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Senate Representation: The Political Dimension
Diane Deschamps

At the time this article was written Diane Deschamps was a Clerk with the Committee's Branch of the Senate.

The composition of the Senate has changed considerably since Confederation. Where once the Upper House was dominated by the Conservatives, the Liberals gradually come to be in a majority. The following table gives a breakdown of political party representation in the Senate. Since the election of the Progressive Conservative Government in 1984, the Liberal majority has slowly narrowed. This is the first in a series of studies examining different aspects of Senate representation.

 

1885

1900

1910

1920

1930

1940

1950

1960

1970

1980

1990*

PC

52

44

22

55

46

49

11

24

23

26

54

Lib

22

33

61

37

47

46

77

68

62

67

52

Other

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4

6

4

6

Total

74

77

83

92

93

95

88

96

91

97

112

* As of October 1, 1990

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Senate was established by the Constitution Act, 1867 to defend the country's regional interests and to contribute to political stability by acting as a counterweight to the House of Commons. Initially, it was composed of 72 members, 24 representing each of the three divisions, namely Ontario, Quebec and the Maritime provinces (Nova Scotia and New Brunswick). The number of senators has increased over the years as a result of the country's geographic expansion and the creation of new provinces and territories. Senate membership currently stands at 104 with six senators from Newfoundland, four from Prince Edward Island, ten each from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, 24 from Quebec, 24 from Ontario, 6 from the Western provinces and one from the Yukon and one from the Northwest Territories.

Senators are appointed by the Governor General on the advice of the Prime Minister. As was the case during the early years of Confederation, senators must be at least 30 years of age and own property with a minimum value of 54,000 (which was a. considerable sum at the time). They must also be a resident of the province they are appointed to represent and, in the case of Quebec, the region they represent. Up until 1965, Senators were, appointed for life. Retirement is now mandatory at 75 years of age.

Since its establishment, the Senate has included among its ranks individuals with a broad range of' political experience. Five of the thirteen ministers who made up the first federal cabinet were gleaned from the ranks of' the Senate. Two prime ministers were also chosen from the Senate membership (Abbott who served between.1891 and 1892, and Bowell who served between 1894 and 1896). Many senators held cabinet portfolios during the early years of Confederation (1867-1896). From 1911 to 1979, there were rarely more than two senators in this category, although at one time, there were four former provincial premiers sitting in the Upper House. In 1979, the Conservative government recruited some Francophone senators for its Cabinet. 'Me Liberal government also made several appointments between 1980 and 1984 to compensate for a lack of Western representatives in the House of Commons.

The question of appointments was considered at length by the Fathers of Confederation. After much discussion and debate they agreed upon a proposal whereby the first senators were chosen from among the members of the legislative assemblies of the provinces, that they, would be named by the Crown on the recommendation of the Executive Council and that all parties, including the opposition would be entitled to representation on an equitable basis in the first Parliament. Subsequent appointments were not subject to die same constraints, in fact it became accepted that most appointments to the Upper House would be made on a partisan basis by the Prime Minister.

 

 

 

Senatorial Appointments by Canadian Prime Ministers Since 1867

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prime Minister

Year of nomination

Lib

PC

Con

Lib/

Con

Lib/

Ind

Con

Ind

Nat

Lib

Nat

Con

Ind

Lib/

Un

Nat

Other

Total

1867

 

24

 

38

8

 

1

2

 

 

 

 

 

73*

John A. Macdonald

1868-1873

6

 

21

3

 

1

 

 

 

 

 

 

31

Alexander Mackenzie

1873-1878

13

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2

1

16

John A. Macdonald

1879-1891

5

 

32

20

1

 

 

1

1

 

 

 

60

John Abbott

1892

 

 

5

1

1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6

John Thompson

1892-1893

1

 

4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5

Mackenzie Bowell

1895-1896

 

 

9

4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

13

Charles Tupper

1896

 

 

1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1

Wilfrid Laurier

1896-1911

80

 

 

 

1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

81

Robert Borden

1911-1920

3

 

57

 

 

1

 

 

 

1

 

 

62

Arthur Meighen

1921

 

 

13

 

 

 

 

 

1

1

 

 

15

Mackenzie King

1922-1930

42

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1

 

1

44

Robert Bennett

1931-1935

 

7

25

 

 

 

 

 

1

 

 

 

33

Mackenzie King

1935-1948

58

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1

 

 

59

Louis St-Laurent

1948-1957

51

1

 

 

1

 

 

 

2

 

 

 

55

John Diefenbaker

1957-1963

 

37

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

37

Lester B. Pearson

1963-1968

38

 

 

 

1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

39

Pierre E. Trudeau

1968-1979

51

6

 

 

 

 

 

 

2

 

 

1

60

Joe Clark

1979

 

11

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

11

Pierre E. Trudeau

1980-1984

19

1

 

 

 

 

 

 

1

 

 

 

21

John N. Turner

1984

3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3

Brian Mulroney

1984-

 

41 -

104+205

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1

42

TOTAL

 

394

 

 

36

 

 

2

1

81

4

2

4

767

* On October 23,1867, 72 Senators were named by the Crown following a recommendation of the Executive Council. Three declined. Another Senator was named In this way on November 2, 1867. ** Includes eight additional Senators added under Section 26 or the Constitutional Act, 1867.

The Joint Committee on Senate Reform examined the question on appointment and made it the focus of its main recommendation: "We have concluded that the Canadian Senate should be elected directly by the people of Canada. An appointed Senate no longer meets the needs of the Canadian federation. An elected Senate is the only kind of Senate that can adequately fill what we think should be its principal role - the role of regional representation. We propose a Senate different in composition and function from the House of Commons and from the present Senate."

The 1987 proposed constitutional amendment known as the Meech Lake Accord contained a provision respecting Senate selection. It stated that persons appointed to the Senate would be chosen from among persons whose names have been submitted by the government of the province to which the vacancy relates. Prior to rejection of this amendment in June 1990 six senators had been appointed pursuant to its tentative provisions (one from Newfoundland, four from Quebec and one from Alberta).

In the case of Alberta, provincial legislation was adopted providing for the election by universal suffrage of any Senate candidate whose name. in accordance with the temporary provision in the Meech Lake Accord, would be put forward by the province. On October 16, 1989 a province-wide election was held and Stan Waters was elected. On June 19, 1990, just before the demise of the Meech Lake Accord, Mr. Waters was formally named to the Senate where he sits as a Member of the Reform Party. In September 1990 the Prime Minister filled the remaining vacancies. He also invoked section 26 of the Constitution Act, 1867 to add eight additional Senators.

 

 


Canadian Parliamentary Review Cover
Vol 13 no 3
1990






Last Updated: 2019-11-29