Skip to content

Time to seize the moment, reform Senate

The time when Canadians will be able to democratically choose their senators will soon be upon us.

The time when Canadians will be able to democratically choose their senators will soon be upon us.

It will be at that point that those provinces that hold their own elections for senators will then take a seat at the negotiating table for further reforms to the Senate. Seven out of 10 provinces, representing 50 per cent of the population will ultimately decide on the stand-alone constitutional amendment that will determine the future elected Senate. We are working our way toward reaching that goal.

The Canadian Fathers of Confederation expected the appointed Senate to play two key roles; to provide a counterbalance to the democratically-elected House of Commons and to protect regional interests (including Quebec’s diverse cultural interests).

Under the constitution, senators already have the power to amend and/or veto any bill emanating from the House of Commons. Like it or not, the vote of a majority of senators is equal to the vote of a majority of the Members of Parliament.

So the question becomes, why change from an appointed Senate at all?

First, the majority of Canadians, when asked if they wanted to elect future Senators, have always said yes. The last national poll resulted in 75 per cent in agreement.

Second, democratically-electing future senators would have the added effect of reflecting the diversity of political philosophies held by Canadians, thereby very possibly changing the focus of its members away from the two-party system the Senate was not intended to be.

Our constitution states that senators must represent the provinces at the federal level: therefore it is critical that future senators align their votes with their provincial interests, not with one of two political parties to whom they are beholden.

For the first time since confederation, our current prime minister, Stephen Harper, is attempting to return more power to the provinces by giving them an opportunity to fill future vacancies in the Senate with elected senators.

That is the whole intent of Bill C-7, The Senate Reform Act, in respect of the selection of senators and of the nine-year term limits.

A majority of Canadians believe that provincially-elected senators, with equal representation for all provinces, is the ideal mechanism for the task.

In fact, when a majority of provinces initiate legislation to elect senators through the government’s process, the time for a stand-alone constitutional amendment will have arrived.

The provinces are constitutionally sovereign in many areas: education, health care, manpower, immigration, and provincial taxation. Over the last few generations, the federal government has used its taxation powers to encroach on areas in which the provinces are empowered. The solution to curtailing this encroachment is the complete reform of the Senate to allow provincial input into every aspect of federal legislation.

The third component to the government’s vision is a simple but powerful override process that will maintain the supremacy of the House of Commons.

The override is a straightforward process that would apply when a simple majority of the Commons passes a bill. The Senate could only veto a bill with the support of a majority of senators from each of seven out of 10 provinces representing 50 per cent of the population.

Such a veto would apply whether the provinces had an equal number of senators or the current number of senators in each province.

The majority vote would apply and each province would have only one vote. Such a veto would not be a vote of confidence in the government. The bill would simply die.

Let’s remember that there is only one legal way to change the Constitution of Canada and that is by having the agreement of seven out of 10 provincial governments, representing 50 per cent of the population, the agreement of the prime minister, and the House of Commons on any issue.

The Senate can, in fact, only delay changes to the Senate for 180 days.

The way forward to an effective, elected and equal Senate is before us.

The momentum is building from the people of Canada, the political leaders of our provinces and territories and our federal government. It is time to seize this opportunity and bring democratic choice to the people of Canada through real reform of our Senate.

push icon
Be the first to read breaking stories. Enable push notifications on your device. Disable anytime.
No thanks