Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Senate Reform - the number from each province needs to be changed

With a Conservative majority the work on a senate reform can get underway.    At the moment all that seems to be on the cards is the legislation to allow for elections and eight year terms for the Senators.   There seem to be people out there opposing the idea of elected Senate on the grounds this would give it some degree of legitimacy and may take away power from the provinces.

One of the issues that needs to be dealt with the problem of how many Senators there are and from what provinces.    This could easily be done province by province.   The Feds could go to the BC government offer to bump BC up to 18 Senators.   Since this amendment of the constitution only involves BC, all that is needed is passage in BC and Ottawa to make the change.  

Most people are not really aware of the rules to amend the constitution and assume there needs to be consent of 7 of 10 provinces with 50% of the population to change the constitution.   When a change only involves one province, there is no need for consent of any other provinces.   There have been seven constitutional changes since 1982 that effected only one province and did not need the consent of other provinces.

  • 1987 Newfoundland - amended to all Pentecostal Churches the same rights to operate schools
  • 1993 New Brunswick - gave English and French equal status in New Brunswick.  Interesting that they needed to add this to the federal constitution and did not keep it local
  • 1993 PEI - this was done to scrap the requirement for a ferry if there is a bridge - yes, they have a constitutional right to either a ferry or a bridge.
  • 1997 Newfoundland - This allowed Newfoundland to operate secular schools
  • 1997 Quebec - This allows Quebec to operate linguistic based schools and not religious based ones - note that Quebec, which considers the 1982 constitution as not applying to it, amended the constitution
  • 1998 Newfoundland - More schools and religion stuff 
  • 2001 Newfoundland and Labrador - amended to add Labrador to the name

Ahh, I can hear you say "But changing the number Senators effects all of the provinces so they should all have a say."   Actually this is not the case.   Since 1982 the constitution has been amended to add one Senator for Nunavut without the consent of any province.   The Nunavut situation makes it clear that the constitution can be amended to add a new jurisdiction and the other provinces have no say.   I personally think this should be used to split BC in four provinces, but that is simply my crazy idea.  It would mean an extra 18 Senators from region that was BC and likely about 12 more MPs, but I digress.

I should note here that Preston Manning did raise an issue with the Nunavut change because it may not be constitutional, but after 12 years no one has challenged it and I suspect the case is weak in any case.

Assuming no province will agree to a loss of Senators, the federal government could make deals with some of the provinces to add Senators.   BC and Alberta with 18 each and Saskatchewan and Manitoba with 10 each would seem to be a reasonable addition.   This would add a total of 32 Senators bringing the total to 137.  


Sixth Estate said...

It's an interesting idea but I suspect any changes that large-scale would be objected to immediately. One senator per territory is a much less objectionable move than adjusting Senators for existing provinces.

And if you start by just piling Senators into the west, I'm sure you can guess which province will be leading the charge against you. :-)

It's a good idea but ultimately I think serious Senate reform requires opening up the Constitution. As difficult as that sounds, there's just no other way around it.

Anonymous said...

I was wondering about the how the creation of Nunavut was handled as far as constitutional amendments. However, even if it was possible to do this, I seriously doubt you would get such a proposal through the federal government plus for sure you would have extremely negative reaction from people in other provinces, as I think they would argue that this substantially alters the balance of power in the senate. However, I do agree that BC is a separate "region", but I think we should just abolish the Senate as it is inherently anti-democratic.

Bernard said...

Another approach would be to make the first ministers meetings the functional equivalent of what the Senate was supposed to be there for.