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Zolf, Larry.

Toronto, Key Porter Books, c1984. 200pp, cloth, $19.95, ISBN 0-919493-47-5. CIP

Grades 10 and up
Reviewed by Paul E. Blower

Volume 13 Number 2
1985 March

Senate reform is one of those Canadian political issues that crops up from time to time without ever attracting much in the way of public interest. Most people don't think there is much good to be said for it, but they really don't want to do anything about it.

Some however, like Larry Zolf, have argued for its abolition. His Survival of the Fattest rehearses all the familiar arguments: the Senate is a dumping ground for political hacks and apologists of big business; it is not representative of or accountable to the people; it accomplishes little or nothing in the way of useful work of any kind, much less does it provide "sober second thought."

Indeed, Zolf gives more a performance than a carefully reasoned, balanced argument, and his bombastic rhetorical style gives much more heat than light. Such contributions as the Senate has made are quickly passed over: David Croll's work on poverty and Arthur Roebuck's work on divorce are only briefly mentioned (brief praise too for Therese Casgrain: "the best Senate appointment ever"), while the Beauharnois scandal of over fifty years ago is gone into in depth. Zolf's penchant for buffoonish one-liners is indulged in unmercifully. As examples: the few pro-labour Senators sound "more like the screech of neutered parakeets" than "a Mendelssohn Choir"; Senator Keith Davey is "perpetually bent over so he can always have at least one hunch to play."

Sometimes Zolf's rhetorical passion makes him sound like a socialist demagogue, such as when he says prime ministers ought to appoint as senators "good men and women who have a sense of public interest and a desire to do right and good." Such idealists seldom choose politics as a career.

Zolf provides no footnotes and little in the way of documentation. Why speculate on what Mackenzie King's motives may have been in rejecting Emily Murphy as a Senate candidate? What does the historical record say? That Zolf's book rightly belongs among "anecdotes, facetiae, and satire" is underlined in the closing few pages, when he makes a case for his own inclusion in the Senate.

In short, Survival of the Fattest is best taken in short doses, for laughs. For a balanced view of the Senate, the reader would have to supplement it with the January, 1984, Report of the Special Joint Committee of the Senate and the House of Commons on Senate Reform and any number of older books and articles (e.g., The Unreformed Senate of Canada (Carleton University, 1963); John Turner's "The Senate of Canada-political conundrum," reprinted in Canadian Issues: Essays in honour of Henry F. Angus). One thing Zolf is right about: neither Turner or Brian Mulroney is likely to make any significant change to the Senate in the foreseeable future.

Paul E. Blower, Ste. Marie P.L. Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.
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