Government to Attempt Senate Reform. Again.

Officials from the Conservative Party have reportedly announced today they will try Senate reform, again. The last two attempts failed due to the 2008 election and the prorogation.

In 2006, the Senate failed to pass Bill S-4: An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867, requesting reference from the Supreme Court of Canada on its constitutionality.

They key difference today? The Senate appointments earlier this year by the Conservatives give them a 51-49 majority in the upper house, using the existing system. The irony has not been lost on Canadians.

This move shouldn’t come as a surprise though to anyone paying attention to the Speech from the Throne, where the Prime Minister stated,

Our Government also remains committed to Senate reform and will continue to pursue measures to make the upper chamber more democratic, effective and accountable.

In 2007 Sebastian Spano of the Law and Government Division provided some of the background and constitutional issues, including whether authority for the move could be found from s. 44 of the Constitution Act, 1982, or the more complicated maneuver under s. 38(1). The 2006 Special Senate Committee on Senate Reform report is also worth reading.

One of the key advantages it seems of the current system is that it promotes more diversity of appointments, and ensures a measure of experience is retained in the Senate. The Special Committee notes,

In any reform of the Senate, special attention needs to be given to the representation of aboriginal peoples, the northern and coastal inhabitants, official languages minorities, visible minorities, persons with disabilities and women.

In addition, the representation of the first inhabitants of Nunavik needs to be addressed. These people have been formally without representation in the Senate since the boundaries of Quebec were extended to include these lands, but the boundaries of the 24 senatorial districts of Quebec were not adjusted to include what is now known as Nunavik.

Some of the strongest arguments for Senate reform come from the Canada West Foundation, who state the following goals:

  • do a better job of representing the diversity of the Canadian people via a proportional representation voting system;
  • provide a much-needed check on the power of the Prime Minister;
  • improve the fairness and quality of federal legislation;
  • provide permanent and effective regional representation within the national Parliament.

A more complete report by the Foundation, A New Senate for a More Democratic Canada, was released earlier this month.

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