Why I rather have an imperfect British peerage system rather than a Canadian-styled Senate.
As this is the case a couple of times a year and with David Cameron’s Resignation Honours — the British peerage system is seen as the epitome of cronyism where friends of the Prime Minister and the party in power are rewarded with gifts.
Is the British peerage system this bad? Not if you compare it to the Canadian Senate — even if Canadian politics is frankly seen by a paragon of virtue by many people around the world. Unlike the British House of Lords, Canadian Senate are paid like regular MP and they have expenses accounts like elected officials as similar benefits as MP have. They have no term limits other than they most retire by law as Senators at 75. Before 1965, a senator had a life term after he was appointed. A few senators were senators until they were 100.
Since 1867, in paper the Canadian Senate was seen as the chamber representing regional interests. The idea seemed useful in the second biggest country in size in the world. But in reality, as the Prime Minister was the one nominating Senators in practice, the Canadian Senate had become a Chamber of patronage. Some Canadian Senators are indeed people who are well known and accomplished, but some others are little-known party cronies, failed candidates for the House of Commons or little-known party cadres.
In the last few years, both Liberal and Conservative senators had scandals related to expenses claims. Some of them like for former Liberal senator Mac Harb happened during a few years. But the criminal trial of Conservative-turned-independent Senator Mike Duffy found him not guilty of any criminal charges.
But what about Senate reform or abolition? There was some hope in 1992 that the Charlottetown constitutional Accord would have reformed the Senate to an elected Senate like in Australia. But the referendum to ratify this constitutional accord was a stunning loss for the government at the time. Constitutionally, a recent Supreme Court Judgement made reform quasi-impossible to do unlike every Canadian province agree with the same position. A consensus is very unlikely to happens because smaller Atlantic provinces are very well helped by the current Senate representation.
The current Trudeau government did some reform. Having established a House of Lords Appointments Commission-like body for nominating Senators, the first independent Senators were nominated under this system a few months ago. But many of the same problems will continue and the system have remained unchanged for the most part. Canadian senators are still seen lowly by the population and polls after polls say that the Canadian Senate must be reformed or abolished — even if the latter option is quasi-impossible to do. We don’t know yet in these candidates chosen by a panel will be less corrupt than those before them — even if ironically — some of the candidates who were in expenses scandals could have been chosen by a meritocratic panel because they were well accomplished figures.
Is the British House of Lords perfect? Of course not. But at least, with a system where members of the upper chamber don’t have a similar salary as MP do — you don’t have a system where it become a lottery to win a comfy job until you are 75 — without the inconvenience of trying to be elected by the electorate every few years.