Newmarket, Ontario - The Hon. Sinclair Stevens, Leader of the Progressive Canadian (PC) party, took up Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s challenge to provinces and others to come up with better, constitutionally acceptable Senate reform proposals.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has declared a moratorium on prime ministers’ nominations for Senate appointments by the Governor General of Canada until it is reformed. Prime ministers have been nominating candidates to the GG representing the Queen for some time. The practice has become a convention within the constitution, some believing mistakenly that the PM actually makes Senate appointments because they are assumed to be qualified; recent appointments appear to be made for party interest and sectarian provincial interest through provincial election of senators.
"Progressive Conservatives understood that the Senate is a check on the prime minister and cabinet government and on excesses of electoral partisanship and provincial sectarianism, as intended at Confederation. We enshrined this understanding as Guiding Principles for Senate Reform at our National Policy Convention in 2000 and reaffirmed them at the PC Democratic Reform Convention in 2002. Today’s PCs take this a step further," Stevens said.
The Progressive Canadian party proposal for non-partisan nominations to the Governor General for appointment fulfils the need for change able to meet the constitutional requirements for regional representation in an Upper Chamber selected for knowledge and ability to serve as a revising chamber of government legislation and regulation, or "sober second thought," without opening the constitution for amendment under the general formula or unanimous approval to change Parliament entirely into a unicameral legislature.
"Progressive Canadians propose that future nomination of senate candidates to the GG come from the non-partisan Queen’s Privy Council, instead of from the Prime Minister alone," Stevens stated.
"As a member to the Queen’s Privy Council I am aware of the privilege and duty we have historically to advise the monarch through Her representative, the Governor General of Canada. These are powers rarely used by the Queen’s Privy Council meeting in full assembly but exist within the constitution. The convention of allowing the prime minister to nominate senate candidates may be said to derive from the prime minister’s standing as a Queen’s Privy Council member."
Mr. Stevens noted that our problems today seem to centre on the partisanship of a prime minister who for the first time in Canadian history makes nominations only of people who "pledge" to pass his government’s legislation, including proposed senate elections held by the provinces and limited Senate terms. Many recent appointments are clear patronage. This abandons the Senate’s duty to review and revise government legislation within the constitution. Mr. Harper has appointed 59 senators and has said he will only make future appointments if the Senate is reformed to elect senators accountable to individual provinces. That would build firewalls around each province and against Canada and the House of Commons instead of representing all Canadians equally by protecting minority interests whether defined by geography or population in regions or some other basis.
"Progressive Canadians propose to reform Senate nominations within the constitution by allowing a quorum of the full Queen’s Privy Council to advise the GG on the basis of excellence and knowledge of governance. Partisanship, patronage, and election accountable to provinces instead of to all Canadians or unicameralism will become problems of the past; the role of the Senate as the institutional memory of Parliament will be preserved by sustaining tenure appropriately," Mr. Stevens said, explaining the PC Party proposal for Senate Reform more fully.
"Constitutional amendment or replacing Canada’s parliament with a unicameral legislature will be made unnecessary by a change of practice allowing the existing but underused advisory body to the GG, the Queen’s Privy Council, to nominate senate candidates across party lines and levels of government instead of exclusively by the current prime minister."
The Queen’s Privy Council consists of current and living former prime ministers, cabinet ministers, Supreme Court Chief Justices, former speakers of the House of Commons and Senate, former governors general, invited current and former premiers and distinguished individuals, and members of the royal family.
Mr. Harper has been cited in a federal court case filed by Vancouver lawyer Aniz Alani for failing to fulfil his duty in Senate appointment. Twenty-two Senate seats are empty in July 2015, some since 2012. Mr. Alani has expressed willingness to defer to a Supreme Court reference if called on the issue. In a previous 2013 Supreme Court reference the Harper government proposals for Senate reform were found to be unconstitutional.