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  • Writer's pictureJeffrey Ram

Canada's 19th Century Feudal Senate Should be Reformed or Abolished

Updated: Sep 14, 2020

The Senate should be elected and made effective to represent and strengthen the provincial and regional voices in Ottawa

Written by: Jeffrey Ram, Toronto, Canada, September 1, 2020

The Senate came into existence in 1867, when the Parliament of the United Kingdom passed the British North America Act 1867 (BNA Act), and united the Province of Canada, which was separated into Quebec and Ontario with Nova Scotia and New Brunswick into a single federation, the dominion of Canada.

The Canadian parliament was based on the British Parliament model, and the Senate was modeled after the British House of Lords. The Senate was intentionally made an appointed house to ensure that it does not become too powerful and obstruct the House of Commons' will.

The Canadian House of Lords, called the Senate, is criticized for the patronage appointment of the wealthy political supporters and fundraisers by a grateful Prime Minister. Some Canadians consider Senate the biggest PORK BARREL globally and think that PATRONAGE APPOINTEES should not have privilege and entitlement to positions of power and authority in a democratic society like Canada.

The Senate membership comes with generous pay, allowances, benefits, and pension. Therefore, some Canadians think that the tax dollars spent on the Senate should be invested in the well-being of Canada's children and youth. The Senate was allocated $114 million in the Canadian budget for the 2019-2020 fiscal year. This amount included senator salaries, senator allowances, and administrative costs.

The unelected members of this second chamber of parliament do not play any significant role. Some of them carry on their political, organizational, and fundraising activities for the ruling party at the taxpayers' expense. Some others carry on their private business. Consequently, many groups have been raising demands for an elected and effective Senate to represent and strengthen the provincial and regional voices in Ottawa. They also want a term limit for senators. Their voices should be heard.

In the 1960s, the Senate reform discussion started along with the Quiet Revolution and the Western alienation. The first change to the Senate came in 1965 with a mandatory retirement age of 75. Earlier, the Senate appointments were for life.

In the 1970s, the emphasis was on increased provincial involvement in the senators' appointments. "Since the '70s, there have been at least 28 major proposals for constitutional Senate reform, and all have failed, including the 1987 Meech Lake Accord, and the 1992 Charlottetown Accord." (Wikipedia)

In the 1980s, proposals were put forward to elect senators. Alberta's premier, Don Getty, proposed Triple-E Senate- an elected body with effective powers and equal representation from the provinces. In 1982 the Senate was given a qualified veto over certain constitutional amendments.

Various prime ministers realized the need for reforms in the Senate but were unsuccessful in their efforts. Proposals to make the Senate more representative of regional interests were introduced by the Liberal government in 1978 but received little support. The Meech Lake Accord of 1987 and The Charlottetown Accord of 1992 initiated by Prime Minister Mulroney included some Senate reforms but failed to get the required support from provinces.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper proposed to limit new senators to eight-year terms and to have a consultative election process. However, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that such reforms would require constitutional amendments, approved by at least seven provinces representing 50 percent of the population. It added that the abolition of the Senate would require the unanimous consent of all ten provinces. Consequently, Harper dropped the Senate reform idea.

An appointed upper house with a legal absolute on legislation is inconsistent with democratic values. So, from time to time, voices are raised for the Senate reform, but it is not considered urgent.

In an attempt to make the Senate less partisan without the constitutional amendment, in 2014, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau dissolved the senators' Liberal caucus and, as prime minister in 2016, created the Independent Advisory Board for Senate Appointments.

Maybe Robert MacGregor Dawson rightly prophesied, "The Senate will in all likelihood continue to exist as at present constituted for many years to come, not from any high esteem in which it is held, but largely because of its undoubted convenience to the dominant political party and the general indifference of the Canadian people." (Colombo, 1974) p.142

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised to reform the political system, but he will also need the required provincial support. In the current form, the senate is a useless load on the taxpayers. It should either be made useful as the provinces' voice in Ottawa, or it should be abolished. Canadians are urged to think and discuss these issues and share their views and concerns by lobbying for the Senate reforms. Canadians do not have to wait for another century for the needed reforms.

Blessing: May God Bless You, Your Family and Friends, and Make You A Blessing to Others.


Wikipedia <>

John Robert Colombo, Ed. Colombo's Canadian Quotations (Edmonton, Alberta: Hurtig Publishers, 1974)

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