Finally, a serious debate
There will be a court challenge from Quebec.
Quebec Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Pierre Moreau told The Globe and Mail Monday that the federal government’s plans to introduce legislation in June that would set fixed terms for senators and enable provincial governments to hold elections for senators when a seat becomes available would be unconstitutional without provincial consent. Many provinces, Quebec especially, are concerned that elected senators would usurp provincial governments as the foremost representatives of their citizens.
“If legislation is introduced, one of the things we will do is challenge the bill before the Court of Appeal and eventually the Supreme Court of Canada,” he said.
Similar Conservative legislation in the past has been stymied by the opposition parties. But now that the Conservatives enjoy majorities in both Houses of Parliament, they expect to turn legislation into law by the end of the year.
While placing term limits on senators appears to have broad support – that limit could be anywhere between eight and 12 years in the new bill – electing senators is fraught with legal and practical difficulties, according to David E. Smith, a political scientist at University of Saskatchewan who is one of Canada’s authorities on the Senate.
Even if the federal government has the authority to permit elected senators, he observed, each province would probably enact its own rules for such elections, if deciding to act at all. …
But whatever the provincial concerns, Prof. Smith believes that the Conservative legislation might nonetheless attract broad public support.
“If there’s any agreement on the Senate, it’s that people are not happy with an appointed Senate,” he observed. “People don’t like it. It doesn’t have a democratic base. This would be a step to meet that objection. And it would be a big step.”
And the cat is among the pigeons.
But now, I suppose I’m quoting the last Canadian prime minister who was any good at this game.
His name? Pierre Elliott Trudeau.
Update again: Angus Reid polled this last year.
From their press release:
In the online survey of a representative national sample of 1,001 Canadian adults, three-in-ten respondents (29%) believe that Parliament could function without a Senate. Almost half of Canadians (44%) say the Senate is necessary, but Canadians should take an active role in the process of choosing who gets to seat on it. Only six per cent of respondents are pleased with the status-quo that calls for appointed senators. …
A solid majority of respondents (69%) are in favour of holding a nationwide referendum on the future of the Senate.
Out of several proposals that have been tabled regarding Senate reform, most Canadians endorse allowing citizens to choose senators in direct elections (67%), and limiting the terms of appointed senators to eight years (65%). …
Support for an outright abolition of the Senate is noticeably high in Quebec (48%) and Atlantic Canada (44%). A quarter of people in Manitoba and Saskatchewan (24%) are also on board with this idea, while less than a fifth of respondents elsewhere agree. …
Since January 2008, at least three-in-five respondents have consistently voiced support for allowing Canadians to directly elect their senators and limiting appointed Canadian senators to eight-year terms.
The Prime Minister has public opinion on his side.
Final update: So what I’m saying is, I think this isn’t like Meech Lake or Charlottetown, if it comes down to it.
This looks to me much more like 1981, with Stephen Harper playing Pierre Elliott Trudeau.
For instance: watch to see Harper threaten to go over premiers’ heads and hold a national referendum on Senate reform.
Post-scriptum: Ontario’s parties divide –
“We think the simplest thing to do is abolish it, and I think, frankly, to reform it in any substantive way is just not possible,” Mr. McGuinty said after touring a Chrysler factory in Brampton, Ont. “Based on my discussions with other premiers, based on the formula that’s in place in order to ensure that there is reform, it’s not going to happen.” …
“It’s interesting that the McGuinty Liberals are finally saying what New Democrats have been saying for a long time, which is it’s time to abolish the Senate,” NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said. “Let’s face it, the senators are a bunch of Liberals and Conservatives that are sitting around for lots and lots of money and not doing very much and we really do need to get rid of that upper chamber.”
However, the Progressive Conservatives, who lead the public opinion polls with an Ontario election just over four months away, said the reality is Canada has a Senate and senators should be elected, not appointed.
“The premier’s position is simply a dodge. He wants to avoid the question,” Opposition Leader Tim Hudak said. “The Senate’s not going to be abolished, I don’t see the provinces agreeing to that, so as long as we do have a Senate, I believe that Ontario should directly elect its senators.
So in Ontario, if you want to push for Senate abolition, go with McGuinty or Horvath; if you want to push for an elected Senate, go with Hudak.