Hope for reform out of our reach

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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.

Organizations: Supreme Court of Canada

Geographic location: Canada

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  • Circle A Ranch
    April 29, 2014 - 09:45

    Harper had no intentions on reforming or abolishing the senate.That was calculated from the beginning made to garner votes with no true effort behind it..As was reported he was doomed to fail before he started. Smoke and mirrors ............

  • Scott
    April 28, 2014 - 15:07

    From the article, "Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who made it his goal to at least achieve modest changes". If the SCC had given Stephen Harper the green light, his changes to the senate would have been a far cry from modest.

  • Odin
    April 28, 2014 - 13:48

    I don't know why there is this feeling that senate reform cannot be accomplished because of the recent SCOC decision. To me, there are two ways it could be done. First, the current and future prime ministers would have to not make any appointments to the senate. It would take a number of years, but eventually the senate would die a slow and painful death. No senators? No senate! Won't happen, try option number two. Only appoint qualified individuals, and by qualified, I mean prominent and respected individuals without ties to political parties. In fact, I would go so far as to say that ties to a political party would disqualify a person from being considered for a senate seat, the same as someone with a criminal record. Maybe then there would be no failed candidates, party fund raisers, or policy advisors rewarded with a nice cushy senate seat and a lucrative pension plan. Maybe we would get some non-partisan individuals who are willing to think for themselves and do what the senate was intended to do. That is, scrutinize legislation and ensure that it has the best interest of Canada at heart, not the interests of any one political party. I'm sure there must be some people like that living in Canada. While I realize that option one may not be realistic, option number two is attainable. All it would take is a prime minister with the fortitude, political will, and the best interests of Canada at heart. I don't hold out much hope !!