Senate reform bill a ‘constitutional Trojan horse,’ Stéphane Dion warns
NationalPost.com – news
Oct 6, 2011. By Adam Huras
Liberal MP Stéphane Dion is urging the New Brunswick government to give a sober second thought to supporting a Tory Senate reform bill, labelling it a “constitutional Trojan horse” that could open the door to weakening New Brunswick’s representation in the upper chamber.
In a letter to the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal, former federal Liberal leader took aim at Premier David Alward’s pledge to give New Brunswickers the opportunity to elect their representatives to the senate.
Alward is the first Atlantic premier to embrace Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Senate Reform Act, introduced in June, which would limit new senators’ terms to nine years and establish guidelines for provinces to voluntarily hold Senate nominee elections.
“New Brunswick has always argued — rightly and rightfully — that the fundamental character of the Senate cannot be changed by Parliament alone,” said Dion, the Liberal democratic reform critic.
“Such a fundamental change would also require the support of at least seven provinces representing 50% of the nation’s population.
“If the provinces accept that the Senate’s character could be changed by Parliament alone, where will it end?”
He later adds: “If a Prime Minister is permitted to ‘get around’ the Constitutional amending formula, why would he or she not be allowed to also ‘get around’ the need for consent to change provincial representation?”
The 105-seat Senate’s power is tilted eastward, with Atlantic Canada holding 30 seats — including 10 in New Brunswick — and Ontario and Quebec 24 apiece. The four western provinces have just six each, while the three northern territories each have one.
Alward has said he is keenly aware that small provinces such as New Brunswick soon may find their voices diluted in the House of Commons, where it’s expected more seats will be dedicated to fast-growing western and central Canadian provinces.
The premier said that endorsing an elected senate will help ensure that New Brunswick will remain with a strong representative voice in the second chamber.
Tim Uppal, Canada’s minister of state for democratic reform, responded Wednesday by saying the federal government is within its powers in moving toward a more democratic senate.
“The Senate status quo, where senators have no democratic mandate from Canadians and can serve terms as long as 45 years, undermines the upper chamber’s effectiveness and legitimacy as a democratic institution,” Uppal said in a statement.
“Since Canadians have been clear in saying that they have no appetite for long, drawn-out constitutional battles, we are proceeding with Senate reform that is reasonable, is achievable, and is clearly within the federal government’s jurisdiction to implement.”
Kate Davis, a spokeswoman in Uppal’s office, also noted that any changes to the number of Senate representatives require opening the Constitution and the consent of seven provinces equalling at least 50% of the population of all the provinces.
Dion also warned that the proposed Senate reform could subject Canada to political gridlock similar to the U.S. Congress, where the two elected chambers routinely paralyze each other.
“In fact, the situation could be even worse in Canada than in the United States, as we do not have a constitutional mechanism to solve disagreements between two elected chambers claiming the same legitimacy to speak for the people,” Dion said.
The federal NDP, the official opposition in Ottawa, strongly opposes Harper’s Senate Reform Act, warning that it would create, within the next generation, a complicated system with half the senators appointed and the other half elected.
The Quebec government has said it will challenge the constitutionality of the legislation in court.
And some experts and politicians in the West have argued that making the Senate democratically legitimate will hurt British Columbia and Alberta by increasing senators’ willingness to use their considerable powers to advance legislation that isn’t in the interests of the two provinces.
Dion said the Senate is in need of reform, but that it needs to be done with the full involvement of the provinces.
“Bill C-7, in allowing Parliament to unilaterally reform the Senate, is truly a constitutional Trojan horse,” Dion said.
“Such a huge change in our political system should be carefully evaluated by the Parliament of Canada and all its provincial constitutional partners, including the Legislative Assembly of New Brunswick.”
New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal
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