By John Ibbitson and Rheal Sequin, Globe and Mail, May 30, 2011
Quebec Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Pierre Moreau told The Globe and Mail Monday that the federal government’s plans to introduce legislation in June that would set fixed terms for senators and enable provincial governments to hold elections for senators when a seat becomes available would be unconstitutional without provincial consent. Many provinces, Quebec especially, are concerned that elected senators would usurp provincial governments as the foremost representatives of their citizens.
“If legislation is introduced, one of the things we will do is challenge the bill before the Court of Appeal and eventually the Supreme Court of Canada,” he said.
Similar Conservative legislation in the past has been stymied by the opposition parties. But now that the Conservatives enjoy majorities in both Houses of Parliament, they expect to turn legislation into law by the end of the year.
While placing term limits on senators appears to have broad support – that limit could be anywhere between eight and 12 years in the new bill – electing senators is fraught with legal and practical difficulties, according to David E. Smith, a political scientist at University of Saskatchewan who is one of Canada’s authorities on the Senate.
Even if the federal government has the authority to permit elected senators, he observed, each province would probably enact its own rules for such elections, if deciding to act at all.
“You’re going to end up with an array of provincial rules for the indirect election of a national official,” he predicted. “And I think that raises some questions.”
That is why earlier versions of the bill should immediately have been referred to the Supreme Court for a review of their constitutionality, said Liberal Interim Leader Bob Rae.
There is clearly a rainbow of opinions about the usefulness and patronage in the current Senate. However, if Harper thinks his "will" is going to become law merely because he has a majority in both the House of Commons and the Senate, apparently, there are new winds blowing.
At a time when the country is in serious need of social policy that would both support those who cannot find work congruent with their qualifications, and when the country's First Nations people are struggling just to find basic amenities like clean water, adequate housing and non-casino based employment...the Prime Minister seeks to put his signature on the structure of the governing bodies of the country. Clearly, this is an ambition based more on ego needs than on the country's best interests.
We will now watch at least four years of debate on this issue, and the court challenges that are inevitably going to surface from various quarters including the provinces, while the essential business of government support for the less well-off Canadians will go unattended.
This kind of debate could well seal the fate of the current prime minister, in the negative footnotes to Canadian history, where it and he both belong. Unfortunately, his superificial and hypocritical statements about enhanced democracy ring as hollow as they are and everyone knows that there is more ambition for increased power for the Prime Minister than better governance for the people.