For decades there has been a discussion what to do with the appointed unelected Senate that would give more seats per capita to Prince Edward Island than to more densely populated western provinces. Starting with Preston Manning’s Reform Party, which eventually became the Canadian Alliance Party and the current Conservative Party of Canada, the platform called for a triple E Senate (Equal, Elected and Efficient).
The current Senate is neither equal nor effective. Part of the problem is that the current Senators are appointed by the Governor General on the recommendation of the Prime Minister. While in theory they have nothing to do with their party leaders, in practice to operate on behalf of their party policies.
The current Senate allocation per province and Territory and number of senators per capita to population is listed below:
British Columbia —————- 6—-775,001
Nova Scotia ———————-10—–94,502
Newfoundland and Labrador ———6—–85,595
New Brunswick ——————–10—–75,404
Northwest Territories ————-1—–43,349
Prince Edward Island ————–4—–36,441
Justin Trudeau’s political stunt
Justin Trudeau’s announcement last week does not resolve the current problems surrounding the Senate. The appointment process will still be the same, as will the composition of the Senate. The Senators that have been removed from Mr. Trudeau’s Liberal caucus are still members of the Liberal Party. A revelation for Mr. Trudeau, “You don’t need a caucus to brief Liberal senators on what the party leadership wants them to do.”
With the recent Senate scandals, which involved Senators Wallin and Duffy, both appointees by Prime Minister Harper, there have been several ideas floated from abolition of the Senate (New Democrats), permitting provinces to elect senators, to a total reform.
The Conservative government has sent the questions of what is possible without reopening the constitution to the Supreme Court of Canada and is awaiting a decision.
Currently it is understood that a reopening of the Constitution Act of 1982 is needed to make any changes to the upper house. The constitution has a complex series of amending formulas and anyone that remembers the constitution debates that led to the defeat of the Meach Lake Accord can understand how difficult this is.
With the Constitution Act, 1982, amendments to the constitution must be done in accordance with Part V of the Constitution Act, 1982, which provides for five different amending formula. Amendments can be brought forward under section 46(1) by any province or either level of the federal government. The general formula is set out in section 38(1), known as the “7/50 formula”, requires: (a) assent from both the House of Commons and the Senate; (b) the approval of two-thirds of the provincial legislatures (at least seven provinces) representing at least 50% of the population (effectively, this would include at least Quebec or Ontario, as they are the most populous provinces). This formula specifically applies to amendments related to the proportionate representation in Parliament, powers, selection, and composition of the Senate, the Supreme Court and the addition of provinces or territories.
No easy solutions
Despite Justin Trudeau’s political stunt and that is what it is, has not resolved a single thing. The Senate is still appointed, not equal and certainly not effective. Parties still control their Senators, whether it be in a caucus or through private closed door briefings. Canadians shouldn’t be fooled by any easy suggestions on how to quickly overhaul the Senate. There are no easy solutions. We must await the Supreme Court decision. Anything short of that is stunting for political points. Unfortunately a lot of that goes on lately in Canadian politics.