Harper’s bid to reform the Senate likely delayed again

Andy Radia
Politics Reporter
Canada Politics

It looks as if the long-awaited Senate reform bill might not be making its way to the House of Commons during the fall session after all.

According to the Globe and Mail, the Harper government is making plans to ask the Supreme Court to vet the constitutionality of Bill C-7, a controversial piece of legislation which would incline provinces to hold senatorial elections and impose a nine-year term limit for senators.

The proposed reforms have faced serious opposition from the other parties in the House as well as provincial governments across the country.  Quebec has already called on the province's court of appeal to rule on C-7's constitutionality while Nova Scotia has asked that any reforms be done through constitutional amendment.

A Supreme Court blessing would indeed help the Harper government push the bill through the legislative process.  Former Quebec MNA Benoît Pelletier says that it's a case of better now than later.

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"It is a wise choice to go to the courts at the start of the process," Pelletier, now a professor of law at the University of Ottawa, told the Globe.

He added that there is "no doubt that the courts will have their say on the file" at some point in the process.

How about a referendum on abolishing the senate?

The Hill Times notes that the Harper government has introduced seven bills on Senate reform since taking office in 2006.

If the Supreme Court reference fails, what about a referendum on the senate?

According to CBC News, the idea is not as crazy as it sounds.

"Conservative Senator Hugh Segal has twice introduced a motion in the Senate to hold a referendum on its future and he's going to try again," notes the post from June 2011.

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"His referendum would ask voters to choose between three options: abolish, reform, or keep the status quo."

While Segal acknowledged the constitutional "brick wall," he suggests that if the majority of Canadians favoured abolition, then provincial governments would be less inclined to fight the change in the courts.

According to a 2010 Angus Reid poll, only 5 per cent of Canadians endorse the Senate's status-quo.