Friday April 18, 2014

Ask your MLA about the Senate

Supporters of Senate reform — or abolition — should look at lobbying their local MLA.
Here’s why:

While it’s true that many Canadians would like to see changes in the Senate, and the federal government is making efforts to bring them about, it will most likely be the provinces, under present circumstances, that ensure this never happens.

This became apparent as federal representatives made their case to the Supreme Court of Canada justices who will decide just how far the federal government can go on reforms without consent of the provinces.

Provincial governments have all made their cases to the Supreme Court, and with few
exceptions, they want to have a say before even minor changes such as term limits.

Some want unanimous consent, some want the approval of seven provinces representing at least 50 per cent of the population.

B.C. goes even further. Our government says Senate reforms would have to pass a provincial referendum.

B.C. doesn’t go so far as to demand unanimity for abolition of the Senate, but it invokes the 7/50 formula for virtually any change.

“It is clear that provincial involvement is contemplated for all significant changes to the Senate,” says the B.C. court factum.

The provinces have set the bar high and it appears the Supreme Court justices are sympathetic to their cause.

Three of the eight — Louis LeBel, Thomas Cromwell and Rosalie Abella — were skeptical
of arguments put forward by Pierre Poilievre, federal minister of state for democratic reform.

LeBel had this to say: “Why should there not be some provincial input if these (senators) are not mere housekeeping details?”

Abella suggested imposing term limits would affect senators’ independence ability to provide sober second thought.

Poilievre said the federal government is looking for advice from the Supreme Court so it can find a way forward on reform in the face of opposition.

It appears unlikely that the Supreme Court will give its blessing for significant reforms without at least requiring the 7/50 formula. But with the federal government loathe to open the Constitution, this could hardly be called a way forward.

Unless the provinces can be convinced to change their positions, reform will be a non-starter for many years to come. And why would they ever change? They might if we made it clear we want them to change.

That’s why lobbying your MLA may be the only hope.

We Say editorials represent the viewpoint of The Daily News and are written by publisher Tim Shoults, city editor Tracy Gilchrist, or associate news editors Dan Spark and Mark Rogers.

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