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Russell Wangersky: O’Leary’s Senate seat sale and other preposterous ideas

Kevin O'Leary
Kevin O'Leary

Ah, Kevin O’Leary: the shadow candidate for the leadership of the federal Conservatives.

Russell Wangersky

Eventually, he’ll jump in, ready to — as he puts it — “speak jobs.”

His latest pronouncement? To sell off seats in the Senate to the moneyed classes.

“I don’t know why we can’t have at least $100,000-$200,000 a year committed to each senator. Instead of it being a cost centre to Canada, why can’t it be a profit centre? It’s an interesting idea. I’m happy to float it,” O’Leary said on CTV’s “Question Period” on the weekend.

Have you got $200,000 a year to pay for a Senate seat? I didn’t think so. Just imagine who does.

The Senate is always a fat and comfortable target, and O’Leary might have simply been looking for the easiest way to become a Monday-morning subject of conversation.

In other words, it might well have been not so much a policy or a platform as it was a way to keep his name in the news.

But, like most outrageous ideas, it’s important to at least go through the motions of explaining why, in fact, the idea is either meant to appeal to those who don’t have time to consider what it means, or who don’t care. It’s especially important because Tories apparently believe that something as simple as name recognition makes O’Leary a credible candidate.

Whether you like the idea of making the Senate pay for itself or not, what O’Leary is suggesting is selling influence. That’s it. It’s no different than taking money for a vote in Parliament — in fact, it’s taking money for every vote for a period of years.

The Senate, as unwieldy as it is, has a constitutional role to play in making laws in this country. It may have been a vestigial limb of the sitting government for much of the time in recent years, but that doesn’t reduce its powers. Does it serve this country to offer control of a house of the Parliament to a cabal of those who can pay for the privilege? What would be their view of the interests of Canadian citizens?

And why not continue the argument to its logical extension? If what we want in government is to simply sell off responsibilities and raise cash, why stop there? Why not sell the other law-making arms of the government — if you pay enough, should you be able buy a seat in Parliament, or even buy the prime minister’s job?

Here’s another idea — why not sell search and rescue responsibilities to whatever private agency is willing to make the lowest bid to provide the services, and allow that private company the ability to demand the credit card numbers of family members of the lost or missing before a search begins? You can charge desperate people an awful lot of money, right?

Why not sell the environmental assessment and inspection responsibilities of the federal government to private industry? Certainly, there are polluters who might find it far better to own the environmental arm of government than to clean up their act.

As trial balloons go, the biggest thing the O’Leary Senate proposal carries with it is a clear picture of how O’Leary views the role of government — as a system based solely on the balance sheet, ethics be damned.

Government is not business. Things like health care and education are always going to be cost centres — that’s because they are government services for all of us, not just for those with the biggest wallets.

And think about this: if Kevin O’Leary thinks selling Senate seats is a good idea, you can only imagine what the rest of his fire sale would mean for you and your family.

Russell Wangersky is TC Media’s Atlantic regional columnist. He can be reached at russell.wangersky@tc.tc — Twitter: @Wangersky.

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