The decision by the Supreme Court of Canada on Senate reform – that it’s pretty much a no-go – was anticipated. That doesn’t make it any easier for most people to accept.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who made it his goal to at least achieve modest changes, put it best. Following announcement of the ruling Friday, Harper said that even though the majority of Canadians want change, that won’t be an option now. Although disappointed, he said, the quest for reform is off the table and he stoically accepted the outcome.
There’s much to be said for the personal and institutional guarantees provided in a country’s constitution. No one wants to be without one. But we can imagine, the architects of Canada’s document in setting out the foundation of our Senate, didn’t foresee changes that would make some of its features quaint at best, and a royal pain in the ass on occasions.
Despite Harper’s attempts to at least get such measures as limited Senate terms and a “consultative election” process to choose nominees, what a lot of Canadians will remember during this period, unfortunately, will be the scandals involving some members.
Even those modest changes, under the Constitution, as ruled by the court, would require approval by seven provinces representing at least half the country’s population.
Outright abolition of the upper chamber – and it would be no surprise if most Canadians favoured that – would require unanimous approval from the provinces.
Reopening the Constitution for such a debate is obviously a non-starter. The provinces can’t even agree on that one for small-potato issues.
It’s admittedly a good dose of hyperbole to come down like a ton of bricks on the Senate. It does have its legitimate uses. If we are stuck with the status quo, the best that can be done is ensure the accountability of members and committees, strictly enforce procedures, eliminate partisanship and – high up on the list – no more funny business, or you’re gone.