Canadians want Senate referendum

New poll shows large majority in favour of vote on future of Red Chamber


A large majority of Canadians support having a referendum that would decide the future of the Senate, according to an Angus Reid poll released this week. The poll found that 71 per cent of Canadians support having a nationwide referendum on the topic, while fewer than 10 per cent were against the idea. The rest were unsure. At the same time, 70 per cent of respondents indicated that they support eight-year term limits for senators, while 72 per cent said they support having an elected Chamber. Support for abolishing the Senate — something the Opposition NDP advocates — was less robust, with 34 per cent of respondents in favour of that idea. In June, the government introduced legislation that would implement nine-year terms for senators, and create an optional electoral framework for provinces to elect representatives to the chamber.

Montreal Gazette

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Canadians want Senate referendum

  1. Such craziness. The country up in arms about an institution that more or less just provides advice in a formalized manner. Despite what a lot of people seem to believe, I think historian Christopher Moore is on the right track in terms of WHY the senate was instituted in the way it was:

    “…There’s a common misconception that the founding fathers, leery of an elected Senate giving too much power to the masses, chose to appoint senators as a way of exerting control.

    “I think it’s absolutely the other way around,” Moore said.

    “Confederation makers back in the 1860s made the Senate appointed to ensure that it would be weak, to ensure that it wouldn’t have legitimacy to challenge the democratically elected House of Commons.”

    Moore’s take on their strategy? “I think it works very well…”


    And here we are messing with the senate without a fullsome debate and without opening the constitution.

    Yeah, I’m sure that won’t cause any problems eh?

    • Good points.  As I understand it, the Senate can only pass or return bills to the Parliament with advice (to keep the MP’s from making constitutional fools of themselves), so I don’t see why we need to go to the expense & craziness of politicizing it.

      I’d be happy with some reforms such as mandatory attendance levels & possibly having a significant minority of seats recommended by provincial premiers.  However, the system seems to work moderately well as long as PM’s don’t go overboard with stuffing the Senate with extreme partisans, and with everything else in this country that needs attention, Senate reform isn’t high on my priority list.

      I’ve never had the impression that Senate reform (or proportional representation, for that matter) are so much NDP priorities as Jack Layton’s personal convictions.

      • From my perspective the most reasonable change to the senate would involve a merit-based appointment system through a public committee randomly formed and balanced by demographic like a jury.

        It’s an efficient and non-partisan approach that would legitimize the senate but not confer a democratic mandate that could be used to interfere with parliament.

        It’s also a publically popular idea and wouldn’t require use of the constitutional ammendment formula.

        Shortening term limits is fine to a certain degree, but I have concerns about maintaining the level of expertise in the senate, since its main job is to vet the legal and constitutional aspects of legislation. Based on this I would suggest that the tenure of a senator should be longer than the average life of a government, ie how long your average party holds onto power.

        Generally speaking governments don’t usually seem to last more than two or three electoral cycles, so I’d peg the minimum requirement of senate terms to be at least 12 years.

        Frankly though, I don’t really see any driving need to limit terms at all. Shortening them merely costs money for no appreciable gain that I determine.

      • Some info that clarifies what the Senate can and cannot do (constituionally), as well as how it usually behaves, from the book(let) by former Senator Eugene Forsey.

  2. a chamber of appointed losers…non elected losers that can stall my parliament like the gg… there is no place in canada for un elected power.. not to mention their accountability being nil
    get rid of it now along with the representative of that inbred monarchy off in a morally bankrupt nation

    • I take it you think we should fire all the judges and police officers as well?

    • As noted above however, the currently limited power of the senate would seriously balloon if they were elected. The point of appointing them rather than electing IS to limit their power.

      Given the current configuration of the senate, not only would individual senators arguably have more democratic legitimacy than individual members of parliament, but particular regions (which are over represented from a population density perspective) would also have more influence than they currently do in the house of commons.

      Further, the current accountability of the senate is appropriate given its influence, but democratically legitimizing the senate would upset that balance as well, since more power would be concentrated into the hands of fewer people over longer periods of time.

      This is why I say you can’t make radical changes without serious debate in a constitutional context, which requires use of the ammending formula.

  3. How about a referendum on whether to retain the Monarchy or sever Canada from this anachronism and grow up?

    • Garry, the positions represented by the monarchy in Canada, ie the governor generals, are SYMBOLIC.

      Their current function has nothing to do with the monarchy at all. The fact that they once stemmed from the monarchy is simply an artifact of Canadian history.

      You could equally rage against the maple leaf on our flag and make as much or little sense.

      If you’re so incensed by our existing national symbols that you want to change them, you need to make a case for what we would change to rather than btching and complaining about historical relics.

      If you think you have meaningful ideas that all Canadians will agree upon then go for it, but you might want to research the hell of a time we had just coming up with the flag, let alone anything more complex than that.

  4. I would be in favour of representatives elected every 5 years. The elections would be held in and for each province and territory. This would create a chamber that would, in my humble opinion, give greater voice to the provinces and territories.

    • Except then we run into the exact same problem we have with parliament. Concern for Canada and Canadians over the long run goes out the window, and instead we wind up with a bunch of guys looking to provide what goodies they can here and now.. pandering to the current fads of the day rather than taking a sober second look at things.

      Elections suck, the only good thing about them is that they prevent tyrants.  The senate doesn’t have the power to have tyrants, so it shouldn’t have elections.

      • Impeccable logic. Cheers.

  5. I wonder what the level of support would be when we start tussling over the allocation of seats. Go ahead and give the Senate power and legitimacy.

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