At the time this article was
written James Horsman was Alberta’s Minister of intergovernmental Relation.
This article is based on a speech delivered to the Canadian Club in Toronto on
January 30, 1989.
Senate reform and Meech Lake. We
have all been hearing and reading a lot about both these issues over the past
The Accord will end the
constitutional isolation of Quebec and make no mistake, there will not be
senate or any other constitutional reform without Quebec at the table as a full
partner in Confederation.
The accord also accomplishes many
other things, one provides for the constitutional equality of the provinces --
another provides a clear process by which senate reform can be achieved.
With respect to equality, the
preamble of the Meech Lake Accord states: "Whereas first ministers,
assembled in Ottawa, have arrived at a unanimous accord on constitutional
amendments that would bring about full and active participation of Quebec in Canada's
constitutional evolution, would recognize the principle of equality of all the
provinces, would provide new arrangements to foster greater harmony and
cooperation between the government of Canada and the governments of the
The Accord will ensure that there
will be no "second class" provinces when the first ministers gather
to discuss fundamental elements of our constitution. Alberta's premier, Don
Getty, was instrumental in obtaining the agreement of all first ministers to
recognize the principle of equality -- and our government is firmly committed
to that principle!
The Meech Lake Accord reflects the
principle of equality of the provinces in changes to federal institutions.
Essentially, the accord provides that future constitutional amendments relating
to powers of the senate, or the method of selecting senators, will require
approval of all provinces and the federal government, rather than the current
requirement of parliament and seven provinces with at least 50 per cent of the
Some have questioned why Alberta
agreed to this change, suggesting that it will forever doom meaningful senate
Alberta fully supports te
"equality" provision because we know that there are certain
provisions within the constitution that are so fundamental that their
alteration must only proceed under the approval of all the partners of
confederation. An amendment to the office of the Queen is such a matter -- we
believe that senate reform must be another.
The type of Senate reform advocated
by Alberta will have a dramatic effect on our institutions of government. It
will significantly improve the legislative and decision-making process in the
Canadian Parliament with respect to the nature of our confederation.
Our government believes agreement
is attainable on senate reform. It has been achieved before, on the amending
formula proposed by Alberta which was agreed upon in November 1981, by nine
provinces and the federal government, and finally in April 1987 by Quebec as
well as on many other constitutional amendments, and I cannot accept the
assumption that agreement is impossible to achieve on this issue.
Meech Lake does not inhibit senate
reform. On the contrary, it established a clear process under which reform will
be achieved, and it ensures that this reform must be satisfactory to all
The Meech Lake Accord provides an
interim process by which the provinces will have a say in the selection of
senators. When a vacancy occurs, the prime minister must select a senator from
a list advanced by the province from which the vacancy occurs.
Alberta has a vacancy, and until
now, our government has refused to provide the prime minister with a list of
candidates. We are currently investigating the legislative process that will
place the selection of our next senator into the hands of the people of
Alberta. The best way to accomplish this is through a general election process.
Make no mistake, the first elected
senator in Canada will forever change the face of the senate -- and we are
confident that this bold step will help Canada attain timely and effective
Now,although we feel that electing
a senate nominee will be an important factor in achieving senate reform, the
process which we will follow to obtain this reform is clear.
First, the Meech Lake Accord must
be approved by Manitoba and New Brunswick. Ratifying the accord will entrench
constitutional amendments that will -- among other things -- bring Quebec back
as a full participant in future constitutional discussions. Ratification will
allow us to move on to the next round of constitutional discussions.
It was Premier Don Getty who at the
1986 premiers conference in Edmonton obtained the agreement of all premiers
that senate reform would be the next priority after consideration of Quebec's
five proposals that led to the Meech Lake Accord.
Alberta is prepared for the next
round of discussions, and has developed a triple E -- equal, elected and
effective -- senate reform model.
In November 1983, the Legislative
Assembly of Alberta established a Select Special Committee on Senate Reform.
The Committee was to examine and report on the appropriate role, functions and
structure of an Upper House in the Canadian federal system. Alberta's position
on senate reform is based on the recommendations of the committee, which
reported in March 1985. The committee's recommendations were unanimously
approved in principle by the Alberta legislature both before and after
Alberta's 1986 general election.
It is important to recognize that
in formulating our province's position with respect to senate reform, the
committee held public hearings and discussions with hundreds of individuals and
organizations throughout the province. In addition, the committee met with all
other provinces and the federal government.
With respect to the Triple E Senate
recommended in the report, I believe most Canadians agree that a reformed
chamber must be elected. The current senate lacks the democratic foundation to
carry out its responsibilities.
Every now and then the senate takes
a big puff ofair and swells out its chest in defiance to the House of Commons,
as it did with respect to the free trade legislation.
Yet, how could anyone -- regardless
of their position with respect to the Free Trade Agreement -- accept the notion
of an appointed body thwarting the will of our elected members of parliament?
I also believe there is general
agreement that if the senate is to perform any useful purpose it must exercise
effective legislative powers. The exact form of these powers, however, is a
matter for much discussion among the provinces and federal government -- and a
topic we have been discussing at great length as we carried out our mission
The primary responsibility of a
second chamber in a federal system is to represent the interests of the
partners within confederation.
Therefore, one of the roles of the
senate is to ensure that legislation receives a second look from a perspective
that is different from the House of Commons. To do so, it requires some form of
This brings me to the remaining `E'
-- the principle of equality. As I had mentioned earlier, the concept of
equality of the provinces was recognized in the preamble of the Meech Lake
Accord, and in fact, has been acknowledged since confederation.
Sir John A. Macdonald, at the time
of confederation said "In order to protect local interests and to prevent
sectional jealousies, it was found requisite that the three great divisions
into which British North America is separated, should be represented in the
Upper House on the principle of equality."
Thus, while the principle of
equality was acknowledged at confederation, it was very imperfectly applied by
the concept of regional equality. With the entry of additional provinces and
the expansion of our country from sea to sea, the regional approach cannot
today be considered satisfactory. Indeed, even by 1908, the prime minister of
the day, Sir Wilfrid Laurier, was calling for equal provincial representation
in the senate. He stated, "Wht I would insist is that each province should
be represented by an equal number of senators, that each province should stand
in the senate on the same footing, and that each province whether it be big or
small should have a voice in the legislation, not according to the numerical
strength of its population but according to its provincial entity."
The democratic principle is served
and protected by representation by population in the House of Commons. The
federal principle ought to be served and protected by equal provincial
representation in the senate. The democratic and federal principles are
reconciled and reflected by these two houses acting together as a single
parliament expressing the national will.
Having developed this model for
senate reform -- and then having ensured that senate reform would be the next
priority after the Meech Lake Accord is passed our government moved towards
assessing the provinces' and federal government's position with respect to
reform, and to increase public awareness of this issue.
At the 1988 premiers conference in
Saskatoon, Premier Getty received the support of all premiers to lead
discussions with the other provincial governments and the federal government.
As a result, the Senate Reform Task Force was formed -- comprised of myself as chairman,
Bert Brown, chairman of the committee for a Triple E Senate, Stan Schumacher,
former member of parliament and a member of the Legislative Assembly of
Alberta, an alternating member of the Alberta assembly, and Peter Meekison, a
renowned constitutional expert and Academic Vice-president of the University of
To date, we have visited every
province and the federal government and will be visiting the Territories next week.
These visits have included discussions with our counterparts in the other
governments, as well as discussions with editorial boards, interviews with
radio and television stations, lectures and speeches to universities, and
speeches to business and service clubs.
It is obvios that senate reform is
gaining momentum as a public issue, and I know that Canadians will watch with
interest the progress all our governments make as we head into our next round
From our discussions, it appears
there is a general agreement that a reformed senate should be elected. There
also seems to be wide support for a senate that represents, equally, each of
the ten provinces. All of the provincial governments recognize that Canada is a
country of vast and diverse provinces -- not regions -- and that the federal
principle is best fulfilled by an equal senate. Finally, it is clear that there
will be much discussion at future conferences on what the effective powers of
the senate should be. Various views on the powers of the senate and how they
will impact on Canadian parliamentary tradition have been discussed, and I am
certain that several ideas on this topic will be advanced as we head to the
At present, five provinces, the
four western provinces and New Brunswick have publicly supported the
"Triple E" model in principle. To date, it is the only model on the
table, and our government is confident that when the provinces, territories,
and federal government meet at this first constitutional conference, it will be
a "Triple E" senate we will be discussing. So what is the next step
in achieving senate reform?
As I have said before, it is
approving the Meech Lake Accord -- for if we don't, the prospects for any kind
of constitutional reform are grim.
Can anyone believe that Quebec, not
having been a part of the 1981 constitutional agreement, and then having gone
through the difficult process leading up to the Edmonton declaration and the
Meech Lake Accord, and then to be driven from the constitutional table by the
opponents of Meech Lake will sit down and discuss senate reform?
And what politician, what premier,
could think that constitutional change can be achieved without Quebec or any
province as a full and equal participant at he discussions?
Why would any politician, from any
province other than Ontario or Quebec abandon equality for second-class status?
By doing so, by abandoning the principle of equality, they would be denying
their citizens equality with those in the larger provinces with respect to the
development of the constitution of Canada!
It is wrong to impose senate reform
on any partner of confederation without their consent. And Alberta, for one,
will not accept a senate with slight adjustments or mere tinkering in the guise
of reform! We cannot -- and will not -- have undesirable or cosmetic changes
rammed down our throats.
But I have faith in Canada. And I
have faith that in our country of great size and diversity there will be the
political will to find our way through the controversy, and to conclude the
ratification of the Meech Lake Accord. From there, Canada will move on to
reform our senate as the next step in our constitutional evolution.