The Senate is hardly a subject that will get hearts racing in a federal election campaign or, really, any other time.

Usually the only way the upper chamber comes to public attention at all is through appalling behaviour, outrageous absenteeism or a scandal over expenses.

That started to change, though, after the Trudeau government brought in important reforms to make the Senate less partisan. In the last couple of years there have been controversies, but they involve senators daring to question legislation or delaying bills with major amendments.

That is, of course, just what Canadians might reasonably expect to happen if senators are doing some independent thinking rather than simply rubber-stamping legislation or launching into knee-jerk opposition depending on their party affiliation.

But Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer’s big idea is to go back to the not-so-good old days.

If elected, he says, he’ll ditch the new merit-based process whereby Canadians apply to become senators and an arm’s-length board recommends a list of five people for each vacancy, from which the prime minister must choose. Scheer apparently prefers straight-up political patronage and says he’ll appoint Conservative senators “who would help implement a Conservative vision for Canada.”

No sober second thought there. Just rubber-stamping and, no doubt, more of the embarrassing antics that long made the Senate one of the most reviled institutions in Canada.

Senate reform is a work in progress, but the Liberals’ changes to the appointment process and freeing senators from party discipline have already made things considerably better.

Currently there are 65 senators who sit as part of the Independent Senators Group or as unaffiliated senators, making them the majority in the 105-seat chamber. (There are also 29 Conservatives, nine Liberals and two vacancies.)

Under the old system, the Senate sent about 10 per cent of government bills back to the House of Commons with amendments. In the most recent Parliament, that rose to 30 per cent, says University of Waterloo political scientist Emmett Macfarlane, who advised the government on the type of Senate reform that could be done without reopening the Constitution.

So, independent senators have been more robustly carrying out their role but, just as crucially, they haven’t become obstructionist. The Senate should raise questions and push for improvements; there’s no point in just having an echo chamber. But in the end, as an unelected body, it must defer to the elected Commons. It did that by passing government bills even when key Senate amendments were ignored.

The senators themselves are also a more impressive group and a better representation of Canada. Nearly half are now women and more than 10 per cent are Indigenous.

Yes, we can quibble over how “non-partisan” these appointments really are since the prime minister is almost certain to pick people put forward by the selection board that at least have an ideological compatibility with his party. But the new system opens the door to a far wider range of people with life experiences outside politics. And it weeds out the complete duds who come from patronage appointments.

Even Tom Flanagan, a longtime Senate reform advocate and Stephen Harper’s former campaign manager, says Scheer would be better off sticking with the Trudeau reforms than going back to the old, discredited system.

The new Senate is less predictable — that’s what happens when you encourage independent thought — and things take longer when senators take their sober-second-thought job seriously. But it’s performing a more useful function than it did before the 2016 reforms.

The Liberals themselves aren’t bothering to tout this success story on the campaign trail, presumably because they know most voters don’t care about the Senate. It certainly can’t compete with affordability issues like high housing prices.

But this is an important democratic reform. And Scheer is wrong to so casually vow to ditch it in favour of appointing party hacks and bagmen who have no business sitting in the Senate.