Senate Reform – asking Supreme Court to rule on constitutionality of unilateral action is right thing to do

Picture of Ted HsuYesterday, Democratic Reform Minister Tim Uppal announced that the Harper government would be asking the Supreme Court to opine on the constitutionality of the government’s plan (bill C-7) for unilateral reform of how Senators are chosen, and to limit their terms of service. The government has not put the Senate reform bill, C-7, on the daily agenda very often, and it has not tried to fast-track this bill like all the others. I think the government has realized, as the opposition has pointed out, that there are potentially serious constitutional issues which should be sorted out first.

My colleague, democratic reform critic, Liberal MP Stephane Dion has explained this elegantly in many speeches. Here are some words from a speech on Senate reform that I made in the House a year ago:

The bill [C-7] proposes to change how senators are chosen and, because that is a substantial change, I believe the only way to change how senators are chosen would be to amend the Constitution, which requires much more than an act of the House of Commons. In fact, it requires the participation of the provinces. It would require seven provinces with at least 50% of the population of Canada. It is my belief that the provinces should be involved in something that they helped set up in the first place.

If the government thinks that what it is doing makes sense from a constitutional point of view and really believes it is the right thing to do, I would challenge the government to go to the Supreme Court, as we have done with other questions, such as the lead up to the Clarity Act. The government should ask the Supreme Court if it thinks, in light of the Constitution, that this is a legal thing to do. That would probably save time, money and effort in the future when one or more of the provinces decides to challenge the act, if the bill is passed.

So I’m was pleased to hear that the government is referring their (questionable) plan to the Supreme Court. I do believe that we must reform the Senate, but it must be in consultation with the provinces, and be within the framework of our constitution.

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