Merit-based Senate Appointments: Devil is in the Details

Several news outlets (CBC, Globe and Mail, CTV News) are reporting this morning that Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau is promising to reform Senate appointments and introduce an “open, non-partisan, merit-based process.”

Is this real reform? That depends on the details. Until the details of this process are set out, this promise doesn’t amount to much. Its like promising to do a better job managing the economy without saying how you will do it.

Here’s why.

A merit-based system is nothing new. The Prime Minister has the constitutional authority to appoint Senators, and nothing in this promise will change that. I am quite certain that if you asked every single Prime Minister in history, they would say that they had a merit-based process for appointing Senators. The only exception is when Stephen Harper appointed elected Senators from Alberta.

Some Senators turn out to have less merit than others once they are appointed, but that seems to be an issue of human nature that crosses party lines.

Canadians have reason to be skeptical about promises for open and non-partisan appointment processes. Nominations, votes in the legislature, patronage appointments…parties have promised reform in these areas before. However, maintaining control over these things is both how and why political parties exist and are able to sustain themselves.

What will the Liberals open and non-partisan process look like?

Maybe they will look at how territorial elections are run in the Northwest Territories, where they are no official partisan affiliations. That is an open and non-partisan process, but is it too open and non-partisan?

And is it a merit-based process…isn’t that an interesting question!

What would you suggest for an open, non-partisan, merit-based process for appointing Senators?

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