It’s 2024 – it’s time to think about the Senate as it is, not as it once appeared.

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It’s 2024 – it’s time to think about the Senate as it is, not as it once appeared.

On the very same day I read Claude McIntosh’s “musings” on Canada’s Upper Chamber, senators were voting to pass significant changes to the rules.

The Senate of old, with its partisan appointments and two-party system, is in the rearview mirror.

And yes – we do need more Senate reform! Many Senators have been front of line in suggesting ways to modernize Canada’s Upper House since independence became the norm, over eight years ago. All ideas are welcome.

Just keep in mind that the writers of our constitution didn’t make it easy to abolish the Senate, or make a major change like electing senators, rather than appointing them. Unanimous support from the federal government and all provinces is needed – and experts agree it’s unlikely.

Plus, there’s good reason to appoint senators, who work until age 75, and counter-balance the four-year election cycles, where Members of Parliament are always thinking about (and fundraising for) the next time Canadians head to the polls.

We don’t always elect reps who look like Canada. Senators balance that out, too: they’re often racialized, Black, Indigenous, and reflective of the diverse Canadians they serve. Folks like Senator Clement study bills from a unique lens, often advocating for minorities that can be forgotten in the House of Commons.

I will concede on one point: Canadians should know more about what happens at 2 Rideau Street. The Senate’s website, with video recordings of all Senate sittings and committee meetings, and transcripts, and explainers, and rules, is a good starting point for the uninitiated. It even has a list of all 96 senators, and a note about the missing nine (looking at you, Justin Trudeau!).

There are resources for classrooms, too, including the option to request a Senator come speak to students. Teachers can request a virtual reality classroom kit so their students can tour Parliament from anywhere in the country.

Senators post and tweet up a storm, write op eds, do interviews – yes, even on CBC and CTV – to defend their positions and raise awareness about issues important to them. You may have heard Senator Patrick Brazeau in the news recently, championing labelling on alcoholic beverages to ensure Canadians know alcohol causes cancer.

Local journalists know Senator Clement is not one to turn down an interview request – she appeared in over 100 articles in Canada last year.

Can we do more to increase the Senate’s visibility? Absolutely.

It’s on my mind every day, especially as a former journalist and communications coordinator. I have access to so much information because I am in the rooms where the conversations happen. I have a responsibility to share what I can, and to try to convince folks to, well… care.

I’m not sure which analogy I’d use to describe the Senate – is it a whipper snipper, cleaning up the edges the lawn mower can’t reach? Is it primer, preparing the wall before it’s painted? Perhaps it’s mulch, protecting a recently weeded and watered garden. I think you get my point: you may not want to use it, but you’re better off if you do.

One thing’s for sure: the Senate is here to stay, and its members are busy amending government bills, challenging government policy, and shining a light on the needs of minorities.

I invite municipal councillors to spend a day with us at the Senate, anytime between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. on weekdays – but leave your preconceived notions at the door.

Emma Meldrum
Parliamentary Affairs Advisor for Senator Bernadette Clement

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