Back to Brains Trust
Renewing the Senate of Canada: A Two-Phase Proposal
Author: Hon. Dan Hays (AB)
Downloads: Click here
This is a private discussion paper authored by Senator Hays. It was tabled in the Senate and presented to the Standing Committee on Rules, Procedures and the Rights of Parliament on May 25, 2007.
Senator Hays argues for reform in two phases. As a prelude to more fundamental reform, the first phase would create an independent Senate Appointments Commission, introduce fixed senatorial terms, and reform the deadlock-breaking mechanism between the Senate and House of Commons, as well make other changes not requiring constitutional amendments.
The second phase would address senatorial elections, redistribution, and redefinition of Senate powers. It would begin with a Royal Commission followed by all-party discussions at both the federal and provincial levels, because “such matters clearly fall under … the Constitution Act, 1982, which requires … support from seven of the provinces with at least 50% of the population”.
Professor David Smith, University of Saskatchewan, cited Senator Hays’ proposals for reform in a paper, The Senate of Canada and the Conundrum of Reform, delivered at a conference in the fall of 2007.
An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867 (Senate tenure)
Date: 2006 – 2007
Sponsor: Hon. Gerald J. Comeau (ON)
Downloads: Click here
The government introduced Bill C-4 in the Senate on May 30, 2006 to limit the tenure of Senators to an eight year (renewable) term. Currently, Senators may serve until they are 75 years old. On June 21, 2006, the Senate established a Special Senate Committee on Senate Reform to study the proposal while Parliament was recessed. It studied three issues:
* senate tenure;
* advisory elections for senatorial appointments; and
* a motion to increase the number of Senators appointed from BC
and the Prairie Regions.
The Special Committee heard from 37 witnesses during its September 2006 hearings and issued two reports. The first report (October 26, 2006) deals with the first two issues. Although it supported incremental senate reform, the Committee (like the expert witnesses who appeared before it) did not arrive at a consensus position. Various ‘trade offs’ were identified for further consideration in order to achieve a balance between
* senatorial independence (‘sober second thought’)
~ fresh circulation of ideas;
* citizen participation in senatorial selections
~ minority representation; and
* a strengthened Senate
~ power deadlocks with the House of Commons.
The Special Committee’s second report addresses the issue of increasing senatorial representation from the four western provinces. The Murray / Austin Motion, as it is known, proposed that the Constitution Act,1867 be amended to recognize BC and the Prairie provinces as separate regions, and that the number of senators be increased as follows: BC – 12 (from 6); Alberta – 10 (from 6); Saskatchewan – 7 (from 6); and Manitoba – 7 (from 6); for a new total of 117 senators (from 105). These changes would require ratification by both the Senate and the House of Commons, together with ratification by two-thirds of the provinces having 50% of the population of Canada (section 38, Constitution Act, 1982).
Committee members did not reach a unanimous conclusion; however the report states that “most support the [Murray / Austin Motion] … so as to give governments and legislatures across Canada a starting point for providing the West with equitable representation in Canada’s Senate.”
In the meantime, Bill S-4 continued its progress through the Senate, moving through 2nd reading to committee stage, which concluded with a report recommending fixed non-renwable senatorial terms of 15 years. It also recommended that the bill should not proceed to 3rd reading until the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled on its constitutionality. The Senate adopted these recommendations on June 19, 2007.
In The Top Four Myths of Senate Reform, B. Thomas Hall remarked that “fundamental Senate reform requires a far greater degree of consensus in the country than we’ve seen so far” and cautioned: “Instead of benefits, it’s more likely that fundamental reform of the Senate would give rise to a series of conflicts between the two Houses for dominance and ultimately control of the government.” He does, however, comment favourably on limiting senatorial terms although he would opt for something longer than eight years.
Rather than refer Bill S-4 to the Supreme Court for a ruling on its constitutionality, the government re-introduced it in the House of Commons on November 13, 2007, where it currently remains. Now known as Bill C-19, the new proposal would limit senatorial terms to eight years. Terms would be non-renewable, but could be interrupted to allow for extended absences.
The Murray / Austin Motion died on the Order Paper when Parliament was prorogued on September 14, 2007.
Protecting Canadian Democracy: the Senate you never knew
Editor: Hon. Serge Joyal (QC)
Contributor: Hon. Lowell Murray (ON)
Foreword: Hon. Michael Pitfield (ON)
Downloads: Click here
Protecting Canadian Democracy is a book that examines the history, role, and evolution of the Senate, and places it in the context of other federal systems. Edited by Senator Joyal, 9 essays contributed by academics as well as Senators Joyal and Murray cover topics such as the origin of the Senate, comparisons with upper houses in other countries, recent history of reform attempts, and critiques of the Senate’s role in Canada and as compared to the House of Commons.
The book has been cited in several articles and scholarly papers. For example, Professor Graham White of the University of Toronto refers to it in A Powerful Canadian Senate: Implications for Parliamentary Government, a paper delivered in 2007 at a UBC conference on Senate reform. Gary O'Brien also cites the book in his 2007 article The Impact of Senate Reform on the Functioning of Committees.