Ottawa

Justin Trudeau on Senate reform

'Opening the Constitution to fix the Senate would disadvantage everybody'

After getting into trouble for openly acknowledging the distribution of seats in the Senate, Justin Trudeau used part of his speech today to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities to explain his views on red chamber. Here is the relevant portion of the prepared text (note: may not exactly match the speech as delivered).

Last week, in Montréal, I was asked about how I felt about the scandal facing the Prime Minister, and what it all meant for Senate Reform. I said, as I always do, what I believe to true. I said those who are preaching wholesale Senate Reform as a response to the scandal in the Prime Minister’s Office are pandering. After all they know, or ought to know, that major reforms like creating an elected Senate, or abolishing it outright, would require protracted Constitutional discussions with the provinces.

I also said that — and this was not reported — nobody who has watched the goings on in the Senate over the past year could possibly support the status quo. Now, I have a confession to make. It is a deep dark secret. One that, apparently, my political opponents think they can use against me. I am a Quebecer. When I am in the presence of other Quebecers, I will often use the pronoun “we”.

But what I said then was a statement of fact. Quebec has 24 Senate seats and Alberta has 6. That is to Quebec’s advantage. And Ontario’s I might add. That is not my opinion. It is the Constitution. So, it stands to reason that abolishing the Senate would disadvantage the East, just as electing the Senate would disadvantage the West. More to the point, I believe that opening the Constitution to fix the Senate would disadvantage everybody. We would have a fruitless round of negotiations that would end in acrimony, and distract from the very real challenges our country faces.

During the Liberal leadership race, Mr. Trudeau talked about reforming how senators are appointed.

If you believe that there needs to be a second chamber (I don’t) or that the odds of abolishing the Senate are too long (I refuse to give in to such defeatism), there is a case to be made that an appointed and thus less-legitimate Senate is preferable to an elected and thus democratically empowered Senate. I’m not convinced by any of the arguments for maintaining a Senate, but if you insist on having one, you’ve actually got to decide what sort of Parliament you want. And those who favour an elected Senate have some important questions to answer in terms of how they imagine the House and the Senate will interact.

You now at least have three options to choose from. Stephen Harper wants an elected Senate. Justin Trudeau wants an appointed Senate, but wants to change the way senators are appointed. And Thomas Mulcair wants to abolish the Senate.