Opinion

Please Advise! Any Cushy Red Chamber Seats for Me?

Senate hopeful, for all the right reasons, seeks counsel on new appointment scheme.

By Steve Burgess 9 Dec 2015 | TheTyee.ca

Steve Burgess writes about politics and culture for The Tyee. Find his previous articles here.

[Editor's note: Steve Burgess is an accredited spin doctor with a PhD in Centrifugal Rhetoric from the University of SASE, situated on the lovely campus of PO Box 7650, Cayman Islands. In this space he dispenses PR advice to politicians, the rich and famous, the troubled and well-heeled, the wealthy and gullible.]

Dear Dr. Steve,

It is my lifelong dream to be a senator. I understand that the door may now be open for regular people like me to join the upper chamber. The new plan for Senate appointments would set up a five-person panel to review nominations made by ordinary Canadians. Anyone can submit the name of a worthy senatorial candidate, and the panel would then submit a short list to the prime minister.

Assuming the new system is adopted, what approach would you recommend for me to fulfil my Red Chamber dream?

Signed,

Senate or Bust

Dear SOB,

The new Senate appointment scheme may require a new Canadian version of the famous Groucho Marx dictum, "I wouldn't want to belong to any club that would have me as a member." Does anyone who wants to be a senator deserve to be one?

Yet the new system could be intriguing. Will it prove to be a sort of back-door version of an elected Senate? People will be nominating their own candidates, and what is that if not an election? Interest groups could get together to make sure new senators reflected their interests.

The old call was for a Triple E Senate -- elected, equal, effective. But we could see any number of e-Senate variations. Why not an epicurean Senate? That would be popular -- a national chamber of recipes full of the country's top chefs. We could even make it into a reality show. Baseball fans could nominate an ERA Senate -- had David Price re-signed with the Blue Jays he would have been a shoo-in. (Maybe that explains his move to Boston.) Legend has it that Roman emperor Caligula made his horse a senator -- why not an equine Senate? They could hold sessions in a huge outdoor tent and charge admittance.

The new Liberal plan aims for a Triple E Senate that will be exemplary, excellent, exalted. But the "e" for people like you, SOB, is egocentric. And that's the "e" most likely to dominate. You need to get yourself nominated so you can't be the shrinking violet type. Senate campaigns might be unofficial but they'll happen. By the time you are through campaigning your Triple E Senate could also include "expensive."

Triple E branding

Getting yourself nominated will mean getting your name out there. You won't be able to run it like a traditional political campaign. It will probably have to be more like corporate image advertising -- for example, when a company wants to build a pipeline and they run TV ads showing newborn babies despite the fact that the proposed pipeline will not transport a single baby. It's an indirect approach.

Gone are the days when the typical ad wanted to inform you that shiny new toasters are available at a substantial yet temporary discount. Now companies run ads that say "Love us!" even though the company in question might make industrial solvents. That coal company spot is not offering holiday gifts for the special Charlie Brown on your list -- they just want you to feel bad for them when mean old David Suzuki criticizes them. As a Senate hopeful you must take the same approach. If you seek to be the person spontaneously nominated by friends and neighbours as the kind of sterling individual our new Senate needs, you will need to build your brand equity.

Your ads will show you strolling down the street, smiling at a racially, religiously and linguistically diverse assortment of passersby. Their faces shine with love for you. You will be seen rescuing puppies from raging torrents and returning them to grateful moppets. No overt message at the end. Just "Jane Doe -- Proud To Be Your Neighbour." You'll hit the streets, helping the elderly across the road (always wait for witnesses), gasping with delight over hideous sweaters and unfortunate hairstyles, buying people coffee (if there's money left over from the ad budget). Friendly conversation should include pleasant topics like the weather and sports and your deeply-held commitment to public service.

Of course it's difficult to know who will be inspired to nominate a senator. That's why you must cast your net wide. It's like Willy Wonka -- you never know which package is your golden ticket. So you've got to schmooze every damn package you meet.

A final note, SOB. If you happen to know anybody else who would make a wonderful senator -- somebody with a remarkable pedigree and a progressive, pragmatic attitude to public policy -- you might want to start a whisper campaign about them. Something about a $90,000 cheque and a home in P.E.I. Public service ain't beanbag.  [Tyee]

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