Those were wonderful scandals coming out of the Senate, with people allegedly claiming expenses they didn’t deserve because they didn’t live where they said they did, and so on. For a while, there was the faint hope that the thing would finally be abolished, but for various reasons too constitutional to mention, that is very unlikely to happen. Too bad, because it would free up a beautiful piece of real estate in the heart of downtown.
Still, it is pleasant, although maybe not too realistic, to consider alternate uses for the Senate chamber, once the Senators have made their deliberate move to the exit.
Many years ago I proposed in print that the Senate chamber would make an excellent basketball court. The dimensions are about right, there is parking nearby, plenty of security around and the visitors’ gallery has lots of good seats.
You might ask, why basketball, when hockey is our national sport? That’s a good question. The difficulty is that the dimensions of a hockey rink are too large for the space available. Further, the taxpayer might balk at installing ice-making machinery in the Centre Block. And finally, where would they put the Zamboni?
For these reasons, basketball made more sense. However, the proposal was somehow not seized upon by public officials. Also there was a complete lack of a flurry of public excitement and eventually what is now Scotiabank Place was built and that was that.
Too bad, because it would have made a nice basketball court and years of embarrassing scandal could have been avoided.
So we move on. What other uses could be made of the space now occupied by the Senate? Well, what about the National Portrait Gallery? You’ll remember that it was once intended to move into the old United States embassy building across from Parliament Hill, then the government changed and the museum faded from sight. We could use a good portrait gallery right about now.
The Senate would have lots of space for it, because remember there is more to the Senate than just the chamber. Once the Senate is abolished, all those senators’ offices will be vacant, along with the Senate committee rooms and the place where the senators store their overcoats and shuffleboard equipment.
Acres and acres of portraits could go in there. Some of them could even be of senators. The ones who live in Ottawa should not be hard to find to take their pictures. Even some ones who don’t officially live in Ottawa might, unaccountably, be close by. For the generations yet unborn, we would want a permanent photographic record of those who graced the institution and perhaps some text explaining what it was they did.
Some might oppose putting the Portrait Gallery in the Senate on the grounds that our need for historical portraiture will be covered in the conversion of the Museum of Civilization to the Canadian Museum of History. So other possible uses need to be explored.
The suggestion that the Senate be turned into a downtown casino will not be dignified with a reply.
However, there is nothing to stop the Senate from becoming what most of Canada is becoming -- a condominium. Some of those offices suites could make nice apartments, once they are thoroughly cleaned to get rid of the smell of pork. The Senate chamber could be made into a party room, instead of a political party room.
The idea certainly has merit, since having more people live downtown has long been one of the city’s goals. It could help put more people onto Sparks Street, as the condo owners emerge from Parliament Hill in search of somewhere to party, or at least get a sausage.
The big lawn would be an attraction, the view is very nice. All that needs to be done is to get the neighbours in the House of Commons to keep it down.