Advertisement
ontarionewswatch.com NEWSROOM

 

 

              What Should Ontario Do If Senate Reform Lite Really Is 

                       “A Constitutional Crisis Waiting To Happen”?

 

By Randall White

Former Premier Dalton McGuinty has noted in his memoirs “no other Canadians feel less attachment to their province than Ontarians...” 

And Ontarians who put Canada first may want to start wondering a little about what has been called the transition to a more independent Senate, now well underway in Ottawa.

Peter Harder, for instance, is a former federal deputy minister, appointed to the Senate of Canada by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in March 2016.

He is also the Government Representative in the Senate. And he published a short progress report late this past December called “A Year of Change for Canada’s Senate.”

According to this report “Canadians ... are eager for an Upper Chamber free from blind partisanship, and with the independence to fulfil its duty as a chamber of sober second thought ... This is the course we are taking.” 

The obvious limited objective is to clear up the immediate Senate conundrum left by former Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Supreme Court of Canada. 

From this standpoint, PM Trudeau’s Senate reform lite can claim some early success. He has now appointed 27 so-called “Non-affiliated” senators. That more than covers the 22 vacancies left by Mr. Harper.

To strengthen public faith in an institution that has traditionally lent itself to political manipulation, the prime minister has been assisted by an avowedly non-partisan Independent Advisory Board for Senate Appointments. 

The board has regional representation, and is chaired by former federal civil servant Huguette Labelle. It also takes applications from individual Canadians.

Justin Trudeau, as a mere party leader, began to set the stage for a more independent Senate in late January 2014, when he expelled Liberal senators from his parliamentary caucus.

Subsequently some old Senate Liberals have rejected a Non-affiliated designation. And some Non-affiliated senators have chosen not to join a new Independent Senators Group (ISG).  

Yet all 27 of the senators appointed in 2016 are listed as “Non-affiliated (ISG)” on the Senate website. It also reports the current “standings” as: Conservative Party of Canada — 40; Non-affiliated (Independent Senators Group) — 35; Liberal Party of Canada — 19; Non-affiliated — 7; Vacant seats — 4. 

Not everyone is pleased, of course. Some have complained that, despite the advisory board and the Non-affiliated appointments, the practical result remains a “Liberal Senate in all but name” on the old discredited model.

Other, deeper critics have suggested that the initial success of the Senate reform lite agenda could finally prove its undoing. 

Gordon Gibson, a former BC Liberal leader who has been pondering the subject for decades, argues that the transition to a more independent Senate is starting to look like “a constitutional crisis waiting to happen.”

On this argument, progress towards a less politically manipulated institution has already begun to make senators think their extensive theoretical powers under the old Constitution Act, 1867 can be more vigorously exercised than in the past.

Peter O’Neil in the Vancouver Sun notes, “The Senate last year temporarily blocked the government’s assisted death bill, and more recently forced Finance Minister Bill Morneau to remove a consumer-protection component of his budget-implementation bill.”

The more such things happen, the more a crucial flaw in the original Senate design will be cast in bold relief — especially in BC and Alberta (which together now account for a greater share of the Canada-wide population than Quebec).

This is the obsolete and unfair current constitutional allocation of Senate seats by province — a genuine relic of the 19th century: Quebec 24, Ontario 24, Nova Scotia 10, New Brunswick 10, and then six each for Newfoundland, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia, followed by four for Prince Edward Island, and one each for the three territories.  

The debate of the past 30 years has made clear as well that the equal provincial representation proposed by the old Alberta Triple E formula (borrowed from the United States and Australia) will not work in Canada. 

Just what allocation of seats among provinces would make sense for the 21st century is in fact the most fundamental problem of serious Senate reform in Canada. 

The focus on the current transition to a more independent Senate just evades the problem. But already there are noises that suggest this may not work very much longer.

And Dalton McGuinty’s memoirs include another intriguing observation, if and when Canadians and their leaders screw up the courage to reopen the Constitution and seriously reform what a classic study of the 1920s called The Unreformed Senate of Canada, at last. 

Sometimes, Mr. McGuinty felt, the other premiers “expected Ontario to play the honest broker among the provinces, even at the expense of its own interests.”

But this might actually be a sensible strategy for a province that really wanted to put Canada first, if and when the Senate reform lite agenda does precipitate a constitutional crisis waiting to happen.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About Randall White

Randall White is a former senior policy advisor with the Ontario Ministry of Finance, and a former economist with the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing. He is the author of Ontario 1610-1985: A Political and Economic History and Ontario Since 1985. He writes frequently about Ontario politics.
Posted date : February 02, 2017

View all of Randall White's columns
ontarionewswatch.com NEWSROOM
The Liberals want a high-speed rail system for Southwestern Ontario - an idea as old as Bill Davis' Conservative government. Randall White explores the concept.
May 29, 2017
The Inquiry is off to a slow and controversial start. What is holding it up? Mahoney, Capobianco and Parkin on what it will take to succeed.
May 25, 2017
"There may be trouble in River City" when it comes to the Ontario PCs. Anger inside the party and rumblings of a new movement could affect the leader's election chances.
May 24, 2017
The auditor is suggesting the internal culture of the RCMP is so dysfunctional it requires civilian oversight. Mahoney, Capobianco and Parkin on whether that's a good idea.
May 17, 2017
A Liberal government led by a woman in BC, up for re-election after holding power for more than 15 years. Sound familiar? Randall White on whether there are lessons for Kathleen Wynne.
May 11, 2017
The Liberals are moving left as we near the 2018 election - a reprise of the last provincial and federal campaigns. Will it work a third time? Mahoney, Capobianco and Parkin debate.
May 10, 2017
This past Earth day, the planet surpassed 400 parts per million (ppm) of CO2 in the atmosphere. Terri Chu laments that as long as polluting is cheap, it will continue unabated.
May 08, 2017
The Defence Minister is accused of lying when he described himself as "the architect" of a major offensive during Afghanistan war. Should he step down? Mahoney, Capobianco and Parkin debate.
May 03, 2017
Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne's approval ratings have plummeted a year ahead of next year's Ontario election. But not so fast, says Peter Shurman - don't count Wynne out yet.
April 28, 2017
Hamilton, Thunder Bay and Lindsay will be the pilot sites for the Basic Income Project for 4,000 lower-income people. Is it a good idea? Mahoney, Capobianco and Parkin on that.
April 27, 2017
If Ontario really does put Canada first, it has to be a big supporter of the new Canadian Free Trade Agreement scheduled to take effect July 1st. Randall White delves into the details.
April 22, 2017
It's been thrown around for everything from fat paycheques (read Bombardier) to tax credits for creating jobs. Brad James thinks it's time to give the old phrase a rest once and for all.
April 21, 2017