(Replacing the Senate with a House of Identities): a response from the bleachers: play ball or call the game off!

Author:Richards, John

by John Richards, Inroads co-editor

Howard and Robert Chodos lament the intractable nature of our constitutional impasse, and call upon us to entertain a "bold solution." It's hard to disagree: our constitutional disagreements have obviously proved intractable, and new solutions are desirable.

Our core political problem, they suggest, is that "we are all complex individuals whose identity cannot be reduced to any single feature of our lives" but "the only aspect of our identity that receives direct political expression is our geographical location." Hence, their proposal from left field: a second chamber, a House of Identities, comprised of representatives of whatever groups can muster sufficient electoral support to elect members. At the time of a general election, people would be required to identify the group of their choice. As potential groups, the Chodoses identify women, gays and youth. The Chodoses make one qualification. Aboriginal people, Quebecers and "English Canadians" would be three groups guaranteed entry into their proposed House of Identities. However, the number of representatives enjoyed by each of these three groups would vary according to the number of people who identify with each.

What should we make of this proposal?

The Chodoses cite one instance where the idea has been put to use. New Zealand Maoris, who identify themselves as such, can vote for a representative in one of the small number of designated Maori constituencies that geographically overlie the remaining "ordinary" constituencies. Alternatively, Maoris can identify as "ordinary" New Zealanders and vote in the relevant "ordinary" riding. Probably, this device has in a small way helped accommodate an aboriginal and an industrial culture.

If we leave aside New Zealand, my basic response to the Chodoses' proposal is that of the frustrated fan at a baseball game that has dragged on too long due to too many time outs. Either the Quebecois (1) (Francophone Quebecers) and "English Canadians" (everyone else) play ball, or we call the game off and do something else. The Chodoses' proposal is, I am sorry to say, one more frivolous time-out call.

As long as the majority of Quebecois remain highly distrustful of federal arrangements, they will continue to engage in block voting to maximize their influence in Ottawa. If they do so effectively, they could control as many as a quarter of the combined seats in the two houses. If, on the other hand, Canadians outside...

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