Tories to propose an elected Upper Chamber, with term limits

Two bills may be pushed through as Harper moves to capture control of the Senate


Senate reform is teetering on the horizon as Harper inches toward a Tory majority in the Senate. The Hill Times reports that Harper is expected to fill five vacancies before Parliament reconvenes on March 3, achieving plurality with the Liberals. However, with the absence of two opposition votes—Quebec Liberal Senator Raymond Lavigne, charged with misusing Senate funds, and Independent Senator Michael Pitfield, who’s been ill—the Tories stand to overthrow the Liberal majority. The proposed reform is comprised of two bills, one imposing term limits, the other initiating a process whereby Senators would be elected at the provincial level. Several provinces say that any change to the Senate is unconstitutional without consent from the provinces, while critics say that an elected Upper Chamber would throw off the balance of power between it and the House of Commons. Liberal MP Marlene Jennings notes that her party may support 12-year term limits instead of eight-year, as the shorter term could potentially allow a Prime Minister who serves two full terms to appoint every Senator.

The Hill Times

Filed under:

Tories to propose an elected Upper Chamber, with term limits

  1. So.. a PM who sits three terms should appoint every senator but one who sits two terms shouldn't? What a difference four years makes.

    <sigh> Just pablum thrown out to the base in full knowledge that it'll be struck down by the courts at which point they can say, "See? We tried! You have to give us (by which Harper means himself) the power to fire court justices so that we can get the rulings we want!"

    Go to Sergoba, Mr. Prime Minister.. please. We'll all be happier.

    • 'Part of what makes the senate function is that it has that breadth of knowledge brought by long experience'????? Seriously???? The senate doesn't work currently regardless of the 'experience' of the senators – particularly since the major strike against the senate is that they are political appointments.

      At least an elected senator holds some hope (I'm not a great fan of an elected senate, but the current model is NOT good)

      • Did you think before saying that or was it just an automatic response?
        I'd suggest you take a look at what the senate actually does before spouting off.

        • agreed Thwim, one only needs to spend some time combing through senate and house committee hearing transcripts to see the benefit of having one chamber that is not tied to a short-term, conflict-oriented method of selection.

    • "Part of what makes the Senate function"?? "Breadth of knowledge"?? What planet do you live on?
      This is the most anachronistic, dysfunctional body in Canada and you want to preserve the gerontocracy in the Senate?
      Get a life.

      • Get a clue. It's quite apparant you don't have one.

    • It would be nice if the Senate operated as it described in the phrase "sober second thought". But it doesn't and never has. The Senate has always been a retirement home for party loyalists and retiring politicians. It has almost always been stacked with Liberal supporters who use their majority to frustrate Conservative governments. The "breadth of knowledge brought on by long experience" has never been used to anyone's advantage.

      I have always liked the "House of Provinces" idea with elected members for fixed terms, with term limits to balance off the Quebec/Ontario bias of the House of Commons.

      Recall legislation, while seemingly effective, has never proven to be so in practice.

      An elected Senate with term limits is progress.

      • Really? Have you ever actually looked at what they do? As in, read Hansard?

        No? Perhaps you ought to before exposing your ignorance.

    • sergoba? whos that, i thought i was the only one to use that name in the whole of england.

  2. Well said.

  3. This is newsworthy? It's a joke.

    It is not "Several provinces say…" Altering the Senate in this way IS unconstitutional. Full stop.

    • I do not know if these proposals are good or not but i would suggest (not being a legal scholar of the constitution) that terms limits proposal just make as constitutionally allowed change as it only constricts the term of the senator and is not that mote limiting than the current limit that a senator can only sit till he is 75 years old. The other proposal is somewhat more problematic in that the it ask that the senator be elected. That is NOT called for in the present constitution and no mater how you dress this it is a constitutional change. Also for the life of me why are going continue to enshrine the way the senators are proportioned throughout this country to wit that the Atlantic region with about the same population as Manitoba and Saskatchewan combine get 30 senators while Manitoba and and Saskatchewan get only 12 senators?

  4. Yes, clearly the Liberals are not concerned with the way the Senate functions and whether it would be good to have 8 year terms for senators so much as ensuring that Harper would not have the ability to appoint more Conservatives than Liberals to the upper house. It's just more partisan politics going on in the House.

    Term limits are the very basis of democratic institutions. That's the very reason why a Parliament can only sit for a maximum of five years, to limit the power of the ruling party. To suggest in the 21st century that any parliamentarian should sit without having been placed there by Canadians, until they die or reach age 75, is absolutely ridiculous and totally undemocratic. I'd humbly suggest that if you really don't know what you're doing after *one* year in office, perhaps you should just resign and make way for someone more capable! Perhaps it isn't the term limits that are the problem then!

    Why bother having term limits at all? For anyone? If it's a question of acquired wisdom over long tenure, let's just go back to having a monarch who rules directly whether we like it or not. Imagine how much we'd benefit from the wisdom gathered over a lifetime! Of course, I'd imagine that the people who really have achieved great experience and done good work for Canadians would be able to win an election, that their good record would influence people to vote for them and therefore it wouldn't be a problem to bother our officials with something so petty as elections, but apparently I'm in the minority in thinking that!

    Australia is a very good example of a country with a similar form of parliamentary democracy whose Senate is both elected and has term limits, and their political structure doesn't seem to be suffering from dysfunction the way ours does. Their senators have term limits of only six years and nobody seems to have the concerns that people here are raising. This change is going to come to our Senate eventually or it'll just disappear, but it can't go on in its current form forever.

    • Generalizing the comment. Bad argument.

      Turning it around, if elections are so good, why not have them for everything. Have general elections for judges, police chiefs and officers, social workers, why, by gum, we should always be voting for someone, it's the only way we'll have real democracy, right?


      If you think you can be an expert on legal and constitutional matters after only a year it no wonder you're humble about it, lord knows you don't deserve any praise for it. I might suggest that thinking you can become an expert after only a year suggests you've never done anything very complex or important. If I were less charitable, I might suggest that you're simply an idiot.

      • You have such a powerful argument apparently that you have to resort to an ad-hominem attack. That says more about you and your intelligence, not to mention class and upbringing, than it does of me and mine. Some people's children!

        Anyway, how many years in your mind does it take to learn the ropes in Ottawa? Are you seriously suggesting that it takes until the 3rd or 4th year of a gov't before any of its MPs have any competency for their jobs? If it takes up to age 75 in the Senate, why does that not hold true in the House of Commons? The same argument you make for keeping the Senate unelected would hold true for the HofC as well, as far as competency is concerned. I don't see why we should expect that it takes Senators so much longer to learn the ropes than that of the MPs who actually are elected and charged with passing a legislative agenda, and who actually do introduce and get passed the overwhelming bulk of the legislation in Parliament's two Houses. You're effectively arguing that the people who do the least have the hardest time to learn how to do their job, which is a ridiculous argument to make on the face of it.

        And as far as Canada being a representative democracy is concerned, you're right that that's what we should be, and part of bringing the *democratic* spirit to the Senate is actually electing it. You elect someone to go and represent you and pass legislation on your behalf in your interest. Until that's happening with the Senate, the words 'representative democracy' hardly apply, and that's precisely why it's been rightly accused of being a patronage reward for the PM's party hacks.

    • Realise that this is a farce. Anyone who is appointed to the Senate is free to ignore the term limits, as they are unconstitutional, and senators cannot be held to them as a condition of appointment. Furthermore, a Prime Minister will still have the prerogative to appoint any Senators he or she likes, since the elections will similarly be unconstitutional.

      If you want Senate reform, change the constitution. I would be willing to adopt something like the Australian senate. I think any of these half-baked reform proposals are dangerous.

      • I've often wondered what the big deal is with changing the Constitution in regards to term limits. My knowledge of constitutional law is at best superficial, and will gladly welcome the next person who sets me straight, but a reading of Section 44 goes that "Subject to sections 41 and 42, Parliament may exclusively make laws amending the Constitution of Canada in relation to the executive government of Canada or the Senate and House of Commons." Section 41 does not enumerate the Senate as one of the things that can only be changed by unanimous consent, and Section 42 only says that the powers of the Senate and the method of selecting Senators are subject to the seven-fifty rule. Obviously these "consultative elections" proposed by Harper are either very close or more likely on the wrong side of unconstitutionality. However, as it stands, it seems to me that the government could plausibly attempt to change term limits unilaterally. I've heard the argument that changing term limits is akin to changing the powers of the Senate, but I find that position being too cute by half. If my province changed the number of years that I can hold my driver's licence that would have no impact on my ability to drive, only the time during which I could exercise the privilege.

        • What I don't understand is why they don't just appoint some 18 year olds, who can sit in the Senate for decades and decades. Stack it baby, stack it!

          On a lighter note, I think rather than making a competing legislative body, which could only create all kinds of headaches, why not make the Senate a less partisan body, and make appointments to it like appointments to the Supreme Court. Get some legal and policy experts in there… some people who are willing to think, read boring legislation carefully to catch stupid mistakes and propose improving amendments. They could also lob some avant garde legislation into the House of Commons from time to time to shake things up, on issues like marijuana prohibition, basic annual income, and others.

          I'd much rather that than a bunch of populist blowhards who are auditioning for Premier and stymieing the House of Commons.

  5. Perhaps we should focus on fixing our elected house and decentralizing the power in the office of our unelected prime minister's first?

    Also, first-past-the-post is flawed, just as an appointed senate is perceived to be. Fixing first-past-the-post however would limit Conservative (and Liberal) power indefinitely, so best to pay symbolic attention to reforming the senate, or else the peons may get a louder, more proportional voice and the parties would have to work with each other.

    Wonder what 'bribes' will be needed to get the provinces on board…

  6. I wonder if our senate will ever look like the U.S. Presidential cabinet, which usually consists of some of the best minds in their respective fields covering the appropriate departments (no silly cabinet shuffles), with a host of knowledge and experience that they bring with them from working in the private and public sectors. U.S. cabinet secretaries perform operational functions that are critical to the way the federal government actually governs, so there is a need for a President to choose the best tool for the job (eg: Steven Chu). But in Canada, the Senate performs not as a collection of our best minds in their respective fields for formulating policies and commissioning reports for the government to discuss, but instead works (if you can even call it "work" for many of them) as a place for appointed partisans working in the interest of the lower house and the PM to rubber stamp legislation before the GG signs it.

    Could the house of commons vote on proposed candidates brought forward by the PM and be subjected to a free vote instead of a full-blown election in each province, or would minority parliaments kill each proposed Senator's chances? Could we vet senators like the U.S. vets its Supreme Court candidates?

    • "But in Canada, the Senate performs not as a collection of our best minds in their respective fields for formulating policies and commissioning reports for the government to discuss, but instead works (if you can even call it "work" for many of them) as a place for appointed partisans working in the interest of the lower house and the PM to rubber stamp legislation before the GG signs it. "

      Do you have specific examples in mind or do you just "know" that?

  7. The supreme court already unanimously ruled on this…or are they to be the next target of Harper's war of legitmacy over legality?

  8. I may be being too cynical here, but I'm pretty certain of what will happen if the Conservatives gain control of the Senate.

    If the Conservatives are in control of both the House of Commons and the Senate, the Senate will become a giant rubber stamp. Because the new Senators will be encouraged to behave in a strictly partisan fashion, they won't do much scrutiny of any legislation that is passed by their Conservative brethren in the House. Which will be a bad thing if Harper has another rush of blood to the head and decides to try to cripple his political opponents again, or if he makes any other bad decision of any sort.

    If a party other than the Conservatives gains control of the House, I expect that the Senate will block everything that is sent to them. The Conservative Senators will try to make it as difficult as possible to pass legislation – and the Conservatives will then turn around and suggest that they should be allowed to return to power so that the process of government can become more efficient.

    • You just described exactly what the Liberals have been doing in the Senate when it comes to thwarting bills sent there that were passed by the House of Commons, even including bills that the Liberal party voted for in the House of Commons.

      What I want to know, is if that is okay (Liberal Senators blocking bills passed by Parliament with a Conservative gov't), why is the reverse somehow not okay? Why the hypocritical double-standards?

      • Please tell us which bills were thwarted, and not killed by Harper's proroguement

      • I'm hopeful that this is what the full term til 75 years can prevent. Certainly in the near future the senate may act like that, but I'm hoping that the honor of these people and the nature and gravity of the position can temper those instincts as it seems to have done in the past.

    • And when the double-Conservative chambers rubber stamp faulty legislation (which the Senate is supposed to help prevent, among other tasks) and more legislation is challenged before the Supreme Court, you know a showdown will occur there as well.

    • Uhh…. that has been the function of the Senate for the last 100 years.

      Frustrate the party in power during their first mandate, then go to sleep in the second, when they are outnumbered. Repeat when the next guy is elected.

      Harper has got this wrong. The Senate doesn't need reform, it needs abolishment. It is useless.

  9. Yaaay, I'll get to be able to vote for two people who will act as legislative jack-in-the-boxes, jumping up to vote whenever wound up by their party leader on anything of relevance! Right now I only get a toy in the House of Commons…

  10. Abolish this useless, outdated, instutution of old farts and party hacks!

  11. I don't believe making the Senate elected is going to solve any of its problems. Elections will only make it worse, as the end result will be uber-politicians, spending huge pots of taxpayers' money to get elected each time. Perhaps the better approach is to take the power of appointment to the Senate away from partisan politicians and put it in the hands of ordinary canadians.
    What I propose is a citizen-nominative senate. The sworn nomination of one hundred canadian citizens who voted in the last election qualifies a person for inclusion on a list of eligible candidates for the Senate. When a vacancy occurrs in a province, a name is randomly drawn from the list. That person serves a 6 year term, and would be subject to a strict ethical code, at least 75% attendance, and a right of recall. This would remove the political and partisan bickering and make the Senate a true place of sober and second thought.

    • That sounds sensible…it'll never fly!

  12. Another false try at reform.


  13. why don't they get representatives of the provinces together and work out a deal …i doubt it can be changed unilaterally even though pretty much everybody knows its BS now

  14. Remember everyone, I wil, quote it for you. The senate cannot be changed unless this happens. "any change to the Senate is unconstitutional without consent from the provinces" If one province says no, Harper cannot do an damm thing. I am glad someone is starting to talk about this, because Harper has always been blaming the upper chamber for not getting this through. This is a Province issue, not the HoC issue.

    • Quebec and Ontario will never agree, and Senate reform is dead right there.

      • pretty much everybody in canada knows our current senate system is a joke ..it is sort of an embarassment to a democracy…a deal may be hard but it can be done ….i imagine some would argue there are some things they can change unilaterally

    • You Are Wrong

  15. this is a good election point for the conservatives.harper has been accused of appointments to the senate with out regard for politics.If part of his election platform is to guarantee his members of the senate will accept changes he puts forward with recommendations of how to change it within four years its a winner.

    • He can make no such guarantee. Once Senators are appointed, there is precious little the government can do to whip them.

  16. Additionally, it's only with elected legislators that the Senate would have the legitimacy necessary to actually stand up to bad legislation passed by the House of Commons. It's precisely because the institution is entirely appointed that Senators usually rubber stamp the gov't's bills, because Senators know that they cannot win a dispute between the House of Commons and the Senate in public opinion. Having an elected body would actually give it more vigour and force, and actually allow it to take a more pro-active role in protecting regional interests and correcting bad legislation. Its appointed status is precisely what has rendered it ineffective to begin with!

    • Read what they actually do before spouting.
      You might be surprised.

      • Your assumption that everyone who disagrees with you is ignorant is very typical of fanatics- religious and otherwise- all over the world.

  17. An elected Senate would look to the people's wishes when confronted with legislation from the House of Commons where appointed senators look to the interests of the Prime Minister who appointed them.

    • And you think the elected House of Commons looks to the people's wishes before passing legislation, and the Senate committees sit around and twiddle their thumbs while they wait for their learned elected to tell them what to do?

      Come on, dude. Read Hansard, will you?

  18. 85% plus of Canadians are in favour of abolishing the Senate and a 12 year Term limit will only move this to 99.9% any bets?

    • Where do you get that 85%?

      • 65% of stats are made up right on the spot

Sign in to comment.