Most Canadians want Senate reformed, not abolished: poll…

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As the Senate expense scandal hit a crescendo earlier this year, the Conservative government led by Stephen Harper commissioned a poll that revealed only about one-quarter of Canadians want the upper chamber abolished, internal documents reveal.

Instead, nearly a majority of Canadians surveyed said they would prefer to see the scandal-plagued Senate reformed — with changes such as elected senators and improved accountability.

But within weeks of receiving the poll in mid-June, Harper declared he would take no action on Senate reform — even though he had been a long-time proponent of shaking up the Red Chamber.

With an election campaign on the horizon, he announced in July that he would put a “moratorium” on future Senate appointments to place pressure on provinces to consider changes that ultimately lead to either reform or abolishment.

The polling data Harper’s government received provides detailed information on what motivated Canadians’ views on whether the Senate should be abolished or reformed.

The national survey by Harris/Decima was commissioned by the Privy Council Office (PCO) — the central agency in the federal government that supported Harper when he was prime minister.

It was conducted May 20 to June 1 and was part of a larger research contract that included focus groups and which examined Canadians’ views on a range of issues — from the economy to terrorism. It cost taxpayers $149,976.

The survey came after years of controversy about the spending practices of senators, and as federal Auditor General Michael Ferguson wrapped up a special audit on the subject.

Ferguson’s report, released June 9, flagged 30 senators for problematic or questionable expense claims totalling almost $1 million, including nine current and former senators whose files were referred to the RCMP.

Behind the scenes, the government was learning what Canadians preferred for the Senate’s future.

The poll conducted for the PCO found that 28 per cent of Canadians believe the Senate should be “abolished altogether.” Meanwhile, 49 per cent said it should be “reformed with changes such as elected senators and improved accountability measures.”

Eleven per cent of those surveyed said the Senate should be “kept as is,” and 12 per cent didn’t know or refused to answer.

The pollster asked Canadians who supported abolition what the “main reason” was for their decision.

Among the reasons: The Senate serves no purpose/is outdated/no longer necessary (34 per cent); it’s a “waste of money/taxpayer funds/a drain on the economy” ( 25 per cent); it is “corrupt” and involved in too many scandals (12 per cent); and senators are only appointed as a “political favour” (eight per cent).





Among those who preferred reform, some of the main reasons cited were: More “honesty/transparency/accountability is needed (21 per cent); we live in a democracy and should have the “right” to elect senators (13 per cent); the current system isn’t working and needs to be changed (12 per cent); the Senate “provides oversight/a check and balance system” and serves as a “sober second thought” (10 per cent).

The poll of 3,010 adult Canadians had a national margin of error of plus or minus 1.8 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

In the end, the Senate was not much of an issue in the fall election that was won by the Liberals led by Justin Trudeau.

The Liberals promised a new “merit-based” system that would change the way appointments are made to the Senate so it becomes less partisan and more independent.

Soon after taking office, the Liberal government announced it will establish an independent advisory body that provides a list of names from which Trudeau will pick for future Independent senators.

He will fill all 22 Senate vacancies by the end of 2016, starting with five appointments in January.

Ottawa Citizen

30/12/2015 18:26  By: National Post

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