The current Senate Reform Bill C-7 currently before our national parliament is a progressive step towards accentuated democracy, political transparency and geopolitical equity.
Since the commencement of Confederation, Canada has had an appointed Senate that, for many generations has been an unaccountable upper chamber, composed of mostly patronage appointees.
An unfortunate assessment of the Senate has become entrenched within the Canadian psyche that it is a useless institution that should be abolished rather than continue to extract revenue from the Canadian taxpayer.
The only method to rectify this perception is through reforming the Senate through elections, enhanced power and more equitable representation, which national polls indicate over 70 per cent of Canadians support.
I personally recollect that in the late 1980s and early 1990s, there was a fervent advocation of such Senate reform by numerous provincial premiers, including our own Clyde Wells.
Then-prime minister Brian Mulroney indicated moderate support by appointing Stan Waters to the Senate in the spring of 1990, six months after he had been democratically elected in an Alberta-wide Senate election.
Mulroney also supported Senate reform being incorporated into the 1992 failed Charlottetown Accord.
That same year, the Liberal Party of Canada biannual convention adopted a policy plank that called for the establishment of an elected Senate, however then-Liberal party leader Jean Chrétien didn’t implement the policy when he became prime minister.
Chrétien even refused to appoint senators who had been elected in Alberta Senate elections during the late 1990s.
Since their election in 2006, Stephen Harper’s Conservative government’s attempted Senate reforms have been impeded by the majority opposition.
However, with a majority government, Harper’s Senate Reform Bill C-7 appears likely to pass.
Bill C-7 offers provinces the option of holding Senate elections, and Alberta, British Columbia and Saskatchewan have all passed concurring legislation. Bill C-7 would constrain currently appointed senators to a single nine-year term, and provinces and territories would formulate how and when they could elect senators.
Appointed senators are fervently loyal to the prime minister or at least to the party of the prime minister who appointed them, and therefore they usually vote along party lines.
Elected senators would likely be more loyal to the people of the province who elected them and therefore likely to vote according to populist and regional lines.
This type of reformed Senate would accentuate the political voice of the people and represent a benevolent contrast to the rigid party voting discipline of the House of Commons.
A plurality of Liberals, most of the NDP and the Quebec government oppose Bill C-7 because they claim it is unconstitutional and will lead to a more powerful Senate that will produce legislative gridlock with the House of Commons.
It is not unconstitutional to allocate more rights to provinces to have Senate elections and simultaneously allow them not to exercise that right.
An elected Senate will ultimately have more power and, particularly if it is controlled by another party, impede a significant portion of House legislation.
That scenario is beneficial to smaller provinces in Atlantic Canada that have a combined 30 senators in the 105-seat Senate compared to 32 MPs in the 312-seat House of Commons.
Based on contemporary demographic projections, Atlantic Canada’s representation in the House of Commons will continue to diminish as most other provinces’ representation escalates.
We currently and usually have had majority federal governments in Canada that hold absolute power over all legislation — that tends to be structured around the interests of the supporters of that government and bigger provinces.
A Senate comprised of a majority of other parties could impede and force a compromise that is more conciliatory to the interests of minorities and smaller provinces.
By commencing the election of senators and gradually increasing the power of the Senate, we will likely attain an upper chamber of provincially equal representation, which will further accentuate electoral alternatives, regional equality and political transparency.
John Ryall writes from Mount Pearl.