The Canadian Senate needs a Ghost

Feb 22, 2013

The never-ending struggle for Senate reform—change, abolish, change, abolish—represents nothing less than a existential stalemate. What Canadians need is some transcendental intercession.

The Canadian Senate needs a ghost.

Not one of those whispy tourist attractions who utter their catchphrase and then walk through a wall to get away. That’s too much like a live cabinet minister to be of any benefit.

The Senate needs a Dickens ghost, who shows up ominously, delivers a dire moral lesson, and disappears forever. The ghost must terrify us, but to a principled end.

Like so many troubled protagonists, the Senate fell into bad company almost from the beginning. Political leaders with power strong-arm it to reward their friends. Leaders without power rail against it, hating the sinner much more than the sins.

The Senate still betrays glimpses of goodness now and then. There’s the occasional non-partisan appointment, or the intermittent backbone shown toward rammed-through bills. But our upper chamber is very much like a romantic recluse, holed up in a rich mansion yet too poor in spirit even to meet the gaze of the common man.

That fairly cries out for a haunting.

When should the Senate ghost appear? Why, Persons’ Day-eve, of course. It’s one of the few truly holy days we can call our own in this country. That day reminds us that there’s more at stake than just which party caucus controls the reins of power.

Who should see it? A parliamentarian might report the visitation with media savvy, but ghosts are weak tea when politicians’ day job is to damn their colleagues as devils. Any ghost tasked to catechize them might rather take their chances on an after-afterlife.

It should be an Average Person, celestially selected primarily for their unimpeachable disinterest.

On to the most important question of all: who should the ghost be? Someone whose dedication to responsible government earned them a High Commission from the astral plane? Or a regretful late senate appointee who now drags great chains attached to ballot boxes?

What about a manifested spirit? Both “Justice” and “Liberty” are too earnest to haunt effectively. One also observes their penchant, as seen in allegorical paintings, for loosing their blouses distractingly.

No, the ghost should be thoroughly Canadian. Robertson Davies’ collected ghost stories “High Spirits” show he clearly has the expertise for the job.

And so, on a grey October evening, a tourist from Kicking Horse Pass carelessly strays from the last Centre Block tour of the day. They discover they are alone, except for the stern portraits and gargoyles, in the gothic silence of the Senate foyer.

Out of an unnatural blue glow walks a ghostly Davies, who immediately launches into an angry digression about arts funding. Our tourist, first startled then bored, eventually steers him back on track, asking the bearded spectre his ethereal advice on Senate reform.

Davies shrugs his shoulders, and replies: “Life, as with art and so much else, is a series of tensions. Those who struggle with them should not expect to lose each battle completely. Nor should they ever strive to prevail absolutely.

“These conflicts should be neither ignored, nor all-consuming. Absolute permanence, like absolute power, corrupts absolutely.

“In other words, and with particular attention to Senate reform, the heavenly host would very much like to share with all of Canada this message: PLEASE, GET ON WITH IT!”

His commission forcefully delivered, Davies’ fierce visage dissolves along with the ghostly glow. The shaken tourist looks around, and finds themselves transported to the door of room 350‑N, the Parliamentary Press Gallery.