Quip of the Week

The Quip of the Week award goes to the Prime Minister this week, for the following snappy comeback, as reported by the CBC:

Stephen Harper

Munson also questioned if Harper’s proposals would lead to the “Americanization” of the Senate, which is elected in the United States.

“I don’t think the Americans have particular monopoly on democracy,” Harper said.

It’s rather depressing to see a senator insult something simply by labelling it “American”. I’m a fan of archaic government institutions when their purpose is purely formal, like the Queen or Governor General, but the Senate is supposed to actually wield legislative power. The fact that senators are appointed, and can sit until age 75, is rather an embarrassment in this day and age. To oppose a democratic Senate simply because America has one… well, that’s just silly.

~ Gnomes

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21 Comments

  1. Manatee said,

    Friday, 8 September 2006 at 9:18 pm

    If I remember the nature of the discussion, skillfully ended with the Harper soundbyte, Munson was interested in how the Prime Minister envisioned the balance between Senate and Commons with a democratized Senate. This seems like a reasonable line of questioning. Your, and perhaps the CBC’s, characterization of Senator Munson’s comment is not accurate.

  2. O'Smiley said,

    Friday, 8 September 2006 at 11:03 pm

    Manatee – I can’t see how there is any more balance with an un-elected Senate then with an elected Senate. I would also think that the CBC would not have mis-quote Munson as refering specifically to an ‘Americanization’ of the Senate, although I could be wrong.

  3. Manatee said,

    Friday, 8 September 2006 at 11:45 pm

    O’Smiley,
    Senator Munson’s questioning regarded the nature of the relationship between the two houses of parliament in the legislative process after any proposed changes. He has not been misquoted by the CBC, nor Gnomes, but misinterpreted by both due to lack of context. Perhaps you need to watch the entire committee hearing!!

  4. Gnomes said,

    Saturday, 9 September 2006 at 5:38 am

    So he was using the term “Americanization” in a positive light? Well, that is a refreshing change, and I retract my criticism of it.

  5. Manatee said,

    Saturday, 9 September 2006 at 7:01 am

    A major focus of this and future discussions will be whether incremental senate renewal justifies immediate and vast, or incremental increases in the role the Canadian senate plays in the legislative process. For example, if term limits are introduced, is that a sufficient renewal for current senators to feel justified in defeating government legislation out of pure partisanship? I would think not.

    At what stage in the renewal process does Mr. Harper believe the Senate will be legitimate enough to express its power as fully and forcefully as the American Senate or as fully and forcefully as our Constitution permits? Senator Munson and Manatee would like to know.

  6. Gnomes said,

    Saturday, 9 September 2006 at 7:51 am

    Mr. Harper’s opinion of that would be rather academic, as it is an issue which will be determined by the collective decisions of the individual senators and the way in which they choose to exercise their powers.

    And defeating legislation out of pure partisanship is never justified.

  7. Manatee said,

    Saturday, 9 September 2006 at 11:20 am

    “defeating legislation out of pure partisanship is never justified.” Yet it happens all of the time in the American system, and in the House of Commons where issues are ignored, defeated, embraced, for reasons purely electoral. Expect it in a fully ‘legitimate’, democratized Senate.

    “Mr. Harper’s opinion of that would be rather academic, as it is an issue which will be determined by the collective decisions of the individual senators and the way in which they choose to exercise their powers.” If not to answer questions like this, why bother showing up to the senate hearing? He is the person proposing the changes, afterall.

  8. Gnomes said,

    Saturday, 9 September 2006 at 4:51 pm

    It’s hardly a strength of the current Senate that it avoids any characteristic flaws of democratic institutions by being undemocratic and therefore willingly toothless.

  9. Manatee said,

    Saturday, 9 September 2006 at 9:50 pm

    It IS a strength of the current Senate that it avoids any characteristic flaws of democratic institutions and yet can still positively influence and improve legislation, and contribute to long term policy debates without undermining their elected peers in the lower house.

  10. O'Smiley said,

    Saturday, 9 September 2006 at 10:30 pm

    The Senators, although appointed, still maintain a political allegiance to a specific political party. By being members of a political party, the Senators still have the expectation of voting on, and amending, legislation based on party mandate. A prime example of this was in 1990 when Brian Mulroney, using section 29 of the constitution, appointed 8 extra Tory Senators into a Liberal dominated Senate in order to force through the GST legislation.

    Just because they are not elected does not mean that Senators do not currently suffer the flaws of our democratic institution. The current situation may in fact be more flawed as Senators currently have no accountability to anyone for their actions (I subtly point out the Hon. Andrew Ernest Joseph Thompson).

  11. Gnomes said,

    Saturday, 9 September 2006 at 10:50 pm

    Why should political appointees be influencing legislation or policy debates at all?

  12. Manatee said,

    Sunday, 10 September 2006 at 12:26 am

    Legislation and Policy debate is influenced by a great deal more factors than simply the opinions of those who have been elected. You know very well that the policy arena is far more vast than a simple parliament, and likewise democracy is far more complex than holding elections. Scientists, social scientists, philosophers,professionals, artists, activists, unions, think tanks and politicians all have an important role to play in policy formation. True Democracy requires such input from a flourishing Civil Society.

    Gnomes, I find you last two comments absolutely shocking. I recall you once asking rhetorically while discussing the same-sex marriage debate: ‘How can MPs do their job responsibly without a legal education? The answer of course is, “thank God they are but one part of the policy formation equation.” It troubles me that you know appear to be so blinded by such an elementary definition of democracy. Do you still have your Reform party membership card?

    Why should political appointees be influencing legislation? Because in our example the Senate, free from the constraints of the candidate-voter relationship, is a meaningful, institutionalized link between Civil Society and formal law makers and this leads to better public policy.

  13. Gnomes said,

    Sunday, 10 September 2006 at 12:49 am

    An upper house filled with philosopher-kings? I really don’t see that in today’s Senate, or think it is a likely prospect any time soon. Decades of political payback do not magically assemble the best and brightest. Even if it did, it is not a process I would trust.

    And please, Reform Party? It’s hardly unique to the right to object to unelected legislators. How does the left feel about the issue?

  14. Manatee said,

    Sunday, 10 September 2006 at 1:19 am

    I never suggested I view the Senate as a house of Platonic Philosopher Kings (if I did, I would be advocating complete control to them), just an important member of the policy arena whose committee hearings are a useful institutionalized link between civil society and our legislative bodies, in a policy arena where view formal and public links between the two exist.

    I made the reform party jab in reference to your apparent elementary beliefs on what defines a healthy democracy as implied by your comments, not on your, nor the Reform beliefs on Senate reform.

    If you would like my opinion on my chosen party’s Senate position, I support abolition before…AMERICANIZATION, and I support abolition before incremental reform with little honest discussion of intended consequences per level of reform. One house of election-possessed children barking insults at each other is quite enough.

  15. O'Smiley said,

    Sunday, 10 September 2006 at 1:26 am

    “One house of election-possessed children barking insults at each other is quite enough.”

    Manatee – you really need to read some of the Debates of Senate Hansards if you believe that the Senate is void of cross partisan quips. I don’t think the Senate is as pure as you think it is. If they didn’t read Debate of Senate Hansard on the top I would have trouble distinguishing them from the Hansards of the House of Commons.

  16. Gnomes said,

    Sunday, 10 September 2006 at 1:33 am

    I agree on the usefulness of Senate committee hearings. Elected senators can also have useful committee hearings.

    I think your beliefs on what constitutes a healthy democracy could stand to be a little more elementary if they don’t include the notion that the representatives of the people should be elected and not appointed.

    As for my choices for reform, it would be 1) Proportionally representative body, 2) Abolition, 3) FPTP elected, 4) Status quo. Only 3 and 4 are currently on the table.

  17. Manatee said,

    Sunday, 10 September 2006 at 2:09 am

    “… if you believe that the Senate is void of cross partisan quips”-O’Smiley

    No doubt there are some examples of ungentlemanly debate, just as there are a few examples of those who have abused their appointments. I believe these would be exceptions to the rule.

    As a famous musician once wrote,”One of the reasons I believe, that The Senate has such conceptions about it is that unlike the House of Commons, it is not televised. There are no theatrics in Question Period to make it to the evening news. There is no need for raging partisan tactics that will make a good soundbite to promote a political party. Senators aren’t clamoring for the spotlight to make a statement so that they will get local media attention. The information that comes out of The Senate does so in committee reports, transcripts of debates and in an occasional news story. Often, the bit of information the public receives are exaggerated tales, spun by political parties, regions or interest groups that would see specific benefit from public dissatisfaction with The Senate. These reports often cite statistics and accounts that hardly represents the nature of the work being done in the Senate.”
    Link
    “I think your beliefs on what constitutes a healthy democracy could stand to be a little more elementary if they don’t include the notion that the representatives of the people should be elected and not appointed.”-Gnomes

    My democracy includes the House of Commons! But, elections do not a democracy make. I do not feel that the Senate has overstepped its role, given it is unelected, in my lifetime. The Senate, as is, is not some unrelenting enemy to Canadian democracy.

    “The idea that simply electing Senators will magically solve all of the problems of our parliamentary government is just not so. For a start, an elected Senate would not likely observe voluntary second-banana status and submerge its views, except in the most extraordinary circumstances, to those of the Commons. Elected Senators would feel no such obligation. And nobody seriously suggests that the terms of elected Senators would precisely coincide with those of members of the commons. Two elected houses of parliament with equally democratic mandates and with the equal moral authority that derives from having been elected, would very soon be at loggerheads, or would simply be useless mirrors of each other.” -Tommy Banks

    So the question remains, “At what stage in the renewal process does Mr. Harper believe the Senate will be legitimate enough to express its power as fully and forcefully as the American Senate or as fully and forcefully as our Constitution permits, and would either be a good thing?

  18. Manatee said,

    Sunday, 10 September 2006 at 2:24 am

    I’m asking in defence of the Senate Committee questioning. Harper’s answers were not satisfactory in my opinion.

  19. Gnomes said,

    Sunday, 10 September 2006 at 2:20 am

    So the question remains, “At what stage in the renewal process does Mr. Harper believe the Senate will be legitimate enough to express its power as fully and forcefully as the American Senate or as fully and forcefully as our Constitution permits, and would either be a good thing?

    If you want Stephen Harper’s opinion, why are you asking here?

  20. Gnomes said,

    Sunday, 10 September 2006 at 3:35 am

    I think you misunderstand the purpose of a quip. It ends all debate and answers all questions.

    I’m not satisfied with Senator Banks’ statement above that an unelected house is acceptable if it chooses to exercise self-restraint over elected representatives. Life is full of disappointment.

    In other news, I’ve changed our blog from GMT to MDT, affecting how comments appear, so it would be easiest if debate continued subsequent to another post. I think it’s your turn to put something up for slagging, Manatee.

  21. Gnomes said,

    Tuesday, 19 September 2006 at 4:25 pm

    “At the same time, you talk about creating a process this fall, yet all we see now is a path for an eight-year term to some place we do not know where we are going. I am wondering if we are leading, in this reform, to the Americanization of the Senate.” – Senator Jim Munson

    I really can’t see how Senator Munson’s comments, in full context, can be taken as anything other than using the term as a pejorative. I think he was going for the sound bite, but ended up just providing Harper the setup he was waiting for.

    Granted, Harper does lose a few points for “I wondered when that line would come up.” What I had taken for a witty, off -the-cuff retort is revealed to be, in the full light of truth, merely some minor esprit d’escalier that he had been saving up. This Quip of the Week award is suspended pending further review.


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