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Tories Push for Senate Term Limits

What is the Senate of Canada?

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Despite its regional focus, the Senate was not set up to represent provincial governments or legislatures, or to protect the provinces against federal invasion of their powers. The courts protect provincial powers , and the protection of provincial interests in matters under federal jurisdiction sometimes falls to the ministers from each province in the federal Cabinet.

Canada's first Cabinet had five senators out of a total of 13 ministers. From to , there were seldom more than two, often only one senator in the Cabinet. The Senate was also intended to provide "sober second thought" on legislation introduced in the Commons.

One of its most effective functions is the quiet, in-depth study and review of national issues including the hearing of expert witnesses by Senate Committees. Committees go over proposed bills clause by clause and often hear voluminous evidence, sometimes over a period of months.

Committees are usually non-partisan and can draw on a vast reservoir of members' knowledge and experience: Senate committees have produced careful studies on unemployment , land use, science policy , poverty , aging , the mass media see Communications and Indian affairs. Senate investigations have often led to important changes in government policy or legislation. The Senate has almost the same powers as the House of Commons.

Bills are read three times in the Commons as well as in the Senate. The Senate can only delay constitutional amendments for days. But no bill can become law without its consent, and it can veto any bill as often as it likes. The Senate cannot initiate money bills taxes or expenditures. Neither House can increase amounts in money bills. The Senate has not vetoed a bill from the Commons since The Senate now very rarely makes amendments of principle.

The amendments it does make to bills now are almost always related to drafting — to clarify, simplify and tidy proposed legislation. In the Senate temporarily blocked Bill C22 pharmaceutical patents but eventually agreed to amendments. This led Prime Minister Brian Mulroney to use his power to fill eight vacant senate seats, in order to ensure passage of the legislation in The Senate's legally absolute veto was expected to be really no more than a delaying veto because, until the late s, governments were usually short-lived, and none, it seemed, would be able to build up a large enough majority in the Senate to block a successor government of the opposition party.

But most Canadian governments since then have been long-lived, and as appointments are almost invariably partisan. The Senate has often had a large opposition majority, and also, through much of the late 20th Century, a heavy preponderance of Liberals. Since the election of Stephen Harper 's Conservative government in , however, party power in the Senate has shifted.

By , there were 42 Conservative senators, 25 Liberals, 21 independents and 17 vacancies. A traditional objection to the Senate is that too often its members are given seats in the Chamber as a reward for service or loyalty to the party of the prime minister of the day, and that such patronage appointees have no right to a position of authority in a modern democracy.

Proposals to make the Senate more representative of regional interests were introduced by the Liberal government in but received little support. An appointed rather than an elected Upper House, with a legal absolute veto on legislation, has come to seem anomalous, whatever its original purpose.

A push for Senate reform was resurrected in the constitutional debates of the late s, and widely debated during the struggles over the Meech Lake and Charlottetown Accords. Some provinces proposed that Senate appointments be turned over to the provincial governments. Senators could act as provincial representatives, defending regional interests. Critics charged that such a system would run counter to the principles of federalism and representative democracy.

In the long negotiations over the Charlottetown Accord, the proposal for a so-called "Triple-E Senate" — elected, effective and equal — championed particularly by Alberta premier Don Getty , became a primary focus of debate.

Following the collapse of the Meech Lake Accord, Alberta held a provincial election to fill a vacant Senate seat. Although not constitutionally bound to do so, Brian Mulroney appointed the nominee, Stan Waters , to the Senate in Since then Alberta and British Columbia have held further non-binding Senate elections, out of which a list of names is given to Ottawa for consideration, whenever Senate seats from those provinces become vacant.

Under the present Constitution , turning the Senate into an elected House would require a constitutional amendment and therefore the consent of seven provincial legislatures, representing at least half the population of the 10 provinces.

So, too, would any change in the Senate's powers, or in the number of senators from any province. The government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper tried twice since to reform the Senate, each time by submitting legislation through Parliament that sought to avoid a constitutional amendment. Harper's first Senate reform bill was delayed in the then-Liberal dominated upper house, and never became law.

The bill would have limited Senate terms to nine years, and allowed provinces to elect their senators, if they chose to do so. By the end of , the bill had not been debated in Parliament for many months, but had come under renewed scrutiny because of a high-profile scandal involving the Prime Minister's Office and three Harper-appointed senators accused of filing improper expense claims see below: The Court said the bill's proposals require a formal constitutional amendment, not mere parliamentary legislation, if they are to be enacted.

The following month the Supreme Court of Canada , acting on a request from the federal government, opened its own hearings into Bill C-7 to determine whether the Senate can be reformed without a constitutional change process — which by its nature would force Ottawa into negotiations with the provinces. The federal government also asked the Court for direction on how the Senate could be abolished.

The Harper government argued that under the Constitution, abolition only requires the approval of Parliament plus seven provinces representing 50 per cent of Canada's population. Most provinces, however, say abolition requires the formal consent of all 10 provinces.

The Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision on the matter on 25 April, The Court said creating an elected Senate with nine-year term limits required the consent of seven provinces with 50 per cent of the population. And it said abolishing the Senate required the consent of all 10 provinces. In each case, a constitutional amendment would be necessary.

Harper called the ruling "a decision for the status quo. In January , federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau expelled his party's then senators from the Liberal Party parliamentary caucus which had included Liberal members of both the House of Commons and the Senate , saying senators who had previously served as Liberals would instead become independent members.

The change effectively freed Liberal senators from having to vote along party lines — theoretically reducing the Senate's role as a partisan body. However, critics said Trudeau made the change not in the spirit of reform, but to distance himself and his party, in the months preceding a federal election, from the expenses scandal that was tarnishing the Senate's image at the time.

Following this change, the Liberal senators divided themselves into two camps — one group sitting as independent senators, a larger group choosing to call itself the Senate Liberal Caucus albeit removed from the Liberal caucus in the House of Commons. If it's a crisis, though, it's a familiar one. This is how appointed senators function: In recent times senators have blocked the GST and free trade, and refused to pass House bills on issues ranging from abortion to streamlining federal agencies.

Back in an editorial writer for the Toronto Telegram , which is long gone, assailed the Senate, which survives, as a "Bourbon relic" over its refusal that year to pass prime minister John Diefenbaker's bill to fire the Bank of Canada governor of the day.

Although the relic remains intact, the competing camps on what to do about it have changed. The main division used to be between those who wanted to abolish the Red Chamber and those who hoped to fix it.

Now, it's between those who propose incremental change and those who say it has to be wholesale reform or nothing. His plan calls for passing the term-limits law first, then another bill, now before the House, that would see prime ministers appoint senators based on "consultative" votes, instead of just naming whatever loyal party servant was due for a juicy reward. Further changes requiring provincial agreement would, according to the Tory strategy, follow in due course.

David Tkachuk, "and I think these two reforms will bring people to the table. But Harper's critics say his first two steps would dangerously increase the Senate's legitimacy, with no assurance of a deal with provinces on further vital reforms later. They argue that senators chosen by the voters and serving for limited terms would inevitably defy the House by acting more independently more often. Thus, it is vital, at the same time, to limit their powers and fix the imbalance in representation that now sees, for instance, 10 senators each from New Brunswick and Nova Scotia and only six each from Alberta and British Columbia.

The problem with this all-or-nothing position, however, is that redefining the Senate's role and altering its seat distribution would require broad provincial support for a constitutional amendment.

And ever since the Meech Lake and Charlottetown accords flamed out, proposing that sort of grand deal is widely derided as politically naive. The incrementalists hold that only after senators start being elected, and their standing with voters rises, will premiers realize they need to cut a deal to update the Senate's function.

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The Senate of Canada (French: Sénat du Canada) is the upper house of the Parliament of Canada, along with the House of Commons and the Monarch (represented by the Governor General). The Senate is modelled after the British House of Lords and consists of members appointed by the Governor General on the advice of the Prime system: Appointment by the Governor-General on advice of the Prime Minister.

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The Court said creating an elected Senate with nine-year term limits required the consent of seven provinces with 50 per cent of the population. And it said abolishing the . His plan calls for passing the term-limits law first, then another bill, now before the House, that would see prime ministers appoint senators based on "consultative" votes, instead of just naming whatever loyal party servant was due for a juicy reward.

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Canada’s Senate consists of politicians, known as senators, who have been appointed by various Canadian prime ministers. They used to serve for life, but in , this was changed to merely make their terms last until their 75th birthday (though the last life-term senator did not retire until ). to the Senate after 14 October to one non-renewable nine-year term. The bill contains proposals that may not require constitutional amendments, in the case of the selection process for senators, or may not require provincial concurrence for constitutional amendments, in the case of Senate term limits.