A Complementary Legislative Body of Sober Second Thought

by Andrew West

It is important to respect the intentions of the framers of our Constitution, but it is even more important to respect the will and modern views of Canadians. In 1929 Lord Sankey L.C. referred to the Constitution as a “living tree” meaning it is meant to change with the times. Our Constitution is suppose to “[accommodate and address] the realities of modern life.”[1]

Democracy was not yet “enthusiastically accepted” in 1867 which is why the Senate—based on the British House of Lords—was an appointed chamber.[2] But since then, Canada has fought many wars and sacrificed many lives to protect and promote democracy. The framers intended the Senate to be virtually equal to the House of Commons,[3] but that is not what it has become. Although the Senate has made useful revisions to Commons’ Bills, Senators know it is not wise to veto any Bill drafted by elected Parliamentarians. Today’s Senators rarely exercise their powers to their full extent because they lack the “democratic legitimacy required” to do so.[4] Arguably our Senate becomes less relevant as democracy grows.

The framers of our Constitution also intended the Senate to be Parliament’s “sober second thought”. The framers felt this could be accomplished by appointing “qualified persons”, which was defined at the time as wealthy, older,[5] males.[6] But over time party loyalty became one of the important qualifications for becoming a Senator. Now many Canadian’s see the Senate of a body of “party hacks” loyal to the interests of the party that appointed them.[7]

Recent polls show many Canadians want to elect their representatives and have their vote count.[8] That is why both proportional representation and Senate reform are needed. BMP addresses and gives Canadians the most control over deciding our government.

End Notes

  1. ^ Edwards v. Attorney-General for Canada, [1930] A.C. 124 (P.C.), at p. 136 [Persons]; Reference re Same-Sex Marriage, 2004 SCC 79, at para. 22.
  2. ^ Rand Dyck, Canadian Politics, 4th ed (Toronto: Nelson Education Ltd., 2009) at 377 [Dyck].
  3. ^ Constitution Act, 1867 (U.K.), 30 & 31 Vict. c. 3, s. 53, reprinted in R.S.C. 1985, App. II, No. 5 [Constitution Act, 1867].
  4. ^ Faron Ellis & Heather Maclvor, Parameters of Power: Canada’s Political Institutions (Toronto: Nelson Education Ltd., 2008) at 10 [Ellis & Maclvor]; Dyck, supra note 2 at 377.
  5. ^ Based on the wording of the Constitution and the social-economics in 1867; see Constitution Act, supra note 2 at s. 23; see also Faron Ellis & Heather Maclvor, Parameters of Power: Canada’s Political Institutions (Toronto: Nelson Education Ltd., 2008) at 10 [Ellis & Maclvor]; Dyck, supra note 2 at 378.
  6. ^ Women were not considered persons in 1867; see Persons, supra note 1 at p. 136; see also Dyck, supra note 2 at 378, 379.
  7. ^ Ibid at 378; see also “Two Thirds See Need For Referendum On Electoral Reform” (11 July 2016), online: Forum Research (last visited 23 August 2016); Andrew Russell, “73% of Canadians want national referendum on electoral reform, poll suggests”, Global News (20 May 2016) online: Corus Entertainment Inc. (last visited 23 August 2016).
  8. ^ See David Coletto & Maciej Czop, “Canadian Electoral Reform: Public Opinion on Possible Alternatives”, Abacus Data (December 2015), online: The Broadbent Institute.