Friday, June 02, 2006

A small step to nowhere

CanWest discusses the Cons' senate reform plan in a bit more detail. And it's worth noting that even the seemingly modest starting point is one which may not pass constitutional muster:
Several Liberal senators challenged the government's interpretation that the proposed constitutional amendment required to make the change does not require the approval of at least seven provinces, representing 50 per cent of the population.

Liberal Senator Percy Downe recalled that during his time working in the Prime Minister's Office under Jean Chretien, the Justice Department advised on more than one occasion that such an amendment would require so-called "seven-50" approval in order to be constitutional...

Liberal Senator Sharon Carstairs, whose father was also a senator, argued that eight-year terms should be considered a "fundamental change" to the chamber and require the approval of the provinces.
I presume some of the past advice will become public in greater detail as the Harper proposal gets debated; for now there are at least plausible arguments to be made on both sides, and it may well take a judicial challenge of a final bill (or, if Harper is thinking ahead, an SCC reference) to determine just what can and can't be done without provincial approval.

Also of interest is the fact that Marjory LeBreton, Harper's point person on Senate reform, apparently sees it as a selling point that current Senators and others could potentially be elected to the Senate long after the current age-75 limit for appointments. As I argued yesterday, the formal barriers to entry or continuation in the Senate seems like a good place to start, but dealing with the upper age limit alone seems like an odd way of going about it. After all, has Canada really been suffering for lack of Strom Thurmonds in our upper chamber?

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