Friday, April 25, 2014

Strike 4: Harper Cannot Unilaterally Reform The Senate

The Supreme Court issued their ruling on the Senate Reform Consultation questions that Harper put before them last year.  
In a unanimous decision released Friday, eight judges of the top court concluded that implementing fixed terms for senators or provincial elections for Senate candidates would require the consent of seven provinces representing half the population. The government had asked whether it could legislate these changes on its own.
On the key question of how the Senate could be abolished, the court said the consent of all the provinces would be necessary. 
The only reform the government can make unilaterally, according to the court, is to eliminate the archaic requirement that senators must own at least $4,000 worth of property in the province they represent. 
There are few other interesting highlights from the ruling:
But the court said the Constitution requires a lower elected and upper appointed legislative chamber, and that the contract between the two is "not an accident of history." Executive appointment of senators, rather than election, was deliberately chosen by the framers of the Constitution Act to allow the Senate "to play a specific role of a complementary legislative body."
An elected Senate, the court said, would be a rival to the House of Commons and would give "democratic legitimacy to systemically block the House of Commons." 
On  abolition:
The court found that the Senate plays a crucial role in any constitutional amendment by its ability to delay a change proposed by the House of Commons. 
The very functioning of the constitutional amending formula would be at stake if the Senate were to disappear, said the Court, concluding that all the provinces — not just seven of them — would have to agree with the federal government on a decision to eliminate the Senate.
I will download the full ruling and review it later.  Such documents are usually fairly complex reading, and will take me a while to fully appreciate.  I agree with the SCoC in principle on this, but I find myself wondering if they have overlooked the "window dressing" aspects of how Harper has proposed to do things in the past.

At the end of the day, it boils down to Harper will have to negotiate with, and create a consensus among the provinces in order to reform the Senate.  Harper hasn't met collectively with the Provincial Premiers since he came to power in 2006 ... he's not a man interested in or capable of generating consensus.

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