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A QualitEvolution is intended to capture positions and experiences as a participant in the evolution of the Quality profession into the 21st century. From its origins as the brainchild of Corporate Industrial Statisticians, our profession has transformed and evolved to incorporate and adapt to the demands and expectations of our modern existence.

The scope of the subject matter within A QualitEvolution extends to the furthest ranges of quality, business transformation, management science, and quality issues especially pertinent to the members of ASQ in Canada.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Absurdity of Canadian Senate

There is currently a scandal in Canada concerning the controversial expenses that were submitted by several recently appointed senators.  Without going into detail, I will outline this as a scenario of a Quality System failure, and use the lessons learned to determine appropriate process improvement steps.

The first failure was the fact that two of the senators involved were not policymakers nor administrators, but broadcast journalists with decades of national exposure.  These senators were not elected, but unilaterally appointed by the Prime Minister for a duration that would likely extend beyond his term in office.  In Canada, senators are not elected but are appointed and entitled to remain as Senators until death, poor health, or their 75th birthday.

To use an American equivalent, imagine the public outcry if a Democratic President was able to appoint sympathetic journalists and broadcasters from MSNBC to the US Senate, or alternatively if the Republican President could select from the many sympathetic voices at Fox News.  There would definitely be a conflict of interest, as journalists would have explicit incentives to compromise the factual accounts and communicate government propaganda (to claim that they do already would be pure conjecture :) ).

The second failure was that the expense policies were not clarified and explicitly enforced.  By relaxing the standards, these rogue senators could claim expenses for housing and travel costs that were unrelated to their duties.  While the senators were designated as representatives of rural, outlying provinces (Prince Edward Island and Saskatchewan respectively), both had established their primary residences in central Canada.

While these senators have since been suspended for their deficient expense submissions, the true breakdown was in the administration of these expenses.  Normal corporate governance requires that expenses above a certain level are reviewed and approved before being paid out.  If there are discrepancies or the expenses are against policy, that should be known in advance before reimbursement.  The senators are being penalized and publicly reprimanded, while the true breakdown is in the expense administration, which was either grossly negligent or morally complicit by providing excessive payments to these "celebrity senators".

The third failure is the fact that the Senate in Canada primarily serves as an advisory body to the House of Commons or elected Parliament.  Phrases like "sober second thought" explain the extra legislative oversight that the Senate has on new or revised changes to bills, laws, or regulations.  Essentially, the Senate functions as a quality control mechanism, where older and wiser participants can influence the politically charged and often polarized parliamentary environment to prevent radical and irrational legislation.

Given the advances in information technology and access to expertise in every domain, is there truly a need for a distinct body like the Canadian Senate to provide oversight?  There is no relationship between the salaries and benefits of Senators and the time and materials expended to review and provide recommendations on legislature.  Even if this body was deemed the appropriate forum for legislative oversight of federal laws, that would require a specific set of criteria to ensure Canadian Senators are adequately qualified and capable of their roles.  Sympathetic appointments like Frank Mahovlich (a legendary hockey player who won Stanley Cups with the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens, and was part of the winning 1972 Team Canada squad) would not be adequately qualified for this function.

So based on the lessons learned from these scandals, my recommendations to address the Absurdity of the Canadian Senate are:
- Redefine the role of Senators, and modify the compensation to reflect the actual time and materials devoted to addressing federal Canadian legislation, and other pertinent duties.
- Establish objective qualifications for senators to ensure their capability and successful performance of their roles and responsibilities.
- Define eligibility requirements to disqualify celebrities, sympathetic figures, and political participants (i.e. journalists, regulators) who may be induced to compromise the integrity of their work for a quid pro quo appointment to the Canadian Senate.
- Deploy and sustain a financial governance system that fairly and accurately provides proper remuneration and reimbursement in accordance with the established government policies.  If administrative errors occur, these should be addressed quickly and discreetly to avoid the embarrassment of a national scandal.

I welcome opinions, as well as examples from other countries on the management of their bicameral parliamentary systems.

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