The Special Joint Committee on Senate reform
tabled its report on January 31, 1984. Its proposal for an elected Senate is a
significant departure from reports of other recent committees and particularly
that of the 1980 subcommittee of the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and
Constitutional Affairs chaired by the late Senator Lamontagne. That report
argued that the defence of provincial interests has been appropriated by the
provincial premiers and the situation was unlikely to change in the near future
It proposed transformation of the ad hoc federal-provincial conference system
into a permanent Federal Provincial Council to serve as a forum for negotiating
constitutional amendments and to provide a broad co-ordinating function in
areas like fiscal and economic policy It provincial representation was
satisfied through a Federal Provincial Council then Senate reform could be
limited to strengthening the appointed chamber to carry out functions (i.e.
sober second thought, scrutiny of delegated legislation) for which elected
members often have neither the time nor the inclination.
The report of the Special Committee takes a
completely different approach. Its argument (outlined elsewhere in this issue)
in favour of a directly elected Senate is based primarily on the proposition
that popular election is the best if not the only, way to confer substantial
political authority In the context of Canadian history that is a startling,
indeed a revolutionary idea Once accepted could it not be argued that popular
election of the Head of Government (Prime Minister) or even Head of State
(Governor General) would enhance their legitimacy?
Whether one agrees with the idea of an
elected Senate or not, the Special Committee has performed a valuable function
in opening a national debate on the subject. Some would say the topic is
irrelevant to current economic and social problems But the composition and
operation of the Upper House in a federation like Canada should be central to
the way other problems are approached and resolved.
During the course of its hearings the Special
Committee travelled across the country listening to representations from some
provincial Premiers as well as many groups and private citizens. A few federal,
provincial and territorial legislators also look the opportunity to address the
Committee. To illustrate the variety of options placed before the Special
Committee we are publishing edited or revised versions of six such
presentations. Each represents a slightly different perspective on Senate
reform ranging from direct election, as advocated by Senator Michael Pitfield
to abolition proposed by Bob Rae of the Ontario Legislative Assembly.
It was, of course, impossible to reproduce
all the interesting (and original) suggestions submitted to the Committee. But
the sixty-one page report does warrant serious consideration, both within and
outside the parliamentary community We invite comments on the question of
Senate Reform and, space permitting, we will publish a selection of letters
received in the next issue.