Unanimous consent required for Senate abolition say top court's lawyers

OTTAWA – The murky constitutional waters surrounding reform of Canada’s disgraced Senate have been further muddied by two lawyers appointed by the Supreme Court to give impartial advice on the subject.

Daniel Jutras and John Hunter, appointed as “amici curiae” or friends of the court, agree that abolishing the upper chamber would require the unanimous approval of Parliament and all provinces.

And they agree that imposing term limits on senators would require the consent of at least seven provinces comprising 50 per cent of the population.

But the two disagree on whether the federal government can proceed unilaterally to set up a mechanism to elect senators.

One maintains that as long as the elections were strictly non-binding public consultations, no constitutional amendment would be required; the other argues that elections, binding or not, would change the Senate’s constitutional status as an unelected chamber and would thus need the approval of at least seven provinces.

The Harper government has asked the country’s top court for advice on the constitutionality of its plans to reform the Senate — or abolish it, should reform prove impossible.

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