Ian Urquhart and Len Bracko: a Senate voting strategy for progressive Alberta citizens

The Senate chamber – may not be exactly as illustrated. Below: Somewhat progressive ‘Senatorial’ candidates Ian Urquhart and Len Bracko, in his Senatorial toga; Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Since the Alberta government is committed to hosing away an extra $3 million of our tax dollars on Monday on the ridiculous exercise of a “Senate nominee election,” progressive voters deserve the opportunity to express their protest more effectively than by spoiling than their ballots or formally declining them.

It’s a pity the more progressive parties didn’t take advantage of this spectacular opportunity for free advertising despite the preference of most of their supporters for a Triple-A Senate – that is, Abolish, Abolish and Abolish.

The Senate vote, after all, was going ahead anyway, whether or not we approved – and, as Ralph Waldo Emerson wisely observed, “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”

But they didn’t, so we are left with the choice between a meaningless protest or supporting the only candidates in the race who can be considered even close to progressive, University of Alberta Political Science professor Ian Urquhart and St. Albert City Councillor Len Bracko.

Dr. Urquhart, who admits to once supporting the Progressive Conservatives in Ottawa and who has been active in the Alberta Wilderness Association, told the Edmonton Journal in March he has become concerned about the Harper Government’s “search and destroy” approach to dealing with Canadians who want to protect the environment.

Mr. Bracko, who served for a spell in the Alberta Legislature as a Liberal MLA, has a long record of service to St. Albert, a dormitory community just northwest of Edmonton. On a less positive note, he campaigned on a disappointingly conservative platform in the last municipal election and his recent council performance has been less than stellar.

All the rest are associated with either the Progressive Conservative or the Wildrose branches of the Conservative Party, which has been noted here before, are essentially the same in all important regards.

Senate “reform” – as opposed to Senate abolition, which is what is needed – has long been a hobbyhorse of the perpetually dissatisfied far right in this part of the country. These people imagine that a U.S.-style upper house in place of the undemocratic and largely symbolic 19th Century relic we now have would be a panacea to their feelings of alienation in a larger federation where the majority of citizens don’t share their antediluvian views. Thus they have demanded for years a “Triple-E Senate,” meaning elected, equal and effective.

Accordingly, to score a propaganda point and scoop up a few of the farthest-right votes, Alberta Progressive Conservative governments held faux Senator elections in 1989 and 2004.

The federal Liberals were in power in 2004, and ignored the results of that vote. However, upon coming to power Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper appointed one of the four “Senators in Waiting,” a well-off Calgary area farmer named Bert Brown, to the misnamed Red Chamber.

Mr. Brown is the fellow who cut the letters EEE into a barley field north of Calgary International Airport, proving that, in Alberta, there’s freedom of the press for anyone who owns a field and a threshing machine. He later went on to renown as the Senate’s biggest spenders of taxpayer dollars, which shouldn’t surprise anyone who follows Conservative behaviour, as opposed to Conservative rhetoric.

Others, like Link Byfield of the nutty right-wing publishing empire founded by his father, proved too much even for our neo-Con prime minister to stomach. Mr. Byfield has given up on his senatorial dreams and is now carrying the standard of the Wildrose Party in the Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock riding northwest of Edmonton.

Whatever, the pressure for a reformed Senate has largely disappeared for two reasons: first, the people who imagined they could never win power without a Triple-E Senate have won power, and, second, the population and influence of the more-conservative West has increased and is likely to continue to grow.

The PM, however, persisted with the idea of a Senate Reform Act – which was introduced to Parliament last spring – probably because he sees the Senate as a useful wedge issue and because a Conservative-packed Senate empowered to activism would be a useful brake on progressive policies introduced by some future non-Conservative government.

That act, according to the government’s news release at the time, “provides a voluntary framework for provinces to implement a democratic process that enables voters to select nominees for the Senate. The Prime Minister will be required to consider the names of Senate nominees when making recommendations on appointments to the Senate.” (Emphasis added.)

Now, never mind the qualification about recommendations – it’s the PM and his inner circle who decide who will become a Senator. In our system, a recommendation to the Crown is really a command. But note that the act will leave an escape hatch open for the prime minister in the event voters should decide to cast their ballots for the candidate not approved by our neo-Con masters.

Still, it’s said here this would not be the worst outcome – if a progressive candidate were chosen to be rejected by the Ottawa neo-Cons – because it would prove the prime minister’s Senate reform is a fraud and provide the democratic justification to abolish this chamber once and for all.

So why not vote for Dr. Urquhart and “pump the ballot” a little in his favour by voting for no one else, as is your right. If you are simply compelled to vote for more than one simply because you can, you could mark your ballot for both Dr. Urquhart and Mr. Bracko.

If either an environmentalist or a Liberal wins, it’s a safe bet that Mr. Harper won’t appoint him to the Senate, which will serve the useful purpose of proving once again that our PM is a shifty manipulator.

If by some miracle he is telling the truth and appoints the candidate we choose, at least we’ll have one rare progressive voice in the Senate.

It’s not much to get for our $3 million, but it’s something.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

14 Comments on "Ian Urquhart and Len Bracko: a Senate voting strategy for progressive Alberta citizens"

  1. Keith says:

    I hadn't thought much about the Senate ballot. I agree with your Triple A senate idea, so I was thinking of ignoring the ballot, on the principle that voting would only encourage them. But perhaps voting for Dr. Urquhart is a good idea, I'll have to think about it.

    The idea I really want to see enacted in our system is that every ballot should have a space at the bottom labeled "None of the above." If None wins they have to hold a by-election in that riding right away, and none of the above candidates can run again. Eventually, eventually we would skim off the cream that has risen to the top and soured, and we'd get a real person.

    Oh, and pardon the self advertising, but after listening to Ms. Smith yesterday I ranted about it on my blog. You might enjoy.

  2. Anonymous says:

    The opportunity to vote for an educated, thinking real human will be the only reason that I WILL vote in a senate "election" for Urquart

  3. Alex P says:

    David, you have done me a great service. We've been taking about the senate election question at my house.

  4. Michelle says:

    What about Elizabeth Johannson, the Evergreen candidate?

  5. Anonymous says:

    Burt Brown is a hypocrit of the first water. He claims to want responsible Senators and the people to have a say and yet he supports the Conservatives who are doing the exact opposite.

  6. Nordic says:

    Urquhart is a good guy, but the idea of a triple E senate is just odd. 100,000 people in PEI having the same number of Senate seats as Alberta with almost 4 million – how is that democratic?

    Realistic opposition to the Harper agenda is great, but is taking part in a process for a fundamentally undemocratic organization really the best way to do that?

    A single E Senate for "eliminated" makes more sense to me.

    Ps: if memory serves there are two ways to deal with this bogus ballot. You can scrawl an appropriate comment and put it in the ballot box, or you can ask the returning officer to record that you declined the ballot – which should show up on the results; unless the Returning Officer is of a certain type.

  7. Anonymous says:

    In Russia there was a place to indicate you did not approve of any candidates. Until it was eliminated, this was the second most popular choice in some elections.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Refused_ballot

  8. fubar says:

    Who gives a frick about the senate?? Really, it will never be 'reformed' because it cannot be. The parliament will never agree to have a governing body above them (yeah, yeah I know – technically it is right now. But really it is a rubber stamp). And the provinces will never agree to a formula.

    And let's cut to the chase – do most Canadians want a bicameral system like the US? I think not. What we need to do is ensure that the parliament is representative and get rid of the Senate. And if the electorate is so agreeable we may enact PR (proportional representation), but don't hold your breath.

    I am sick and tired of all this triple P Senate crap. It is just another way for smaller provinces to try to gain parity with the larger populated ones. And that is not democracy.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Oh really, Climenhaga. So, you won't even consider Elizabeth Johannson at all, huh? Never mind that she is as much of an environmentalist as Urquhart, comes from a long-standing CCF-NDP family, is openly pro-labour, and according to the latest poll is the closest candidate to breaking the PC-Wildrose stranglehold on the top three senate positions? No, you would rather give your 'second' choice to another old, white, LIBERAL male instead. Did you even BOTHER to contact or interview Johannson? Or did her youthful looks (she's over 40, by the way) and her feminine gender disagree with you? I call patriarchal bullshit on you, sir. Let's see if you are 'man' enough to admit it.

  10. David J. Climenhaga says:

    Guilty though I may be of patriarchal bullshit (I am a patriarch, after all, and a rather old one at that) to Anonymous 9:28 I confess only to incompetence. I had somehow missed Ms. Johannson's candidacy. My bad, I know. Perhaps I'll vote for her, now that I know about her, good old CCFer and trade unionist that I am. Her youthful looks and feminine gender are indisputable. To see for yourself, go to: http://johannson.net/

    That confession made, this is a blog, written in my spare time, and for that reason I seldom interview anybody, but merely bloviate on about my own opinions. As I have said before, I'll start doing interviews when someone starts paying me to write this drivel!

    — DJC

  11. Reg karbonik says:

    I'm not sure you can call Len Bracko a progressive anymore. Door knocking with Stephan Kahn and acting as a backup strategist to the out of touch Cathy heron hardly qualifies as a progressive choice.(as a longtime lib/ndp voter i was surprised to see mr. Bracko arrive at my door pedling kahn material) len brqcko is out for len bracko and the only good thing a fote will do for him is get him off our council qnd make room for someone else. ditch Bracko and put johanson on the list and your article is just fine.

  12. daveberta says:

    That's a great photo of Len Bracko

  13. jerrymacgp says:

    While I support the abolition of the Senate, I don't see that happening unless the federal NDP are elected to a majority government, as that is the only party that has abolition in its platform.

    However, the US is not the only model of a 'EEE' Senate available; look at Australia, for example, a country like Canada with too much geography and not enough population; with only a small number of junior governments, rather then the 50 states the US has; and a country with a somewhat Westminster-style Parliamentary system, i.e. responsible government.

    'Oz' has a 'EEE' Senate. However, unlike the US, the Australian system has several ways to break deadlocks between the house of confidence, which is their House of Representatives (our Commons) and the Senate. While the Senate has a fixed election cycle, with half of its members elected every three years to six-year terms, there is also "double dissolution", in which the Governor-General dissolves both houses and a super-election is held; and joint sessions of Parliament, in which all members of both houses sit together and vote together on a government measure, if the double-dissolution election fails to break the deadlock between the two houses on the issue that led to the election.

    If we are at some point forced into a 'EEE' Senate, rather than abolition, we can avoid the pitfalls of the American system, with its endless gridlock and pork-barreling ineffectiveness (which were, by the way, intentionally designed into their Constitution by the "Founding Fathers", who were distrustful of government), by adopting and adapting the Australian model.

  14. Denny says:

    I couldn't consider voting for an EverGreen candidate because their party touting their Green Party of Canada connection shows that they're openly flouting the democratic process in Alberta. The Alberta Greens were rightfully deregistered for failing to file financial statements and I can't have any respect for candidates that are members of a party that was created to get around completely reasonable election laws.

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