservative. Eventually it could help solidify a permanent majority in which the House and the Senate work continuously hand-in-hand.