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EDITORIAL: Occupational hazards?

The Senate chamber on Parliament Hill is seen Tuesday May 28, 2013 in Ottawa.
The Senate chamber on Parliament Hill is seen Tuesday May 28, 2013 in Ottawa.

Sen. Percy Downe makes some excellent points with his arguments about filling vacancies in the upper chamber. There are 10 openings in the Senate, including one from P.E.I., following the retirement last month of Libbe Hubley from Kensington.  

While he tries to address the bigger picture, Sen. Downe is slightly biased in his arguments when he singles out the absence of full-time farmers and fishermen or regular forces veterans in the red chamber. Those occupations are important – especially on P.E.I. where agriculture and fisheries are essential primary industries and Charlottetown is the headquarters for the Veterans Affairs Canada.
The Charlottetown senator calls them crucial gaps in representation and that it’s beneficial to have people with experience in agriculture, fisheries and the Canadian Forces when senators discuss those topics. Yes, the Senate needs that input, but that’s why Parliament invites experts as needed, and holds hearings – to ensure they get that essential information.
The Senate has gone through enough turmoil of late so we must avoid a process where seats are filled based on careers instead of far more vital concerns. The most important criteria is to get qualified candidates into the Senate who want to work diligently on behalf of their provinces and do what’s best for the country. Once we start to apportion seats by careers, then we run the risk of bypassing better candidates.
Yes, a strong cross-section of Canadians is important in the Senate. But if applications for P.E.I.’s Senate seat are submitted by interested Islanders and there are no farmers, fishermen or veterans among them, then what do we do? Candidates expressed a desire for public service and these are the names we expect to be vetted and approved by an independent advisory board and then passed along to the prime minister, premier and governor general. We don’t want to see those names cast aside. We’ve had enough patronage issues over the years which created scandals the Senate can ill afford to repeat.
The Senate is disproportionately composed of old, white men and the odds are high that the occupations, that Sen. Downe mentions would be filled by a similar group. If a farmer from P.E.I., a fisherman from Nova Scotia and a veteran from New Brunswick enter the Senate, filling almost a third of the 10 vacancies based on their career would further distort the chamber’s
We should be more concerned that there are sufficient numbers of civic-minded women and men, Indigenous Peoples and minorities in the senate before we start worrying if there are enough bricklayers, carpenters, electricians, truckers or web designers scattered among the red seats.
Let the independent appointment process proceed and select the most qualified Canadians for the Senate. If it turns out that P.E.I.’s newest member is a farmer, fisherman or veteran, then so be it. But we won’t be disappointed if our new senator is a nurse from Souris with a distinguished career as a health provider.



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