Here's something positive you can say about Preston Manning no matter whether you admire him personally, share his social views or agree with his politics: he never appointed a senator.
Of course, Manning didn't become prime minister so he never faced pressure to elevate a friendly bag man to the upper chamber. As an opposition MP and Reform Party founder he campaigned for Senate reforms that would, in his view, enhance the federal democracy.
Manning was Mr. Triple-E, pounding the table for a Senate that would be Equal, Elected and Effective. Like so much of his message in those days, it was easy to understand but difficult to achieve. If it had been easy, Mike Duffy would still be a broadcaster.
Nothing became of Manning's calls for meaningful Senate reform and his Conservative successors took a more direct approach. They won a majority where it really mattered, in the House of Commons.
Yet it's fair to say that Manning tilled the soil that produced Stephen Harper and the current Conservatives. And Harper has appointed lots of senators, most of them hacks and party apologists. But you can't blame Manning for that or for the shenanigans nowadays causing red faces in the Red Chamber.
Neither can you blame Justin Trudeau, who is so far from becoming prime minister he might never get the chance to confer the "taskless thanks" on some lofty Liberal.
Manning and Trudeau are far apart ideologically, but they have something in common on the Senate beyond their alibis for the current mess. You can summarize their oddly similar approaches to fixing it this way: if you can't or won't reform the Senate, then reform the senators.
In a published opinion piece, Manning advocates "redesigning parliamentarians . . . strengthening the values, knowledge, skills, ethical foundations and inspiration and leadership capacities."
Sure the institutions themselves would benefit from reform, but Manning says we also need a better stock of raw material to feed their chambers. I think he makes a lot of sense.
Since retiring from elected politics, Manning has agitated for more professionalization of candidates and formalized training, not just on political theory but on the ethics and values of democratic representation.
He points to the campaign schools in the U.S. used to train candidates and political staffers, although its plain that those ateliers have failed to perfect the art. Perhaps the curriculum needs review.
After all, you can teach people a lot but education doesn't guarantee ethics in politics any more than it does in business, the law or journalism for that matter. You need the right people, not just the grasping and ambitious.
Trudeau is saying something similar. He says the scandals plaguing the Senate these days would be better fixed, not by demolishing it and setting off "constitutional upheaval," but by naming better senators and by being open about how it's done.
"We need to be appointing qualified people, in a transparent, open process that leaves people confident that these . . . senators are going to be doing right by the province and the country they represent," he says. That makes sense too.
Trudeau's solution might sound a bit like saying the Canadiens would be a better team if they would just hire players who could actually play hockey. But it gets to the core of the problem. You can reform institutions all you like but if the people involved can't be trusted, the whole thing crumbles.
Perhaps Harper appointed Patrick Brazeau with good intentions, to improve aboriginal representation in the Senate. That the appointment backfired is mostly Brazeau's fault, but it also reflects poorly both on Harper's judgment and the appointments process.
We might end up saying the same thing about the prime minister's choice of Senators Duffy and Wallin or of Jean Chretien's appointment of Mac Harb, for the same reasons.
Why not ensure that future Senate grandees are appointed through a transparent process, with less emphasis on party allegiance and more on public service? Instruct them on legitimate use of expense claims, then audit the place every year.
It won't reform the Senate but it might reform the senators themselves and that, at least, would be a start.
Dan Leger is a Halifax-based writer and commentator. Twitter: @Dantheeditor.