May 16, 2013
This Mowat Note outlines a practical and realistic path for Senate reform that would lead to a more democratic and better functioning institution. There is a near consensus on two facts about Senate reform: that the Senate is in need of fundamental reform, and that such reform is exceedingly difficult to achieve. Many have been searching for some middle ground between doing nothing and undertaking a major overhaul of the body, which would require constitutional amendments. The federal government has argued that its approach achieves this middle ground, claiming that its proposals to introduce a form of Senate elections and term limits do not require the consent of the provinces.
Since 2006, the federal government has been trying to reform the Senate. It has chosen the wrong path. Imposing term limits and electing senators would require provincial consent, which will not materialize. Even if the federal government could secure agreement on those two changes, it would make subsequent reform impossible and render the federal Parliament dysfunctional. Smaller provinces would not consent to giving up seats in a new empowered Senate and there would be no mechanism for breaking deadlocks between the House of Commons and the Senate. Instead, if one is interested in coherent, practical reforms to the Senate, the federal and provincial governments should first consider a constitutional amendment to limit the considerable powers of the Senate. This would be far less controversial and would provide a real test on whether there is appetite for Senate reform. If provincial consent could be secured on this change, it would then be possible to deal with the other issues (elections, terms and number of seats per province). All of these issues become far less contentious once the Senate’s powers are reduced and it is clear that the preeminent house of Parliament is the House of Commons.View PDF
May 16, 2013