Shall We Slay the Senate?
H. F. Gadsby
Who wrote “Peaches and Lemons," "Conseriing the Conservatives" etc.
LET ME put the reader out of suspense at once by saying that we shall not slay the Senate. We shall not slay it for two good reasons—because we do not desire to do so. and because the Senate will not let us.
This has not always been my attitude toward the Senate. In my hot, rebellious youth when I would reform everything that 1 could not abolish and abolish everything that I could not reform, I sat in the seat of the scornful w'hen anybody mentioned the Senate. At one time or another I have called it the Sleeping Porch, the Hen House, the Old Ladies Home, the Alms House, the Home for Incurables, the Valley of the Shadow, and other flippancies. Very well—mea culpa—peccavi— let it ga at that. But there was a bit of legitimate criticism in each of these scoffing epithets. What we w’ant is not a deader Senate but a better one.
Time was when 1 thought that the Lower Chamber could do all the work and that the Senate was a useless gloss on the voice o::’ the people. But now that I am older I can see that the Senate is the sober second thought of democracy and that the voice' of the people is mostly in great need of second thought, having in nine cases out óf ter very little thought of its own. So seldom does the voice of the people know what it is howling about that we should give profound thanks to pur cautious forefathers for providing constitutional means, like the Senate, to sift the vapors and arrive at sound opinion.
Moreover, in my short day I have seen the House of Commons turn down so many good suggestions and turn up so many bad ones that I have always felt 9afer for the presence of a Senate that would pass the sins of the Green Chamber in review. I say pass advisedly, for the Senate passes the Commons’ mistakes oftener than it doesn’t. That is one • of the grudges against it. It ought to do more rejecting.
T N THE nature of things the quality of * the Senate is conservative, which is another matter to be thankful for. Provided with a comfortable livelihood aiid free transportation for the remainder of his days your Senator settles down to a long vista of comfortable years. He will liye long because he has an annuity. Senators are famous for their longevity. Senator Wark lived to be a hundred. Only last session Senator DeBoucherville died at the age of ninety-four. Senator Sir Mackenzie Bowell is alive and sprightly at ninety-three. There are at least four octogenarians on the pay roll right now. Senators of seventy are quite common.
A Senator lives long because his mind is at ease, because he has no voters to consider, because he owns no master save his conscience and his bank account, be* cause he can Sb right if he likes even when it is not expedient and because he need not let the clamor of the times disturb him. If ever man was in a position to snap his fingers at public opinion it Í9 your Senator. And yet he doesn’t On
the contrary he has a great respect for it — particularly for the solid opinion which is represented by wealth and social position.
Such is the mollifying influence of the Senate, such is the sweet serenity,« the lasting peace it breathes, that the reddest Radicáis, the fiercest assailants of frills at Rideau Hall, hot from the Green Chamber, soon come under its spell and roar thereafter like sucking doves. I have even heard them roaring for the Vested Interests which goes to show that an allwise Providence knows what to do with the Senate. Obviously it is intended to take care of those who have a stake in the country. It will have its work cut out for it after the war when irresponsible philanthropists jon both sides of. politics will from time to time be rising on their hind legs to propose that your property and mine be handed over to the Weaker Brother because he can't get anything any other way.
A ND THAT brings me to my first ob** jection. If the Senate has work to do it must be strong enough to do the work. If the Senators outlive their strength the Senate will lack vigor. That is what the matter is with the Senate right now. It is 60 old that it has almost reached its second childhood. Once a man, twice a child—you know the saying. A pretty sentiment but not applicable to Senates. A Senate should always be able
to sit up and eat meat and think clearly. When a Senator arrives at the gruel stage it is time for him to quit
The aggregate age of the Senate is 5900 years. This makes it coeval with the pyramid of Cheops. Is it asking too much to divide this great age by two, thus making the Senate contemporary with the beginnings of written literature? I think not Three years ago—it is somewhat better now—the average Senator's age was seventy. In the interest of briskness, despatch and good government generally it should be thirty-five. At all events it should not be more than the average age of the House of Commons which is forty-five years.
This is a young country and it ought to have a young Senate. Put a young man in the Senate, with three meals a day assured for a long period of time, and tell him that he needn’t give a rip for anything but the good of the state—and watch him make things hum. The Senate would then be just the corrective that a timid, time-serving, vote-catching House of Commons requires. According to law one must be thirty years old, a British subject and have a certain amount of real property before one qualifies as a Senator. But according to custom one must have grey hair around one’s ears or present a certificate that he has had a paralytic stroke before the Government considers him ripe enough. Of course, this is an overstatement, but the point I am laboring is that we have a curious distrust of youth in this new land of Canada where youth should be at a premium in all walks of life, including the Senate.
So far as age and vigor are concerned the recent appointments to the Senate are
better than usual. Senators in the prime of life like Senator Lynch-Staunton and Senator Nichols must bring the average down considerably, but even at that the Senate Í9 old enough yet to make a huskyfellow like Rufus Pope hold his breath for fear of breaking the bric-a-brac. The Senate is old enough to impress visitors with its oldness. In their new surroundings at the Victoria Museum, where they occupy the room formerly allocated to fossil invertebrates, the Senators can be seen at close quarters, with no kindly dusk to veil their faults, and the net impression they convey is one of extreme fragility. Coarse persons have been known to allude to them as the “wax works.’’
OF COÜRSE that is overdrawing it.
but the fact remains that the Senate must take great care of itself if it is to survive from day to day. The walls are done in red and the floor Í9 carpeted in red, with a view to keeping the chill out of the dear otd Senators' bones if the temperature falls at any time below eighty. When the red wall paper and the red carpet fail Senators are warmed back to life again by putting them on the Divorce Committee, which furnishes a fair amount of hot'stuff each session. If a Senator faints the practice is to wave his paycheque under his nose. This invariably brings him round unless he ha9 gone for good.
The hygiene of the Red Chamber is as perfect as science can make it. The air is filtered, the water is filtered and often the opinions are filtered too. Paiii9 are taken to keep the Senate, if not pure, at least sanitary. For many years a curious old muff box held a place on the clerk’s
table from which Senators of the old school took a pinch by' way of starting a thought or two. But this was removed some four years ago because some of the more brittle Senators were showing a tendency to sneeze their heads off. Thank Heaven, that danger hag passed!
The only jarring note in the stillness of the Red Chamber is the clock which ticks only once every five minutes, but atones for it by the noise it makes. Oh, cruel clock, to hurl the Senate into eternity in five minute jumps! Surely one second at a time would do just as wiell ! Moreover, a soft voice is as sweet a thing in clocks as it is in woman. I have always wondered why the Senate didn't get up and kill the clock. If I had a clock with a tick like that I would not let it perform except in a barrel. However, the Senate is getting à little deaf. Besides it sleeps between the ticks.
The stillness of the Senate is second only to the silence of death. The stillness is punctuated by speeches which have a mournful, faraway souhd, as if rising from the tomb. .The Sjenate sometimes reads its speeches, but more often it inf tones them. This caiiorou9 monotone makes a sombre background for many little noises all signifying mortality — hair falling, teeth loosening, joints anchylosing, gums shrinking, and so on. Yes. old age is creeping ovèr the Senate — creeping, creeping, creeping. But creep it ever so 9lowly it catches up with some Senator at last and the flág is at half mast again.
When the flag is half masted on Parliament Hill nobody in Ottawa ask9 “Is King George dead?” No, indeed, Ottawa squints casually at the sad banner, blows
its nose and remarks, “Ah, ha, Senator Snookum’s cashed in.” Ottawa always has its eye oi some Senator with one leg in the grave. And as soon as he gets the other leg in a goodly part of the population makes application for the dead man’s shoes.
Yes, the Senate is oldfcr than it ought to be. I never visit the Senate Chamber without reflecting, on the disabilities of advanced age. I think of more crutches than were ever left at St. Anne de Beaufire, of third sets of teeth, and electric belts, ard red flannel, and camomile tea and goose oil and graves and worms and epitaphs. I shouldn’t feel that way about the Senate, but I can’t help it.
D ADINAGE aside, I am trying to say that we must have a younger Senate. We must start it younger and keep it that way. There must be no such thing as a creaky Senator. No matter how great the intellect, people do not like to see it enter the Red Chamber in a wheeled chair. It is not decent that any Senator should totter about with death in hi9 face and castra gloom over the community by acting as a memento mori to his healthy neighbors. It is not good for the Senator who should be with his trained nurse and his home comforts and it is not good for the Senate which incurs a reputation for harboring dotards.
This is no joke. I say it without prejudice to a considerable number of hale and hearty old men who are in the Senate now, men who are enjoying the reward of the clean live9 they led in the days of their youth, veterans, some of them, of the Mackenzie administration. What I urge is that after a certain age men run to seed very rapidly.
Some men are twenty year9 younger than their arteries, but such are few and far between. The supply is not big enough to keep the Senate stocked with seventyyear-old statesmen, actuated by fiftyyear-old arteries. In the course of nature we must judge a man’s constitution chiefly by his age and there comes a time when agi; gets the better of him, numbing his mind, weakening his body. When old age has finally won the signs disclose it. If the victim is in the Senate it is his duty to quit and let a younger man take his place. He will not do it, however. Senators ma3 die, but they never resign.
The)’ would sooner die than resign any As a matter of fact they do. They have a gift for dying. Of the eighty Senators appointed by Laurier, forty-one are dead. in the five years the Laurier Covern ment has been out of office the Liberal majority in the Senate, which was thirty-nine when Laurier went out, .has entirely disappeared. This shows how
Suickly the old gentlemen drop off when fiey make up their minds to it.
• Perhaps this is the way Providence has of solving the problem—the problem of ridding » new Government of a hostile Senate, left them by the party previously in power. But I do not think so. We ipusn’t saddle Providence with too much. ’The moral is that if we appoint younger Senators they will live longer and that if we appo nt them on merit for a definite period covering their highest usefulness we won't care how long they live.
THIS bring9 me to my chief remedy for the ijls the .Senate is heir to—the Elixir of Youth. I would not make it elective. The commons debated this ques-
tion as far back as 1874 on the motion of the Hon. David Mills and decided in the negative. I would not make it elective thereby throwing it into the same fevers to which the House of Commons is subject. Nor would I make it appointive for life, as it is now. I would make it appointive for a fifteen-year period, which is long enough to give it stability and also long enough to harvest a man’s best energies at their fullest perfection.
The Romans made thirty the minimum Senatorial age, but that appears a little callow. Mahomet made the ideal age thirty-seven. My choice would be the man of forty. At forty every man is either a fool or a physician. If he is a physician, that is to say, if he knows how to take care of himself, he should become wiser from day to day. Meanwhile his physical powers are’in full bloom and his spirit is brisk and strong. He comes as near as ever he will in his life to that wistful thought—
If youth but knew,
And age could do.
Now ¡9 the time for the state to pluck him and enjoy his full essence—knowledge that youth did not have, experience which comes with the growing responsibilities of life, vision to look backward as well as forward, a judgment calm and brave to face ultimate conclusions; in short the exact combination of prudence and action which make for good counsel. Youth doe9 not cloud his mind with passion and age has not chilled his blood. He is at the flood tide of his manhood for the next fifteen years and for that period he should be appointed—no second terms.
HAT in short is my theory—senators * to be appointed at forty and to go out at fifty-five, or some similar arrangement by which the state might enjoy a
man’s wisdom when all his faculties were at their keenest. Of course the matter of age is not absolute because some men are younger at sixty than others are at forty, but the point is that the Government in appointing Senators should make careful canvas of the soundness of their bodies, so that the soundness of their minds wilt not falter before their time is up.
Youwill observe that I have said nothing about an elective Senate. Among real ponderers of the constitution this idea is as dead as Queen Anne. To make the Senate elective Í9 to defeat the very purpose for which it was formed. The sober second thought can not be very sober if it is to be fretted by the cries and rages of the hustings. It must be above this turbulence, and free of its penalties, if second thought Í9 to avail. The Senate, a9 it stands to-day, is an expansion of the old legislative Councils of the four federating provinces of 1867. Every one of these Legislative Councils had debated at one time or another whether the elective form would be better and every one had decided—very wisely as I think—that it would not Where Upper Chambers are concerned the appointive is the only system that has its root in right reason.
But the appointive system, as it exists to-day is, in my humble opinion, quite wrong. The British North America Act in allotting an equal number of Senators to each of four districts, aims to equalize the powers of the various provinces in the Federal Parliament But this good intention can be defeated if the Federal Government has a grudge against any particular province or provinces either by leaving vacant Senatorships unfilled or by making appointments which disturb the just equilibrium. Moreover, there is always the danger that some ardent re-
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former will do to the Senate as they did to the House of Lords when the Reform Bill had to hjp carried—namely, create enough Senator* to eet over a deadlock. In fact Alexander Mackenzie once proposed that very thipg, but he did not get his way. The Borden Government holds the Senate more saprcd. Although it has at this moment sift Senators up its sleeve, so to speak—being the extra six that the West is entitled to owing to the growth of that part of ]the country—it refuses to make the appointments until after the next general election when the House of Commons will also receive an addition of a dozen member* as awarded by law and the last decenniad census.
AN APPOINTIVE system i contend.
whiejh leaves the Senate open to fears and trembling*, to inequities of distribution and! to party guile which loads it up with a hostile ma'ority that must embarrass the next government in power for years toj corner-such a system, I repeal, is thoropghly wrong. It is so wrong that the House of Commons has debated it several |imes with a view to changing it
either by making th«* Serate elective or aUilishir.g it altogether. The House of Commons, by the way., is always willing to divert attention from itself by reforming the Senate. Such discussions are purely academic and generally take place when Satan can find no other mischief for an idle House of Commons to drt.
Looking up the records I find that •datesmen on both of the House have been deeply interested in this matter. In 1871 David Mills, M.P.. moved that the Senate be made elective—lost on division. In 1 yob McIntyre, M.P., moved that it be made appointive for fifteen years—debate adjourned. In 1908 McIntyre, M.P.. moved that the Senate tie aliolished. So did Lancaster, M.P., in 1909, 1910 and 1911. Debate adjourned in each ¿aseso far, no farther.
In the session of 1909 was witnessed the curious spectacle of the Senate discussing its own possible metamorphosis on the motion of Senator Sir Robert Scott to make the Upper Chamber elective. The Senate debated the question with its usual candor and disregard of results»—the Senate for reasons inherent in its nature discusses nearly every public question with more frankness than the Commons — but no vote was taken. At no stage of the game did the Senate view the subject with alarm—it knows too well where it stands.
HP HE appointive system, it will be seen. * has stood up against argument prettywell and the appointive system is the right one if the proper authority makes the appointments. To my mind the Federal Government is not the proper authority. As the present system works out each administration leaves a Senate majority to act as a stumbling block to its successor. It is the existence of hostile Senates which leads Governments to ask why the spirit of mortals should be proud. It can’t be proud with pins like that sticking in it. When Alexander Mackenzie became Premier the Senate was fifteen against him. When Sir Wilfrid Laurier came inm 1896 there were only thirteen Liberals in the Senate. In the course of fifteen years Sir Wilfrid appointed eighty-one Senators and when he went out in 1,911 he left a Liberal majority of thirty-nine in the Upper Chamber to keep Premier Borden from feeling too gay. Just to show how Father Time does his gleaning let me state that the thirty-nine Liberal majority has disappeared in five years and now Premier Borden has three Senator» on the credit side.-
If the Senate is ever to be more than a thorn in the flesh for successive Governments thlt;* appointing power must be taken away from Ottawa and handed over to the various Legislature» to whom it properly belongs. Anybody with half an eye can see that this is the fair and reasonable way to do it. Not only would it tend to confirm the power of the provinces ar.d establish a juster balance between provincial and federal rights, but it would more nearly reflect shades of public opinion as they exist from time to time in the various parts of Canada. As things *tar.d the Government at Ottawa may lie. let us say. Conservative and be persistently coloring the Senate to that hue while two-thirds of the provincial governments are Liberal. Or it may be the other way about. In either case the Senate is rot doing what the B.N.A. Act intended—namely, holding the scales even as lietween province and dominion.
/ CONSIDERING it* handicaps the Sen-
v ' ate hjas come out of the struggle fairly well. It fs not a bail Senate agt; Senate* go. It has ¡not developed caste, as some Fathers jgt;f Confederation feared it would. It has retrained common clay like the rest of u*. It is BOt a copy of the House of Lord*emdash;ijf it were it would display more ability. ¡Neither is it an imitator of the I i ited States. Senateemdash;if it were it would "• more ia slave to capital than it i* now. \s Touchstone says, it i*a poor thing but our ownl It is a* good a Senate as circumstances permit and it can be as much •etter aÇ we want it to be. It is not a *nobbish¡ Senate, nor a corrupt one. nor a -ervile ope. In fact it has a lot of neutral virtues bn which we can begin work.
In its 'fifty years’ existence the Senate has deteriorated somewhat in quality. The first batch of Senators included the member;f of the old Legislative Council* in the federated provinces and provided a ¡high class of men. Since then the stanjdard has slipped a littleemdash;which was to [be expected when Sen, a tor ships are giveji not for merit but for party serce. ideal Senate_would be a moral and intellectual oligarchy, but I cannot remember any Senatorships that wrere awardeq on that basis. Money is honored often enjough, hut intellect gets the cold shoulder*, I can recall only orte Senator who gut; a look in because he was a follower of the muses—and he was a’personal frjiend of Sir Wilfrid’s and could not be overlooked. The Senate would be all the better, for a *trong leaven of doctrinaire^ and literary men.
LI AV |NG appointed our new Senate on
. fifteen-year-full-bodily health-
with-plepty-of-brains plan, what i* the next thijng that ought to be done to it? Give it [more work. The Senate spends most of its time now’ adjourning. It works days and adjourns ten. Life is thus Jone long series of hiatuses. In the intervals the Senate has time to gcow soft. The seeds of decay are sown. One rusts oujt so much quicker than one wears out. Itis a great pity. It is not the Senate’s .fault.. It’s the fault of the system;]
L nder'the Act of Union there was a Legislative j Council for Upper and Lower Canada ¡ánd in eight years prior to 1857 that Legislative Council rejected 325 bills from the Lower House—forty bills a session. Sjome Senate that! It gave itself "ome work to do. Not so our present Senate. It gets no chance. It Cannot initiate money oír revenue bills and it doesn't seem to care to initiate anything else. How vould it; have under the present conditions? |t has a high duty to perform as a «heck oji hasty legislation, but when it uerformjs it there is always a tremendous outcry followed by threats on the part «*f the pppulace to cut its heart out. The Senate ^as no encouragement. It stops perhaps! one bill a year and gets nothing but abu^e for it.
Rude ¡persons make a mock of the Senate’s trances and to wake it up suggest quiltingj bees. spelling matches and Friday aftjernoon debates on subjects like this: “Resolved that Sir Sam Hughes is a greater ¡general than the Duke of Wellington.” Rut it is not the Senate that is to blame if gossip, tobacco and a little mild conspiracy of a somewhat toothless sort, are it* [sole occupation. It is up to the British ¡North America Act to give the Senate something more to do'than to tell
smoking room stories ami compare ; asthmas. The British North America I Act cannot be amended too soon. There I should be a special clause providing that the Senate shall never have less than two Cabinet Ministers in its nr.dst and both of them with portfolios.
With these changes I am persuaded that we would soon have a brisk up-to-date, cheerful, industrious and efficient Senate of which.any country might he proud. There is, I take it. no immediate danger that the Senate will be either elected or abolished. To make any changes in the Senate not only must the Senate agree, but also the House of Commons, the nine provincial legislatures, and the British Parliament. The Senate may consent to revive itself by adopting a reasonable appointive system, but it will never commit suicide That is a safe bet.