Patronage appointments

by Margret Kopala

Letter to the editor published by The Globe and Mail, Thursday, June 10, 1993

Thank goodness Prime Minister Brian Mulroney is leaving office because then, maybe, William Thorsell will stop making excuses for him (Mulroney Doomed To Be Stuck With Patronage Label - June 5).

While it is indeed within the legal purview of the Prime Minister to make Senate appointments, successive prime ministers have shown themselves incapable of doing so in a spirit worthy of the Senate’s high (and still valid) calling, namely to provide sober second though in the legislative process. Instead, Senate appointments have become a vehicle for paying party political favours and for stacking the Senate so that controversial legislation can be bulldozed through.

Admittedly, many individual senators have risen above the system that gave them their jobs to provide the country with exemplary service. And recent initiatives on Senate reform and Mr.Mulroney’s role within them have been laudable. But he had an option when the most recent round of Senate appointments came due. He could have established new standards for prime ministerial behaviour and selected senators from among the many deserving people in Canada’s industrial and cultural communities, or its scientific, agricultural and social communities. Such a Senate could then - as Mr.Thorsell suggest - start to function as a policy lab, become a forum for advocacy and ideas and, with expert testimony and learned debate, expose legislative issues of the day to the most exacting sober second thought of all - informed public opinion.

But Mr.Mulroney, miring the country even more deeply in its cynicism about politicians, did not choose this option. And the failure to do so both by him and his predecessors has led to the need to reform our Senate - something which might have been prevented if they had ensured that the politics of principle superseded the politics of the merely legal. Mr.Thorsell seems to suggest that the latter is sufficient; clearly it is not.

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