‘Nations stumble upon establishments, which are indeed the result of human action,
but not the execution of any human design.’
Adam Ferguson, An Essay on the History of Civil Society (1767)

25 May 2010

Debating the Future of the Senate of Canada

At noon to-day, the Centre for the Study of Democracy (Queen’s University) will hold a debate on Senate reform.

The principal question: ‘What, if anything, is wrong with the Senate of Canada, whether it should be reformed and, if so, by what means.’

The debaters are Senator Hugh Segal (Conservative party); Senator James S. Cowan (Liberal party); David Christopherson, MP (NDP); and Richard Nadeau, MP (Bloc Québécois); with Jane Tabor, political reporter for The Globe and Mail, as moderator.

The Centre posted a Facebook page with Senate links, discussion opportunities, and CPAC broadcast information, plus an invitation to the public-at-large to submit questions for panellists.

As visitors to my Advocacy for Appointed Upper Chambers page will attest, I am an opponent to the recently proposed reforms, whether with respect to eight-year term limits or to public consultations at the provincial level.

And, given the previously declared positions on Senate reform stated by the debaters (or most of them, anyway)—either in favour of election or simple abolition of the Red Chamber—I’m not optimistic that the current status of the Senate will receive much of a defence. May I be proved wrong.

Nevertheless, I have submitted my own queries to the CSD debate format, centring on the crux of ‘reform’:


The primary object of reform is to transform the appointed Senate into an elective body. As such, have reformers addressed and answered any of these three separate, but inter-connected, questions:
  1. Reform is best directed at known abuses or failings: Of what failing of achieving good governance—with supporting evidence of malfeasance—does the Senate of Canada stand accused?

  2. If abuses can be identified, does an elected Senate correct them, without introducing unfavourable consequences of its own (mindful, of course, of the possibility of unforeseen consequences)?

  3. The presence of two elected chambers in Parliament will inevitably clash for dominance, given that each will enjoy a mandate of ‘democratic’ legitimacy and the near co-equal status conferred on both the Senate and the House of Commons by the British North America Act, 1867 (save for the origination of ‘money bills’); what realistic proposals have been advanced to ensure harmony between the chambers, given present constitutional parameters—or to amend constitutional powers and jurisdiction to that end?

Fellow students of Edmund Burke will see his influence at work in my focus on a ‘metaphysics of reform’. Sir Robert Peel expressed this sentiment in his Tamworth Manifesto, which was a commitment to ‘a careful review of institutions, civil and ecclesiastical, undertaken in a friendly temper combining, with the firm maintenance of established rights, the correction of proved abuses and the redress of real grievances’.

Or, as Burke himself wrote: ‘A spirit of reformation is never more consistent with itself, than when it refuses to be rendered the means of destruction.’

In this spirit, I challenge those proponents of Senate reform, in good faith, to assure Canadians that their review is undertaken in a friendly temper, is respectful of the chamber’s established rights, and will not be rendered the means of destruction.

16 May 2010

Introducing the ‘Salisbury Initiative for Parliamentary Traditions’

Respect for parliamentary traditions is at the core of an organic Tory philosophy. A reverence for the past embodies what it means to be a ‘Tory’, while providing the evolutionary foundation—the ‘tradition’—for organic development.

In light of recent events in British politics, where ‘non-partisan’ conservative political practices are threatened with renewed calls for change, a new project—in keeping with the ideals and aspirations of the Disraeli-Macdonald Institute—has been formed to promote and defend the conventions of the United Kingdom Parliament: the Salisbury Initiative for Parliamentary Traditions.

In the lead-up to the 2010 General Election, the Conservative party sought to re-establish its rapport with the British people—as a political party for the twenty-first century—by emphasising its progressive programme for Britain’s future. Focussing on ‘progressive means for conservative ends’, Conservatives are intent on addressing the ‘broken society’ and ‘broken politics’.

While there are many laudable improvements that can be realised through progressive measures, the Salisbury Initiative was established to act as a safeguard for the conservative principles that must form the core of the Conservative party.

The necessity of buttressing conservative beliefs has risen in importance, in consideration of the coalition government that has been formed between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats to create what some analysts have called a ‘progressive alliance’. With no wish to undermine the strong, stable government this coalition brings forth, there is equally a desire to remain true to the tenets of Conservatism.

While there are many figures in the history of the Conservative party who embody these cherished principles, the figure of the 3rd Marquess of Salisbury was especially poignant: Lord Salisbury is renowned for his scepticism of the true long-term benefits of institutional ‘innovation’—serving, at times, as a reactionary caricature—and of his faith in history as a reliable counsellor when undertaking salutary political reform.

The Salisbury Initiative is an ally of the Conservative party and seeks neither to undermine its period in office nor its continuing success. ‘The complaints of a friend are things very different from the invectives of an enemy,’ wrote Edmund Burke. ‘It is our duty rather to palliate his errors and defects, or to cast them into the shade, and industriously to bring forward any good qualities that he may happen to possess.’ But, as Burke, explained:

When his safety is effectually provided for, it then becomes the office of a friend to urge his faults and vices with all the energy of enlightened affection, to paint them in their most vivid colours, and to bring the moral patient to a better habit. Thus I think with regards to individuals; thus I think with regard to antient and respected governments and order of men.

This is the intent of the Salisbury Initiative: ‘A spirit of reformation is never more consistent with itself, than when it refuses to be rendered the means of destruction.’

The objectives of the Initiative are simple:

  1. Support for constitutional monarchy;

  2. Support for the British constitution and Parliament—namely, the House of Lords and the House of Commons—and a defence of their arrangements, practices, and the political values they uphold; and

  3. Support for traditional conservative political principles: while necessary reform is a salubrious undertaking, and a fair appraisal of progress underpins evolutionary development, a foundation of enduring principles is at the core of Conservatism.

Plans are to highlight articles and news items relating to constitutional and parliamentary reform—which will be archived on the Initiative’s ‘News’ page—on this blog. Readers are encouraged to forward links which touch on SI’s mandate, and to follow SI on Facebook and Twitter.

Many thanks, tell your friends, and please visit the Salisbury Initiative often!

06 May 2010

Election Day in the United Kingdom

To-day’s the sixth of May, so it must be election day in the United Kingdom!

Platform 10, an internet site devoted to the idea of liberal conservatism—where ‘progressive ends are best achieved by conservative means’, fulfilled by ‘a modern, liberal Conservative government’—very kindly posted, over the course of the campaign, my thoughts on comparing a liberal conservative programme with Organic Toryism.

Published over a number of weeks, I’ve gathered the essays together for easy selection:

It promises to be an exciting day of voting, as the Conservative, Labour, and Liberal Democrat parties vie at the polls for public support to form a Government—with the winning leader moving into No. 10 Downing Street as Prime Minister.

For the first time in decades, though, no one party has a clear lead, and the outcome is very far from assured. It will be a long night as the media, party members, and the country-at-large await results from the ballot-box.

Who will finally kiss hands with the Queen, and become Her Majesty’s next First Minister?