On Friday the Supreme Court (SCoC) released its decision on Senate reform.
Essentially, to reform the Senate the way that the Conservatives wanted, with fixed term limits and elected senators, would require a constitutional amendment involving at least 7 provinces that represent at least 50% of the population of the country.
The NDP dream of abolishing the Senate would require agreement of all 10 provinces. That is most likely not going to happen without some major concessions from the federal government. It is Tom Mulcair who is most hurt by this decision because it shows that his party was completely out to lunch on this issue. There is no way all 10 provinces would agree to abolition. Ontario and Quebec have too much power in the Senate to give it up. It wasn’t going to happen.
Harper is not the loser in this that people are claiming. In fact, this could be a big win for the Conservatives, and in particular Stephen Harper. In this case he needs to think more like Jean Chretien; worry about getting the job done and if it has negative effects on, or limits the power of, his successors, so be it.
With a majority in the House of Commons, Stephen Harper can basically get anything through there that he wants to. After making appointments to the Senate, which he HAD to do whether he wanted to or not, he also has a majority there. Getting things through the House and the Senate is no problem, so opening up the Constitution for smaller changes is no problem for Harper at the federal level. The trick is what to pass that the provinces would also; what can he give the provinces that would make them pass the amendment too?
Basically, he needs to make them an offer they can’t refuse.
Harper’s big push with Senate reform was the idea of term limits, and of an elected body. He needs to add one more piece to this puzzle. Give the power of appointing senators to the premiers. Basically, you pass a constitutional amendment in the House of Commons and the Senate that establishes term limits. Secondly, you give the provincial legislatures the ability under the constitution to have their own Senate election laws, but you don’t require it. If a province does not pass an election law, the job falls to the Premier. My guess is that most provinces would eventually go the election route because it would look undemocratic to do otherwise. Frankly, a Manitoba senator should be decided by a Manitoban, either the premier or the electorate anyway. Alberta already has Senate elections, so one piece of the puzzle already exists in that province.
I’m not sure what province would not agree to such an offer. I also can’t see why Harper would not do such a plan. An elected Senate takes the power out of the Prime Minister’s Office, so he was already giving that up anyway. With this plan he sets the whole mess in the Premiers’ laps, slightly screws over his successors in a Chretien-like move, and gets his term limits. As a bonus to the PM, any future Senate scandal falls at the feet of the premiers, not him.
Frankly, on Friday the SCoC gave Stephen Harper a gift. They showed him a road map and all he needs to do now is follow it. He can reform the Senate exactly the way he wants, just by giving that power to the provinces.
Tom Mulcair on the other hand got handed a lump of coal.