May 16, 2013
New Mowat research on Senate Reform.
Federal Approach to Senate Reform Flawed
Alternative Approach is Possible, Mowat Centre Study Concludes
Toronto – Federal efforts at Senate reform have stalled.
A new proposal from the Mowat Centre suggests an alternative path to achieve Senate reform.
The current federal approach would change the fundamental character of the Senate, argues Matthew Mendelsohn, Director of the Mowat Centre and the author of the study. It would need provincial consent, which is unlikely to ever materialize.
“The path proposed by the federal government to limit senators’ terms of office and appoint only elected Senators is a path that leads nowhere. It is contrary to the interests of too many provinces, including Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia. But we don’t have to accept the status quo,” says Mendelsohn.
The study proposes a path that would begin with the federal government seeking a constitutional amendment to limit the Senate’s powers, which are considerable and nearly equal to the House of Commons. If such an amendment could be secured, other issues, such as elections, the number of senators per province, and the length of terms of office would become far less contentious.
The paper argues that legitimate Senate reform cannot be achieved through half-measures.
A sequential approach, beginning with limits on the Senate’s powers, could lead to healthier democratic institutions.
“No one is satisfied with the current Senate,” says Mendelsohn.
“But we have yet to identify a process that could lead us to a reformed Senate. Limiting the Senate’s powers may be the only real chance we have to begin a legitimate, credible process of democratic reform.”