Thursday, June 01, 2006

On upper-chamber renovations

A couple of thoughts on the Cons' bill on Senate tenure.

First, the bill scrupulously avoids imposing any new tenure limit on current Senators for now. But for the future, it still seem awfully likely that Harper will end up running into a roadblock of current Lib Senators...and once there's a precedent for setting term limits through legislation, it's not hard to anticipate Harper trying to apply it to existing terms in the future. Which means that it's understandable that the current Senate is being cautious about opening the door at all.

Second, it's interesting also that in making a small step to open up the Senate to institutional change, Harper isn't starting with the formal age- and property-related barriers to Senate appointment in ss. 23(1), (3) and (4) of the Constitution Act, 1867. Indeed, the current bill specifically maintains the application of s. 31 (which provides in part for removal from the Senate where a Senator falls below the initial property ownership requirement) to current Senators.

Of course, the greater potential application of the barriers would be in the case of people elected to a Senate position (whether through existing provincial processes or a future federal one), who could either be on the lower side of 30, or fail to meet the property ownership requirement. So it appears likely that the change would have to be made at some point in any event in order for the Cons to reach their final goal of an elected Senate.

The artificial barriers should be a less controversial point of attack if one wanted to try to make the Senate a more legitimate body than it is now, and it doesn't appear that there would be any more constitutional difficulty in changing them than in adding a future term limit. But instead of starting with the easier target, the Cons have chosen to pursue a reduction in stability for future Senate members without opening the door to anybody who's currently (arbitrarily) ineligible for the Senate. And it'll be interesting to hear their explanation for finding that to be a more worthwhile effort.

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