05.31.2011 09:47 AM

The only defensible position on Senate “reform”

Now, let’s see how long Timmy Hudak and his band of losers can ignore this one:

McGuinty rejects Senate reform; calls on Harper to abolish upper chamber (Senate-Reform-Ontario)
Source: The Canadian Press
May 31, 2011 10:35

BRAMPTON, Ont. – One day after Quebec threatened court action to block proposed Senate reform, Ontario is telling the federal government to abolish the upper chamber.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is expected to introduce bills to impose term limits on senators and to allow provinces to elect nominees who would be appointed to the Senate.

Premier Dalton McGuinty says he’s talked with other premiers and believes the best option is to simply get rid of the Senate altogether.

He says to reform it in any substantive way “is just not possible.”

McGuinty says Ontario has 40 per cent of the population but only 25 per cent of Senate seats, and sees no need to have an unelected upper chamber in Ottawa.

Harper’s previous attempts to pass the Senate reform bills were thwarted by opposition parties, but the Conservatives now have majorities in both the House of Commons and the Senate.




  1. Cath says:

    Wow the Libs. and the NDP are getting closer and closer by the minute…..sharing key messages now….how quaint.

    • Warren says:

      So do you favour the disgusting Manning, Smith et al. appointments, Cath?

      • Attack! says:

        Harper’s Cathcaesque Triple ‘C’ Senate:

        Conmen, Cronies, and Castouts

      • Cath says:

        I support an elected Senate. So too are the folks appointed by Harper. Peter Worthington had a great piece in the Sun on the benefits to Harper of doing what he did. I agree with Worthington in his column’s explanation of how Harper’s likely moving on that.

        I’d prefer a more representative upper chamber than no chamber at all.

        I think this makes for a diversion from provincial politics for the moment.

        I also suspect that you’ll not hear all of the Premiers singing from the abolishing song book. That means opening up the sacred Trudeau-esque constitution….and political suicide for those even hinting at more constitutional debates. Talk about an issue that will turn folks more off of politics than they already are.

        • Cath says:

          I have a question for you now Warren. Why under 13 years of the Liberals in government did McGuinty not once raise this issue….or make his views known?

          Inquiring minds want to know.

        • pcase says:

          “I’d prefer a more representative upper chamber than no chamber at all.”

          I am curious as to what you mean by this?

          Do mean representative simply by being elected?

          Or, representative by population?

          I think McGuinty raise a good point regarding Ontario representation in the Senate relative to our population.

          Not a constitutional expert, but I imagine reforming the Senate to become truly Representative by Population would be a big battle, whereas abolition would be a less painful and perhaps more likely succesful project.

          • Michael says:

            In the US the House of Representatives is rep by population. The Senate offsets the power of the more populace states by giving each state two Senators.

            Isn’t the House of Commons representative by population? Why do we need two chambers that are essentially the same?

          • Gord says:

            No, The House of Commons is not based on representation by population but on a formula which weighs representation towards smaller provinces, just like the senate. Canada is becoming a country with deeply embedded notions of “provincial entitlements”. It seems many people and political representatives believe we should have a “hierarchy of provinces” where people in some provinces are more entitled to be represented than those living in others. This is the idea behind the current NDP proposal that Quebec should be entitled to a floor of 25% of the seats in the House of Commons. You read comments in other provinces and they talk about how many seats they had in the House of Commons when their province entered confederation, and argue that they are being short changed because the populations in other provinces have grown faster than others. Frankly, this just reeks and shows how totally self centered we have become if we believe that other people in Canada should have a weaker voice because they live in a bigger or faster growing province.

            And we don’t need a senate. It duplicates the House of Commons. Provincial governments operate quite well without a senate.

  2. Dan F says:

    I was really hoping to get appointed to the Senate one day. Way to crush my dreams.

  3. James Bow says:

    I have to admit that I supported the concept of a senate in the past. I thought it was a good idea to have a chamber of “sober second thought” in order to look at House legislation in a different way. As in the United States, it allows regions that might be overlooked at the national level to have a real contribution to the national discourse. Even though the senate wasn’t elected, I didn’t mind so much as long as some thought went into the appointments, and the senators took their appointments seriously.

    Well, we all know what happened to that, and we knew it pretty early on. But the Senate did make some valuable contributions to the Canadian body politic in the past. It delayed ratification of the Free Trade Agreement until we had an election on the issue. It killed a seriously flawed abortion bill. It stood up for the right of legal redress when the Chretien government moved too fast to kill the Pearson privatization deal. It’s made some serious progress towards supporting the decriminalization of marijuana.

    But the Senate is only as good as its senators, and a prolonged period of poor senate appointments reduces the upper chamber to worse than irrelevance. And I can’t help but notice that Ontario has functioned just fine without its own senate for decades or more. If we can reform the House of Commons with proportional representation, we may not need an upper chamber. So, I’m tentatively leaning towards the NDP/McGuinty position of abolishing it.

    • Dave says:

      Ontario has never had an Upper Chamber: s. 69 of the BNA Act.

    • Gord says:

      The Triple E senate is almost as anti-democratic as the existing senate, due to the huge variance between provincial populations. Plus there has been zero indication that it will ever be acceptable to enough provinces to ever pass the required constitutional amendments. It would be incredibly stupid and short sighted for British Columbia to start electing senators when we currently have 6 senators to represent 4.5 million people while New Brunswick has 10 senators to represent 750 thousand people.

      There is nothing “equal” about giving PEI, a province with 150,000 people, the same representation as Ontario with 13 million people. We should get rid of the senate because it is a huge waste of money and does nothing to improve the functioning of democracy in Canada. We should abolish it based on the fact that it violates the principle of “one person, one vote”, in the most egregious ways possible. It is a archaic relic of a colonial past which has no place in a modern democracy.

      And I have the same view on the US and Australian senates, but they should be examined in the context of their own history by their own people.

  4. Ottawacon says:

    I think this is very shortsighted on McGuinty’s part. I think there is a reasonable case to be made for bicameral legislatures, and I think there is a reasonable case to be made for using one of them for representing provinces. Ontario will inevitably be on the short end of that stick as the most populous province, but it provides some framework for representing a real and legitimate political dynamic, Simply saying ‘it is too hard to fix’ is rather unsatisfying.

    • Greg says:

      Ontario already gets screwed by the lack of true rep by pop. Any premier of Ontario who agreed to screwing Ontario even worse by creating an elected Senate, would be in big trouble. Abolish that abomination and do it soon.

      • Ottawacon says:

        I think the corollary is that the House needs to move a lot closer to rep by pop. Right now, the ‘rotten boroughs’ in the Maritimes do somewhat provide representation for provinces, but in a haphazrd way. I’d rather see the purpose of the House and the purpose of Senate clearly defined. The Australian model coems to mind, and surely given similar underlying institutions getting there cannot be impossible?

      • Before Ontarioans whine about rep by pop in the Senate (which the Senate was never designed to achieve, clearly), please allow BC and Alberta to at least catch up a little, ok? B.C. is by far the least fairly represented if you want to play the rep by pop game.

        By all means let’s abolish the Senate without any real debate in Canada.

        As much as I have complained about patronage appointments over the years, I am not in favour of abolishing the Senate, or even changing it, without fulsome debate.

        Yet here we have premiers – none of which to my knowledge made senate reform a big issue in their campaigns – popping up all over the place crying out for abolishment without a single word of debate.

        The Upper Chamber isn’t full of party hacks and sycophants and it does produce some good work. Is it good value for money over all? Maybe not. But should it be changed wholesale or summarily turfed without real debate?


        • If the argument is about democracy, far more harmful to our democracy is the power of the PMO, the assumed power of the Prime Minister, the employment of whipped votes, hiding candidates from the public and press during campaigns, etc.

          Those aspects of our system actually impact how legislative agendas are produced and passed – or not. Those issues ought to be fixed, but seemingly never will be.

          Too bad.

      • Dave says:

        BC had 13.1% of the population of the provinces in 2006. If it went strictly by population, then BC should have had 40 of the 305 non-territorial seats. It has 36, a difference of… 4.

        Alberta had 10.4% of the population of the provinces in 2006. It would have 32 seats. Instead it has 28. Also a difference of…. 4.

        Ontario had 38.6% of the population of the provinces. It would have 118 seats under a strict rep by pop scheme. It has 106. That’s a difference of… 12.

        Ontario and BC both have 10% fewer seats than rep-by-pop would suggest. AB is marginally more under-represented, with 12% fewer seats, but 2% is about half a seat, and provinces don’t share.

        All of which to say, when you say “Ontario gets screwed, but not nearly as badly as Alberta and British Columbia”, your math is wrong.

        How can you tell if someone is “screwed” in their Senate representation?

        • Dave says:

          Ontario still has the biggest gap between the number of MPs it has, and the number it would have under stricter rep by pop.

          Which “half” of the country is one region?

    • Willy says:

      I’m not sure what you said makes sense. On the one hand you say that bicameral legislatures can be used to strengthen regional representation (to Ontario’s certain detriment, you astutely note), and on the other hand you say it is shortsighted for the Premier of Ontario to oppose a reform that would clearly hurt his province. Am I missing something?

  5. I’m torn on this one.

    I’m conservative in neither ideal nor political allegiance, but given how our senate works, I “get” why the PCs did what they did. It’s still grimy, but I understand.

    As for the next step, all I’m really sure of is that it will be messy. Senate “elections” should have more weight than just telling the party in power who to appoint: if we’re going to do an elected senate, the results of those elections need to determine the senator directly. Abolishing the senate directly has its own pros and cons.

    Bleh. Politics is complicated. So are English.

  6. Dave says:

    OK, Dalton McWiener just lost my vote.

    Guess I’m out of options.

  7. Anonymous says:

    What about the monarchy? You know, the world’s most expensive welfare program. Why not drop kick that too?

    • Warren says:

      How about abolishing gutless wonders on the Internet who take potshots without using their real name? I favour that one, big time.

    • Tiger says:

      I seem to remember the Kinsella position as being “abolish the monarchy, then run a kick-ass campaign and elect the ex-Queen President.”

      Which always amused this constitutional monarchist.

  8. gretschfan says:

    Hmmmm now this is a clever turn of events. I’m liking this a whole lot.

  9. Andrew says:

    Abolish the Senate. We already have 10 elected premiers and 3 territorial leaders who represent their provinces quite well (that is two of the E’s). I suspect prime ministers don’t want to deal with them but rather have party hacks (most are) do their bidding in the Senate.

    • TofKW says:


      Andrew just touched on something no one from the Reform/Alliance/CPC has ever dared mention about senate reform. If you elect senators then all of a sudden the upper chamber becomes legitimate, and they will take away powers that the individual provinces and premiers now hold. McGuinty isn’t the only premier wanting to abolish the senate, and there is a reason for that.

      Also, something else no one thought of, what if we vote for senators and Quebec elects separatists to the upper chamber? You know they will. After finally trashing the Bloc, do we really want more of them in federal politics?

      After wishing we could have an elected senate for decades now, more and more I’m seeing it as an impossible can of worms. I think McGuinty got this one right.

    • Dave says:

      The Premiers don’t represent their provinces and territories, they GOVERN them. The grandioe “Council of the Federation” is no substitute for bicameralism in a large federation.

  10. Mike says:

    I think the idea of a bicameral house has merit. I also think the Canadian version is a sham.
    I believe the real debate over our legislature needs to be more wide ranging than just senate reform. First past the post is more of an abomination to my democratic values than the senate at this point. Although I doubt Harper will be interested in addressing that.

  11. Tiger says:

    McGuinty’s position is _a_ defensible position on Senate reform. Not the _only_ one. And it’s not, incidentally, the position held by a 2/3 majority of Canadians, tho’ I bet you could move those numbers some with a good campaign.

    Elected bicameral legislatures work fine elsewhere — Canadians know that.

    Of course, it’s in Ontario’s interest (as a province) to abolish. National interest? Well, there’s some debate over that.

    • Warren says:

      But bicameral legislatures elsewhere are elected, dude. Half of this one isn’t. When there was a Liberal majority in the Senate, I was dead against it slowing/stopping/changing anything that came out of the Conservative House of Commons. And I said so out loud, too.

      It will never be fixed. Kill it.

      • Tiger says:

        Try to reform it first — term limits and elections.

        If Premier McGuinty’s guess — i.e., that it’s just totally unreformable — proves to be right, THEN kill it.

        But while 2/3 of Canadians know where they would like to go, at least try to follow their wishes —

        • Warren says:

          You need provinces representing 70 per cent of the population unified on a single reform proposal. Ain’t gonna happen. Ever.

          Kill it.

          • Dan says:

            Don’t you need 70 per cent to kill the Senate as well?

          • MississaugaPeter says:

            But will you not need provinces who represent 70% of the population to kill it?

            And while we are at it, let’s eliminate the monarchy. During lunch last winter, a former U. of A. college president told me over lunch the Liberals should make eliminating the monarchy part of their election platform. He was right. It would have made a clear differentiation from the Conservatives. It would have been backed by immigrants who have very little allegiance to the Queen. Quebec would have definitely embraced the idea. I am sure it will happen once we have to look at Chuck on all our currency.

      • JH says:

        I agree kill it! But also go the Harper route till you get the 7 provinces and the constitutional amendment. That’s at least a first step.

      • Dave says:

        “But bicameral legislatures elsewhere are elected, dude. Half of this one isn’t.”

        Not everywhere elsewhere, not that it justifies ours.

        But again the solution to a half-unelected bicameral legislature isn’t necessarily to kill the unelected half. There is another* option. Can you figure it out?

        * Actually a bunch of other options, but let’s keep it simple for now.

  12. Bob says:

    WWhy have a senate if the members get whipped into following the party line? Where is the sober second thought?

  13. W.B. says:

    There may be a lot of problems in provincial governments across the country, but NOT having a provincial Senate is NOT one of them.

  14. AP says:

    Dalton McGuinty is absolutely right on abolishing the Senate; the faster the better. Don’t tinker with it, kill it.

  15. Ed says:

    There are several reasons I support keeping an appointed senate, which I will shoot out there, but not spend too much time on.
    1) Elected senate would be another house of commons. Even with fixed elections, it would contribute to more elections in general, and canadians just signalled they do not want that.
    2) the senate does some good work, especially in developing reports on important but overlooked issues that affect us Nationally.
    3) I think this discussion is healthy, but I wish some people would come forward to offer some solutions on how we can amend the appointments process to have better appointments. It seems people are only offering elect senators or abolish the senate. Those are simple and clear positions, but they do not address consequences of those actions (majority governments really being benign dictatorships) and don’t satisfy the wonk in me which feels like there is other steps that can be taken to appoint senators who aren’t a)hyper-partisan, b) party fundraisers or c) just there because of their celebrity, not their service to the country (think Pam Wallin). For example, if every senator could be of the stature of Romeo Dallaire, I think a lot of Canadians would find a renewed pride in our chamber of sober second thought.

  16. Elisa says:

    It could be worse than now..no Senate and Harper could do what he wanted, but now at least his sheep might wise up, some of them, and the .Senate could go against Harper

  17. H Holmes says:

    The whole point of the senate was to help under represented provinces.

    Makes sense that ontario wouldn’t like it.

    It also makes sense to why Saskatchewan want a EEE senate.

    I am a fan of an appointed I wish it was equal and the house of common was closer to rep by pop. It was and is a key way of slowing down governments from doing wholesale changes.

    This sober second thought would be missed.

    • The Doctor says:

      Interesting you mention that, because the original big push for a triple E senate came out of Alberta in the 1970s (prominent Calgary oilman Jim Gray was a big proponent). But you don’t hear nearly as much noise about it in Alberta these days, and I think that’s partly because Alberta has had a couple of spells since then with considerable influence at the federal level — first under the Mulroney government (which had prominent Alberta Cabinet ministers like Harvie Andre, Joe Clark and Don Mazankowski), and now under Harper.

      So it makes sense that other smaller provinces might feel more of a need for it now than Alberta.

    • Attack! says:

      It depends on the Party in charge of those smaller provinces whether they think the Senate is worthwhile, should be reformed, or abolished:

      5 years ago, reportedly the NDP Premiers of both SK and MB, as well as the Premier of the Anything.But.NDP Party in BC all favoured scrapping it.


      From there point of view, there’s little point in keeping it if it’s just going to whip the votes along the two main national Party lines; it’s not really representing any regional interests at all.

  18. AmandaM says:

    Whoever said they were conflicted about this, I’m right there with you. The only use I’ve ever seen the Senate have is a good one, but I’m not sure if it outweighs the monumental problems I have with it. Sometimes a hearing before the Senate is the only way to get your issues heard in government. And every once in a while, Senate hearings result in an ignored or less popular (but still important) issue getting deserved attention. MPs and committees move with politics and popular opinion, while the Senate doesn’t always suffer from that disease; so every now and again we get very lucky and something important and unpopular (or bad politics) gets an airing out.

    To use Aaron Sorkin’s plot device, how do we make sure that “big block of cheese day” happens from time to time if the Senate were abolished?

  19. Do we need a Senate for Canada?

    Without a Senate (elected or not) there is no incentive for provinces to transfer power to the federal parliament. Why would all the provincies except for Ontario want to transfer any authority to Ottawa in the future? A transfer of authority should not mean an overall loss of power for the provinces’ citizens.

    Distribution of seats in the Senate: I know that the Czech Republic has its main house elected through some form of proportional representation. Its version of the Senate has single member seats apportioned by population. The Senate is mainly an advisory body. Back in Canada, if our Senate is to become an advisory body, there is no point in having a Senate. If it has power, then the provincial/territorial seats should be distributed in a way other than pure population. It could mean a Triple-E Senate, square-root squished bread loaf distribution, regional-linguistic distribution, or through another method.

    Does Canada need an elected Senate? It could do without one. However, as I mentioned, there would be no incentive for the provinces other than Ontario to transfer any authority to Ottawa in the future, as the provincial citizens in most provinces would lose power. Also, Canada is a federal society with no one dominant centre of the country. Toronto does not dominate all of Canada. It’s not like Copenhagen, Denmark; Stockholm, Sweden, or Oslo, Norway which can have unitary governments because they have unitary societies.

    • Gord says:

      I have to say that I read the arguments about a “need” for a Senate as being reflections that people distrust the federal government and want more provincial control over matters which are currently under federal jurisdiction. So maybe we need to “renegotiate federalism” to see the minimum set of powers which a federal government should have assigned which can be governed under a system where all citizens have an equal voice, without any preferences to linguistic regions (Quebec), or little provinces like PEI, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

      I should point out there is really almost nothing to suggest that the Triple E senate reform proposal or any other model of representation will ever get the necessary backing to reform the representation formula in the senate. This suggests that the provinces who have the most to lose with proceeding with senate elections under the current system, are the western provinces, who have historically been the ones most vociferously lobbying for senate reform. They will be the biggest losers under Harper’s short sighted “reform” initiatives.

  20. James Curran says:

    Is this really in the platform? Cause I’m pretty sure Ontarians couldn’t give a flying shit about this topic right now. However, if we’re in the mood for abolishing things, perhaps the HST on pensioners hydro and gas bills could be a nice start.

  21. Africon says:

    Trouble with an elected and therefore legitimate body is that, like we see in the US, it may well be a cause of legislative, constipation where nothing gets done in the shit house.

    The other major problem that we as a country have, are the enormous powers that the PMO has gradually accrued to itself and needs some balancing.
    Abolishing the Senate will simply consolidate the power of the already too powerful PMO.

    Perhaps if the candidates for an elected Senate had to be people that had never run for office ?

  22. Gord says:

    I think it shows that McGuinty is perhaps more astute a politician than Hudak, and has a better grasp on the notion that the principle of “one person, one vote” as expressed through representation by population is the very foundation of democracy. Hudak is just appealing to people in the federal Conservatives who think there are just too many who live in Ontario. And I guess the people in Ontario should be punished for living in the largest and most populous province. If that doesn’t suit them, why, they could just move to PEI, right???

  23. Ben says:

    Harper lost all credibility on the subject when he appointed the three Tory losers to the senate after the election. Let’s have a referendum. I’m sure that a majority of Canadians would vote to see it abolished.

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