Minister of State for Democratic Reform Tim Uppal announced on Friday that "the federal government will seek clarification from the Supreme Court on "what is required to reform the Senate and what is required to abolish the Senate."
Here are some excerpts from the government's statement about the reference:
This is the first time in a generation that the Supreme Court will consider the constitutional amending process for reform to the Senate. The questions referred seek legal certainty on the constitutional amending procedure for:
- Term limits for senators;
- Democratic selection of senate nominees;
- Net worth and property qualifications for senators; and
- Abolition of the Senate.
Should a favourable opinion be received from the Supreme Court, the Government intends to continue to pursue the passage of the Senate Reform Act. The Act would continue through the normal parliamentary process from its current status at second reading in the House of Commons.
Uppal noted that his government isn't interested in abolition, but wants an opinion on whether Parliament alone can pass 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.
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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.
Political analyst Gerry Nicholls says that this is the right move.
"The government is wading into murky constitutional waters on this issue and it’s a good idea to get the court’s opinion on its legality," he told Yahoo! Canada News.
While the Harper government has spoken about reforming the Senate since before they got into power in 2006, their actions have indicated something completely different. Since 2006, Harper has appointed 53 Senators. Many of the appointees include party insiders and failed candidates — the same types of individuals, Harper maligned the Liberals for appointing prior to 2006.
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So what took them so long to forward this Bill to the Supreme Court?
Nicholls says there was really no rush to pass C-7.
"For one thing, there is no urgent demand in Canada for Senate reform. What drove Senate reform-mania in the 1980s and 1990s was the West’s (particularly Alberta’s) desire to have a stronger voice in Ottawa," he told Yahoo!.
"Albertans didn’t trust Liberals in Ottawa to protect their interests. But now that Prime Minister Harper (a Conservative and an Albertan) is in charge they have that strong voice. And finally, the current Senate system works well for the Prime Minister, giving him a chance to reward loyal Tories, so why not keep it for as long as possible."
Uppal notes that he expects the the Supreme Court to take anywhere from 10 and 24 months to make a decision.
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