Senate Reform series

By: Martin Pharand

There are a number of ways of thinking about Senate reform or parliamentary reform in general. At 1837 we’ve been compelled, by recent events (google ‘Brazeau’) to write about the former as a means of reinvigorating Canadian political life. Some have decided to argue the case of inaction, suggesting a number of reasons why a reformed Senate may not be in our best interest. They state that Canadians have little faith in political parties or ‘whipped’ politicians (things, he believes, would be present in a reformed Senate), that today’s Senate serves an important role by making the long-term decisions the House cannot (something that may be lost if the Senate is elected) and that merely reforming the Senate is meaningless compared to a fresh start with an entirely new political system.

stacked senate

Chris Burke is contributing to the Senate reform discussion when he states that a reformed Senate may be infected by partisanship, and that electing the Senate alone, could destroy its ability to provide long term consideration of issues. I get these criticisms and I think they can be laid squarely in opposition to Clement Nocos’ suggestion, that the Senate should be replaced with the Council of the Federation. But as an approach to institutional reform, one cannot withhold reform measures because of a lingering desire to get rid of our system of governance entirely. This not only compounds the apathy already felt by Canadians, it contradicts the realities of policymaking, of our system of government and I think there is a way of bridging the gap with different reform options, that would be amenable to Chris’ perspective.

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By: Clement Nocos

“There would be no use of an Upper House, if it did not exercise, when it thought proper, the right of opposing or amending or postponing the legislation of the Lower House. It would be of no value whatever were it a mere chamber for registering the decrees of the Lower House. It must be an independent House, having a free action of its own, for it is only valuable as being a regulating body, calmly considering the legislation initiated by the popular branch, but it will never set itself in opposition against the deliberate and understood wishes of the people” – Sir John A. MacDonald, 1865


Senate Reform has been on the docket of “things-to-do” for Canada’s Parliament since pre-Confederation. The Red Chamber faced difficulty from the start, with the Fathers of Confederation debating heavily on the parameters of the Upper House before agreeing to Confederation.

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By: Clement Nocos

For whatever reason we’ve been given in the last week, the Senate of Canada has once again found its way somehow to the top of the Canadian political agenda. Solutions like Triple E senate reform or the institution’s complete abolition usually come to mind when it comes to treating its chronic democratic incapacities. These resolutions, nonetheless, come with their own sets of problems, while Canadian federalism further complicates any attempts at reform.


As the debate over what to do with the senate heats up, I would like to take a crack at solving the senate question. I propose not abolition or reform, but the replacement of Senators with representatives that have already been elected, have proven to be responsible, are already under the accountability spotlight, and who already properly represent their constituents: Canada’s provincial and territorial Premiers.

As Parliament’s chamber of independent, sober second thought, who better and “independent” enough to exercise secondary legislative review in the Senate than the leaders of provincial governments? Premiers are already charged with intergovernmental affairs responsibilities and meet regularly to discuss united actions in interacting with the federal government through the Council of the Federation.

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By: Martin Pharand

In front of the Supreme Court of Canada as of February 1st are 6 questions regarding the legality of proposed reform measures for the Senate. These 6 questions address term limits, methods of electing senators (either nationally or provincially) and complete abolition. Despite the potential reasons for delaying senate reform, it is high time this Government open and shut the Senate reform case for good.


It is no secret that Canadian voter apathy and negative feelings toward Canada’s democracy are on the rise. A recent study conducted by Samara Canada (another good source is the Reinventing Parliament series in the Globe and Mail) states that although MPs in the Commons cover what Canadians care about, they still do not feel that confident in their legislature’s ability to affect change in those areas. The study then goes on to suggest several potential avenues for changing Parliament and then appeals to Canadians for more suggestions. The following are my thoughts and suggestions; the central thrust of which is reforming the Senate. (as a first step before getting to the Commons)

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