A non-binding, voluntary basis for encouragement to consider fundamental change - Macleans.ca

A non-binding, voluntary basis for encouragement to consider fundamental change


The government has now tabled its Senate Reform Act.

It would not require provinces and territories to implement consultation processes but would strongly encourage them to do so. It also demonstrates support for those provinces that have already undertaken legislation to establish such democratic processes. 

The Act includes a voluntary schedule, based on Alberta’s Senatorial Selection Act, which would set out a basis for provinces to enact democratic processes. 

The Act would not be binding on the Prime Minister or the Governor General when making appointments to the Senate.  However, it would require the Prime Minister to consider the recommended names from a list of elected Senate nominees when recommending Senate appointments. 


A non-binding, voluntary basis for encouragement to consider fundamental change

  1. A non-binding, voluntary basis for encouragement to consider fundamental change

    That’s an odd way of putting it.

    Here’s another way of putting it: Do the provinces want to participate in the democratization of the Senate?

    • How is it democratic if the PM still makes the final choice? 

  2. Just like we learned in the fall of 2009 when we held our first election under the new law implemented in 2006, when Stephen Harper tries to tiptoe around the Constitution, he can be trusted as a man of his word, regardless of whether his law is binding or not.

  3. LOL  This bill would make a complete dog’s breakfast of the Senate.

    Just abolish it, and move on to more important things.

    • Proponents of abolishing the Senate make it seem like it’s the easiest choice, but it’s not. You need to amend the Constitution with consent of seven provinces, which of course is probably the hardest of all the alternatives.

      In fact, I think some proponents of abolishing it are basically proponents of keeping it as it is because they know it will never be abolished.

      • We’ve already amended the constitution about 10 times….so it’s not that hard.

        And I have often said either leave it alone, or abolish it….but stop tinkering with it….tinkering leads to a ‘dog’s breakfast’

        • Really. The last time we tried was in the 80’s with Meech Lake and Charlottetown, and those were a disaster. Trudeau repatriated the Constitution, and added a Charter to it, but that took a heck of a lot of doing. We’re one of the few modern democracies without an elected upper house, and some of you are just fine with that. Democracy is something to be feared by some, I guess.

          • The amendments to date have involved one province at a time agreeing with the federal goverment to change a consitutional provision affecting only that province, as in Newfoundland’s abolition of government funded religiously affiliated schools.  I think most people would agree there is a substantial difference between such an amendment and one, like the abolituion of the senate, that would require unanimity among the provinces and the federal government (and the support of the Senate itself).

          • @MikeRedmond:disqus 

            Noop….they could all have been opposed, but they weren’t.  Other provinces agreed to them

            ‘Move to abolish the Senate’ is also very simple, and easily doable

            It’s a feudal institution, no longer needed….it never was for that matter.

          • The Constitution Act of 1982 has been amended ten times. All of those amendments either involved the rights of a single province (Newfoundland changing its name to Newfoundland and Labrador) or the rights of the federal government alone (adding a senator for Nunavut).  The provinces do not have a say in matters involving only the federal government (section 44 of the Act) and only the province involved and the federal parliament have a say in matters involving a single province (section 43 of the Act).  None of the amendments required either unamiity or the agreement of 7/10 provinces and the federal parliament, as abolition of the Senate would require.

          • You have GOT to be a troll.

          • @MikeRedmond

            ‘Constitution Amendment, 1983: strengthened Aboriginal rights in the Constitution. This amendment was made using the Section 38 amending formula (the “7/50 formula”).’

            Please pay attention

          • @@google-52cacf75b0654014f6ad7b027da58f62:disqus 

            Cats belong in boxes.

            E Schrodinger

          • OK, I’ll give you that one. How about the others (that you said had been agreed to by the other provinces)?

          • @MikeRedmond:disqus 

            Other provinces could have objected….they didn’t.  It wasn’t a one-province-vote on any of them. Everybody simply agreed.

            People do that you know.

            What I don’t understand is a party that claims to want a smaller govt….wanting to keep and create 105 more politicians….with all the money and campaigning it would mean.

            Easier to just get rid of the lot….saves money too….$100M…another ‘goal’ of this govt.

          • No, they didn’t “agree”, they had no interest in the changes and, as noted, the Constitution Act does not require their “agreement”.  They didn’t object, simply because it was none of their business.  It is a different matter if they are being asked to actually consent to changes on a constitutional basis.  At that point most people assume the usual attempts at horse-trading will ensue and attempts at agreement will fall apart.  Were we to engage in a consitutional debate over abolition, for example, it seems very doubtful that Quebec would agree without some corresponding guarantee of a percentage representation in the Commons – which would be opposed by the Western provinces.

          • @MikeRedmond:disqus 

            ‘They didn’t agree, they had no interest in the changes’

            LOL you have no idea whether they did or didn’t….actually they probably racked it up as precedent for their own changes

            They didn’t disagree…or object…so they agreed.

            It’s a simple matter to open the constitution, drop in a motion that’s been agreed to….and close it again

            That’s what they did, and what we could do again.

          • An elected Senate is also untenable. How do we resolve deadlock between the Senate and the House? A Senate with democratic legitimacy has every right to stonewall a government and bury every piece of legislation sent to it.

          • How does it work in the US or Australia (or Germany?). A bicameral legislature is not an unusual consitutional structure. Having one of a legislature’s chambers appointed rather than elected is unusual.  I agree there will certainly be challenges if the Senate becomes a more legitimate and forceful body. Those challenges aren’t insuperable.

          • I agree….we don’t need duplication …and an elected senate would be duplicating what the HOC already does

            Or they’d be causing gridlock, and we’d have a situation like the US often gets into.

            I say solve the whole thing by abolishing a useless and outdated body like the senate.  Streamline govt.

          • @MikeRedmond:disqus

            I’m not aware of what dispute resolution mechanisms we have as part of our system. Germany and the US have dispute resolution mechanisms specific to their constitutions. Our constitution would likely need to be changed to provide for an acceptable resolution mechanism.  And at that point, we might as well change the constitution now rather than adopt this half-measure. This is why I have concluded that the government intends this reform to paralyze our legislature and trigger a constitutional crisis. This outcome is an inevitable consequence of elected Senators with democratic legitimacy. A senate amendment would be a huge quagmire as it would be very challenging to do without consensus, and consensus will be hard to achieve.

            I, personally, much prefer a non-partisan merit-based selection process, perhaps done by assemblies of randomly selected citizens, with say 12 or 15 year terms. All of this is feasible without constitutional change, and avoids triggering a crisis. It also addresses the main complaint about the place being rife with partisan cronies and patronage appointees.

          • Wouldn’t your proposal cause the same concerns as an elected Senate?  Right now the Senate is mostly harmless, since it recognizes it has less moral authority to legislate than does the Commons, no matter how equal its powers are in theory. If you give it legitimacy, whether by direct election or by your “merit-based” selection by random citizens (Senator Bieber I presume?)  those selected will assert their authority – and the deadlock you are concerned with will still be a possibility.  Australia has no formal dispute resolution process that I am aware of, and the US system is hopelessly arcane and dysfunctional. Yet both manage to totter along.  I’m not saying there aren’t problems with the proposal – BC’s under-representation is a glaring issue – but nothing that other countries haven’t faced.

          • @MikeRedmond

            From Wikipedia on Australian politics:

            “Because legislation must pass successfully through both houses in order to become law, it is possible for disagreements between the House of Representatives and the Senate to hold up the progress of government bills indefinitely. Such deadlocks are resolved under section 57 of the Constitution, under a procedure called a double dissolution election. Such elections are rare, not because the conditions for holding them are seldom met, but because they can pose a significant political risk to any government that chooses to call one. Of the six double dissolution elections that have been held since federation, half have resulted in the fall of a government. Only once, in 1974, has the full procedure for resolving a deadlock been followed, with a joint sitting of the two houses being held to deliberate upon the bills that had originally led to the deadlock.””

      • Do people from the maritimes like the senate because they are disproportionately represented there? I can hardly imagine people in PEI feeling that Mike Duffy, having spent his entire adult life living away from the province, is a big benefit pushing the interests of their province.
        The requirement to reside in the province you are representing is very minimal since renting an apartment there for a year is a small cost compared to a senator’s salary. I don’t believe there is much support for the Senate anywhere in Canada.

        • Actually renting an apartment is not sufficient to establish qualification as a senator. You must own property in the amount of at least $4,000 in the province which you represent (in Quebec it must be in the senatorial district you represent). 
          I agreee no one much cares about the Senate one way or another. Changing it, particularly if it reduces the symbolic clout of the Atlantic provinces may cause more attention to be brought to it.

          • It is section 23 of the Constitution Act of 1867 (formerly the British North America Act).  That section sets out the qualifications for Senators.

            Section 24, by the way, states clearly that Senators are summoned by the Governor General (for those who insist on saying the Prime Minister appoints them). He or she, of course, acts on the advice of the PM.  As I read it the proposed legislation simply creates another level of advice to the PM who will then advise the GG. Much as judges are now appointed following recommendations by committees in each province.

        • As a PFTM, I can tell you that my wish is to abolish the senate.  Having more representation just accords more outrage when yet another Tory or Liberal bagman gets appointed to the Senate (or to any similar position, such as a federal Board/Agency).

          I’m sure the same goes for the overrepresented of Saskatchewan and Manitoba, too.

  4. I would guess that the province would assume any costs involved in ‘enacting democratic processes’ for selecting senators. However, the PM and GG are not bound by the results. It makes me wonder how many provinces would be willing to sign on for this.

  5. Why should any province partake in this charade if the PM is not going to be honour bound & legally obligated to accept results? This is a farce, the only onus being placed upon the PM is to “consider” provincially generated Senate lists before making new appointments. How much “consideration” do we really think this (or any) PM would give to lists comprised solely of opposition backed Senators? In a word: NIL

  6. “It would not require provinces and territories to implement consultation processes but would strongly encourage them to do so.”

    Federal Government as mafia: nice transfer payments you have there provs and territories, shame if anything ever happened to them. 


    • Since interfering with transfer payments would be both unconstitutional and politically unwise, I doubt that is the threat. More reasonably the government expects that political pressure in each province will compel a change, as provinces that resist elections will be seen to be undemocratic in comparison to those which do – the same process that led to the change in the American Senate from an appointed body to an elected one.

        • Yes, you’ll note some states still have that hangover from the days of the state-appointed Senators in which vacancies are filled by appointment by the state governor. One of the things that go the governor of Illinois in trouble when he was considering what he could get in return for filling Barak Obama’s seat.

          • The state legislators elected their senators….all they’ve done since is broaden it to the citizens

            In both countries it’s an outdated concept, and should be abolished, as should the ‘Lords’ in the UK.

          • “Election” in that case is a bit of a generous term. In fact, Senators were picked to represent the interests of the party that held a majority in the State legislature. The process was rife with patronage and political infighting it was the absence of democracy that led more progressive states to start asking the citizens to propose who should represent them. Canada could function fairly easily without a Senate, the American constitution would have to be completely restructured to allow for its abilition – which is not on anyone’s radar.

          • @MikeRedmond:disqus 

            Which is why we don’t need top copy them…let them stay stuck in the past while we streamline the system and modernize.