The Harper government has sent bill C-7 an act to deal with Senate reform to the Supreme Court of Canada for clarification. The federal government seeks to determine its own powers regarding senate reform. It seeks answers to six questions.
Bill C-7, the Senate Reform Act, was introduced was introduced in June 2011, but has not been debated for almost a year. The Harper government seeks answers to six questions, which put test the legislation against section 44 of the constitution act of 1982. The court is being asked whether senate reform is constitutional and about the amendment procedure.
Reforming the senate is a key piece of legislation going back to the conservative parties roots as the Reform Party and Canadian Alliance. While it is a key piece of the government platform, senate reform has been debated since the institution was formed in 1867. The Liberal Party of Canada adopted a resolution to move to an elected senate in 1885, but it was never implemented.
Bill C-7 would place term limits of nine on senators, having them elected by their provinces, and later appointed by the governor general on the advice of the prime minister. The new terms would apply to senators appointed after 2008. Currently there are no term limits, but senators must retire at age 75. In essence this is a perfect patronage appointment for any prime minister, who stack the senate with their supporters, to make.
According to the Globe and Mail, the federal government was prompted to send the legislation to the supreme court, as a pre-emptive strike, after Quebec queried he constitutionality of Bill C-7.
Quebec called last May for that province’s court of appeal to rule on the constitutionality of Bill C-7, and some sources have described the federal government’s referral of its own questions to the Supreme Court as a pre-emptive move against an eventual challenge.
Liberals have been saying since 2007 that the government needed to ask the Supreme Court whether it was constitutional for Parliament to impose term limits unilaterally – without provincial consent. The referral asks six specific questions.
1. In relation to each of the following proposed limits to the tenure of Senators, is it within the legislative authority of the Parliament of Canada, acting pursuant to section 44 of the Constitution Act, 1982, to make amendments to section 29 of the Constitution Act, 1867 providing for
a. a fixed term of nine years for Senators, as set out in clause 5 of Bill C-7, the Senate Reform Act;
b. a fixed term of ten years or more for Senators;
c. a fixed term of eight years or less for Senators;
d. a fixed term of the life of two or three Parliaments for Senators;
e. a renewable term for Senators, as set out in clause 2 of Bill S-4, Constitution Act, 2006 (Senate tenure);
f. limits to the terms for Senators appointed after October 14, 2008 as set out in sub clause 4(1) of Bill C-7, the Senate Reform Act; and
g. retrospective limits to the terms for Senators appointed before October 14, 2008? Full text here.
Getting clarification from Canada's supreme court should satisfy the Liberals, but may not make the New Democrats happy. As far as the New Democrats are concerned, the senate should be abolished altogether. There may be resistance by provinces, especially Ontario and Quebec, who get the lion's share of appointments to the senate.
Currently the senate has 105 seats with 24 seats assigned equally to four regions, Ontario, Quebec, Maritime provinces and western provinces. The other seats are assigned to smaller regions, Newfoundland and Labrador, the Northwest Territories, Yukon, and Nunavut.