Amending the Constitution to keep the Senate from vetoing the House

The Prime Minister apparently has a plan

by Aaron Wherry

A year after it was suggested he might be working on something in this regard, Conservative Senator Bert Brown explains how the Prime Minister might seek to amend the Constitution to limit the Senate’s ability to block legislation passed by the House.

Mr. Brown said he has since presented the Prime Minister with a mechanism dubbed the Elton-McCormick Override — named for two Lethbridge political scientists — and that Mr. Harper read the plan with interest. The override says if senators want to thwart a House-approved bill, they can do so, but only if the move has the support of a majority of senators in each of seven provinces representing 50% of the population (much like the requirement to amend the constitution itself).

If successful, the House could either “fix [the bill] or forget it,” Mr. Brown explained. The Senate could not, however, force a non-confidence vote or even cause prolonged gridlock because the override only gives senators one month or 12 sitting days to muster the votes for a veto.

The future of the Senate in this regard is particularly interesting given the fact that after 2015, there could be an NDP government in the House and a Conservative majority in the Senate: something the New Democrats have been considering.

It’d be interesting to know when Mr. Harper started to think that limitations might be placed on the Senate’s ability to veto legislation. Presumably it was sometime after Conservative senators killed the Climate Change Accountability Act in 2010.

None of this would be of concern if the Senate was abolished.




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Amending the Constitution to keep the Senate from vetoing the House

  1. I am pretty sure reformers and cons have said for several decades there are reforms they would pursue that did not require a constitutional amendment. It’s almost like they didn’t think “oh yeah, what if they disagree….”

    • The old Reform Party championed a EEE senate, which I believe was universally acknowledged as requiring a constitutional amendment.

      • At times. IIRC their blithering often changed.

  2. Again, they are just making it worse.

    Either leave it alone, or abolish the damn thing….but stop tinkering with it

  3. We can’t even use that formula to successfully change anything we want to happen, so it might, might work as an effective check on the HoCs But it is open to being gamed.

    “The Senate could not, however, force a non-confidence vote or even cause prolonged gridlock”

    Something Harper is no doubt contemplating right now. Isn’t this one of the end game scenarios for him? That never again would central Canada or the establishment/Ottawa…or more recently the prospect of a majority NDP federal govt… be able to prevent his beloved “west” from doing whatsoever it damn well pleases.

    Personally that all sounds way too Canadian and convoluted to me. I think i’d much rather put a check on the potential for majority tyranny by enacting electoral reform, weakening party control and re-empowering individual mps, so they start to act like something like the reps for their ridings they were originally intended to be.

    • A problem is that the senate is gamed against the western provinces. For example, due to the bizarre notion of regions, BC (where I live) has fewer senators than NB, despite the fact that BC has a significantly larger population (about 6x).

      It’d be one thing if the senate reflected a modern concept of democracy. But it doesn’t. It’s indefensible in its current form. And it is blatantly discriminatory against western provinces. So if it’s not politically feasible to abolish it, or reform it to be at least equitable and elected, then weakening is IMO preferable to the status quo.

      • Noted. I’m a westerner too. But i don’t see elected = equitable in our system. Not w/o a massive rejigging of the whole parliamentary set up. Obviously though something has to be done to reflect changing western circumstances. I’m not sorry t say it looks like Harper has botched it.
        But it doesn’t look good for what should amount to a transfer of senators from the eastern sea board. Perhaps the NDP is right – get rid of it. The liberals weren’t able to get anything meaningful done [Trudeau tied in the 70s remember] and now Harper seems more interested in gaming the system himself than fixing anything.

  4. I prefer the appointment process but with a change to the vetting system. In order to become a Senator, a significant majority of MP’s (say 75-80%) have to agree.

    I think it will do two things, first it will make sure we get the Canadians that deserve and are capable of being there and two, it prevents partisan appointments. To makes sure the vetting process gets completed you mandate that MP’s have to stay in session til they agree on who will represent Canadians in the Senate, not unlike making your child stay at the dinner table until all their vegetables are eating.

    Also agree with term limits but they should be for 12-15yrs so there is some experience in the Senate.

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