B.C. Premier Clark says Trudeau’s Senate plans will make it worse

Christy Clark says merit-based appointments would legitimize an unaccountable Senate where B.C. will remain under-represented

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks with B.C. Premier Christy Clark as he officially welcomes her to the First Ministers meeting at the Museum of Nature, in Ottawa, on November 23, 2015. (Adrian Wyld/CP)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks with B.C. Premier Christy Clark as he officially welcomes her to the First Ministers meeting at the Museum of Nature, in Ottawa, on November 23, 2015. (Adrian Wyld/CP)

OTTAWA – British Columbia’s premier says the Trudeau government’s plans for a more independent, non-partisan Senate will make the much-maligned institution even worse than it already is.

Christy Clark says the new process for appointing senators on merit will give legitimacy to an unelected, unaccountable upper house in which her province will remain grossly under-represented.

B.C. gets only six senators in the 105-seat chamber, although it’s the third largest province with a population of about 4.7 million.

By contrast, the three tiny maritime provinces, with less than two million people combined, are entitled to 24 senators, as are Ontario and Quebec.

Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef announced last week the creation of an independent, five-member advisory board to recommend a short list of five non-partisan nominees to fill each vacancy in the Senate.

Two of the board’s members are to represent the province in which the vacancy arises, but Clark told the Global TV show West Block that her government won’t participate in the new process because it doesn’t want to validate it.

“The process doesn’t make the Senate any better,” Clark told host Tom Clark.

“I would argue that it actually makes it worse because the Senate is completely unrepresentative of the provinces.”

Clark added: “The Senate doesn’t work now. The only other thing that could make the Senate worse would be having all of these unaccountable, unelected patronage appointments starting to think that they are somehow legitimate and have the power to make decisions on behalf of our country.

“They don’t. They shouldn’t … And we won’t endorse it.”

While provincial governments will be consulted on the provincial members of the advisory board, the federal government can proceed without their participation if need be.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has argued that his approach is the only practical way to achieve concrete change in the Senate without getting bogged down in divisive constitutional wrangling with the provinces. His objective is to eliminate the partisanship that he believes has eroded the Senate’s ability to fulfil its intended role as an independent chamber of sober second thought.

The Supreme Court has ruled that more dramatic reforms — such as altering the Senate’s regional representation, imposing term limits, or requiring the election of senators — would require a constitutional amendment approved by at least seven provinces with 50 per cent of the population. Abolition of the chamber would require unanimous consent.

Nevertheless, Clark reiterated her view that the Senate should be fixed or folded. She acknowledged that would be “hard to do” but said it’s preferable to legitimizing senators who are unaccountable to Canadians until they retire at age 75.


B.C. Premier Clark says Trudeau’s Senate plans will make it worse

  1. Hello all;

    The way I read our Constitution, the Senate was never intended to individually represent the population of the Provinces. Rather, it is intended to represent the population of Canada in four Districts as defined.

    What is, is. That may not be seen as “fair” to B.C. for instance. OK, so what? Since when is life fair?

    It was intended to be the “House of sober (rational) second thought”; that is; rethinking and possibly amending legislation passed by the House of Commons.

    The way I see it, one thing Senators are supposed to be able to do is review legislation for Constitutional appropriateness.

    That means that they would quite naturally be more familiar with our Constitution than most citizens; including politicians like Christy Clark and Stephen Harper. In their understanding, they would naturally have better knowledge, if not ability, effectiveness and competence.

    As matters presently stand, my guess is that MP’s (especially unseasoned rookies) have little knowedge of our Constitution; many of them may never have even read it, let alone care what it says, on their political if not personal power trip as they pander to the emotions of the unwashed, uneducated, easily manipulated masses.

    If an impotent, incompetent, unethical Senate was not part of the problem, i.e. it was a part of the solution, the scenario I imagine works something like this:

    From the Senate: “Prime Minister: We see a problem here: This legislation is not going to work (Constitutionally or practically) because upon “sober (rational, unemotional, non-partisan . . . etc.) second thought”, we see these issues . . . that need to be fixed for the good, (or possibly the greater good) of the country. We recommend that you fix it on the following basis: . . .”

    This scenario assumes if not implies that in the future, more Senators will be Constitutional experts in their own right and will not hesitate to hold the House of Commons to a higher legislative standard.

    If this is not seen as an improvement over matters as they presently stand, perhaps others (maybe even Senators) have better suggestions or better ideas?

    Best wishes and best regards to all;
    I am most sincerely yours,

    Mr. Brian Leslie Engler

    • The only ‘E’ our senate needs is Elimination.

    • Life not being fair is decidedly not an argument for having blatantly unfair government institutions in what is supposed to be a liberal democracy.

      And, yes, the Senate is supposed to be based on regions as opposed to provinces. The thing is these regions are artificial constructs that are frozen in time and thus have no recognition of the current reality of the provinces. For example, how can one possibly make an argument that Manitoba has more in common with BC than Ontario? Yet, BC and Manitoba are in the same region.
      Anyone designing a Canadian Senate from scratch today would NOT come up with anything resembling the gerrymandered notion of regions we currently have.

      Population of BC: 4,683,100
      Population of NB: 753,900
      # BC Senators: 6
      # NB Senators: 10

      BC has about 6 times the population of New Brunswick, yet has 6 Senators to NB’s 10. I.e., NB, with a much smaller population than BC, has more Senators than BC. In fact, every western province has a larger population than NB, yet only 6 Senators each.

      Clark is totally correct to complain about BC’s representation. Indeed, how can the Senate claim any kind of legitimacy while under-representing BC to such an egregious extent. And, if Trudeau’s changes do manage to increase the legitimacy of the Senate, it will be to the detriment of BC and all the other under-represented provinces of the west.

      An equal Senate is one in which all provinces have the same number of Senators. An equitable Senate is one in which more populous provinces have more Senators than less populous provinces. A Senate in which less populous provinces can have more Senators than more populous provinces is inexcusable and unfair.

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