With all the recent controversy over the expenditures of some Senators, I would like to comment on the Senate itself. Even in the 21st Century, I do believe Canada benefits from having the Senate. The Senate is supposed to act as a place of sombre second thought of legislation. And it does so at the moment.
Can the Senate be ‘updated’ or changed? Probably. Although I am a traditionalist and can live with the Senate the way it is, that does not mean that I could not see some changes, mainly in how people are appointed to the Senate.
At the moment, a Canadian over over 30 who owns at least $4,000 worth of assets in the the province he/she will represent may be appointed to the Senate and does not need to retire until he/she reaches the age of 75.
Of the 105 Senate positions, seats breakdown as follows: 24 seats for the ‘Atlantic Region’ (News Brunswick with 10 seats, Nova Scotia with 10 seats, and PEI with 4 seats), 24 seats for Ontario, 24 seats for Quebec, and 24 seats for the ‘western provinces’ (British Columbia, Alberta, Sasketchewan, and Manitoba divided equally with 6 seats each.) Newfoundland, the ‘newest’ province in Canada has 6 seats, with each of the 3 territories receiving one seat each.
Each Senator presents 301,000 people on average – however this goes from a low of 33,900 per Senator in P.E.I. to 685,500 per Senator in B.C., although the Yukon and Nunavut average slightly less than P.E.I. This is an issue which I do concur does occur with the Senate as the number of Senators is not determined based on population (like with the House of Commons) or the number of provinces (like the U.S. Senate.)
There is a provision in the Constitution that allows the Federal Government to recommend to the Queen that she appoint 4 or 8 ‘extra’ Senators (1 or 2 from each of the 4 ‘Regions’.) These Senators would then raise the number of Senators to 113 or 117, but no further Senators could be appointed until after the total number of Senators falls under 105 again. The only time these ‘special’ Senators were appointed was in 1990 when the Mulroney Government did so to ensure passage of the law creating the Goods and Sales Tax (G.S.T.)
Senators are currently appointed by the Governor General (on behalf of the Queen) based on the recommendation of the Prime Minister at the time. This tends to mean that the appointments go to people with connections to the party forming the Government.
My recommendations to update/reform the Senate are as follows:
- Allow for an independent committee to recommend the appointment of Senators. Senators would be appointed because of merit, similar to how the Order of Canada is awarded. Senators would not be people with connections to a particular party but would be based on whether or not they were worthy of the position. This would help to make the Senate the ‘chamber of sober second thought’ that it is supposed to be and the intention of having a Senate. Each Senator would still represent a specific province but at the same time party politics could be taken out of the appointment process.
- The above would not require a Constitutional amendment.
- The Prime Minister could still appoint a Senator as “Leader of the Government in the Senate” in order to help provide a Cabinet Minister to represent the Government in the Senate, and if required a Senator could be appointed as a “Secretary of State” or “Minister without Portfolio” if the Government does not have an MPs from the province that the Senator represents.
- Senate expenses, including those of individual Senators, would be subject to an annual audit by the Auditor General.
- Senators may be removed from office by a secret ballot vote of 60% of votes cast in a Senate vote if the Senator is found to be in breach of the rules of the Senate, which includes living in a province other than the province for which the Senator represents.
In conclusion, does the Senate need to be reformed? In my opinion, yes it could do with some updating. Should the Auditor General review their expenses? Yes. Could the Senate be updated? Yes, as I have outlined. At least in my opinion.
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