Direct Democracy In Action:
A New Vision for the Senate of Canada
We can use the power of the internet to give people more of a voice in their democratic process. I propose a model that will empower people to be directly involved in government decisions that affect issues they care about.
I propose creating a Digital Senate that will act as a second opinion to the current elected legislators in Canada as a new system for governance. This Digital Senate will be a website community that will exist on the internet and be an economical and efficient delivery system for direct democracy.
The current Senate of Canada is an appointed body that is allowed to propose legislation and may block legislation passed by the elected parliament. We do not think such a body, based on the British House of Lords, has any place in a democratic society.
The powers of the current Senate should be assigned to the Digital Senate, but not the salaries and perks.
A New Model for Governance
The Senate of Canada is in dire need of reform, but old models retain the idea of concentrating decision making power into the hands of the few. The Senate has never been an elected body, but recent scandals have emphasized the problems inherent in granting a Senate seat by the authority of the government in power.
There is wide public support for a change in the Canadian Senate, and some are in favour of complete abolition. However, we need a system of checks and balances in a democracy, so we propose an innovative reform using internet communications.
The Digital Senate
The current level of internet connectivity in Canada, with many public access points in libraries, government offices and community centers, means that internet access is not a barrier to participation. Part of the funding that is used for the current Senate could provide free internet for everyone in Canada.
A Canadian citizen eligible to vote in Federal elections can be a member of the site
Members of the Digital Senate site can choose to be Senators in order to vote on behalf of others
Issue Based Model
The current system has political and geographical influence in the choice of who will be a senator. Now our country is tied together by the internet, we would like to propose an issue based model, instead of a geographic or political affiliation.
With a Digital Senate, there is no need to meet in Ottawa because the Senate is a web site. This immediately gives national public access to the discussions and issues that citizens are interested in. Our government currently trusts our income tax and other personal and sensitive information to be sent through the internet, so a similar system of encryption and identification can be used to identify Canadian citizens who are qualified to vote.
Each voting citizen has one vote on each issue tabled in the Senate. Each Senator represents one issue of their choice, then voters can assign their vote on that issue to a Senator representative or vote independently for themselves.
The default is to limit each Senator to one issue at a time, but it may be permitted by the Senate, upon application, that a Senator can represent more than one issue, especially if the issues are related.
How it Works
The Digital Senate would be a web site that would enable the citizens of Canada to have direct input into issues or to assign their vote to a representative or proxy.
Citizens of Canada who are eligible to vote can register to be a member of the Digital Senate.
The current Senators will be retired and collect whatever pensions are owed to them. They will be welcomed into the new organization as members, the same as any other Canadian registered to vote.
Members have their own private page that shows who they are supporting on certain issues and where they can manage their votes and proxies. They can sign up for news on what issues are before the Senate so they can be aware and decide their vote.
If a citizen member wants to be a Digital Senator, then they must make parts of their page public, so everyone can see who they are supporting and their network of influence. Senators would be citizens who are experts in the field or otherwise interested in an issue and are willing to work on legislation or other tasks.
A Senator candidate then posts their qualifications on the page that has been created for the specific issue they are interested in working on. They invite other citizen members to assign their votes to them by stating their position and how they plan to act.
Citizen members who are interested in that issue, then go the page to learn the news and to see if there is someone they want to support. There will be public forums and discussion on the issue page.
If a citizen finds someone who has similar opinions to their own, then they can assign their voting proxy to them. If a citizen collects enough proxies, then they are recognized as being a Digital Senator and become eligible for tax deductions and support through the Canada Council for the Digital Senate.
Every citizen can vote on issues directly, or they can assign their vote by proxy to a Senator. If the Senator does not vote the way they said they would, then the citizen’s vote can be immediately withdrawn. If there is a suspected pay off or other reason the Senator did not vote as promised, the citizens who gave the proxy can complain and appeal the vote.
If the citizen finds that the representation is not what they hoped for, in general, they can withdraw and reassign their proxy at any time. If a Senator loses too much support, they revert back to member status and are no longer eligible for financial support. Citizens are encouraged to vote directly, but as each issue will take time, we anticipate that most citizens will want to have the option for proxy representation on some issues.
The virtual nature of the Digital Senate will enable us to have many more Senators because there is no direct financial compensation for involvement in the process.
Senators may claim a tax credit using a formula based on the number of people who have assigned their vote. The tax credit could be a refund for those who do not have sufficient income to need this deduction. If additional funding is required for meetings, projects, research or conferences, then a Senator can apply for funding through a system based on the Canada Council for the Arts jury process, called the Canada Council for the Digital Senate.
The Canada Council for the Arts is a proven model used for decades for arts funding, so provides the impartial checks and balances required in a democracy. If this model is considered inadequate for the Senate, then any changes to funding practices for the Senators must also be applied to funding for artists.
We can keep the current Senate Chamber for historical and meeting purposes, but practically, no permanent physical presence is required.
The present Canadian system costs $106,264,111 a year, not including contributions to the pension plan.
That is a lot of money that can be used to establish the administration for a web based community and fund the Canada Council for the Digital Senate. It would be available for information, discussion and voting from your phone, tablet or computer.
If required, it could fund public internet access points or internet for every voter in Canada, specifically to make sure any citizen of Canada can participate. There would be enough money to fund some instructors or resource persons based in the community to assist anyone who wants to participate.
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