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Reforming the Senate of Canada

September 13, 2013

Many of you have contacted me recently to voice concerns about the Senate of Canada. I’d like to take this opportunity to talk about Senate reform.

The Senate, as it stands today, must change.

Senators should be elected, so that Canadians can hold them directly accountable. In addition, term limits should be introduced, replacing the current term of serving until 75 years of age.

These two Senate reforms should be achieved in a way that does not require provincial consent for a constitutional amendment. Consent would be difficult to obtain and would risk re-opening the Meech Lake and Charlottetown demands that were so divisive in the 1990s.

The federal government has asked the Supreme Court of Canada what Senate reforms can be accomplished exclusively by the Parliament of Canada. The government expects to hear the Court’s opinion toward the end of this calendar year. At that point, based on the Supreme Court’s opinion, the government can introduce plans for Senate reform.

While I believe that Senate reform is necessary, I do not believe that Senate abolition is a solution.

First, abolition would be difficult, if not impossible, to achieve. In my view, the Constitution of Canada requires the consent of the majority of provinces in Canada to abolish the Senate – possibly even the unanimous consent of all ten provinces. It does not appear that provincial consent is there. This is particularly true for smaller provinces, which are over-represented in Parliament, and whose numbers of House of Commons seats are dependent on their number of Senate seats.

Second, the Senate serves as an important review mechanism for legislation. There are a number of examples in recent memory where the Senate lived up to its moniker as “the chamber of sober second thought.” For example, during this Parliament the Senate identified important gaps and subsequently amended the government’s Bill C-10, the Safe Streets and Communities Act, in order to strengthen its anti-terrorism provisions.

Third, the Senate is an important investigative and research body. For many decades, the investigative work of the Senate has led to the development of important social programs. The Canada Pension Plan and the Canada Health Act were all developed through the research of the Senate. More recently, the Senate has been instrumental in highlighting reforms necessary for mental health services in Canada.

Last, but not least, the Senate serves as a counterweight to the executive branch of Canada’s government. It diffuses the power of the Prime Minister’s Office. Without the Senate, power would be further concentrated in the executive branch. This is why over 50 countries around the world have bi-cameral legislatures like Canada.

While there is clearly a need for a lower and upper chamber, I recognize that the Senate needs to be reformed. To this end, the most effective way to fix the Senate is to elect Senators and implement term limits. These changes would bring meaningful reform to the Senate and fully restore its utility in Canada’s Parliament.

Canadians want to see change in the Senate, and I am committed to the Senate reforms outlined above. Please contact me if you have any questions or comments at (866) 878-5556 or michael.chong@parl.gc.ca


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