The Canadian Fathers of Confederation expected the appointed Senate to play two key roles; to provide a counterbalance to the democratically elected House of Commons and to protect regional interests (including Quebec's diverse cultural interests).
Under the constitution, senators do have the power to amend and/or veto any bill emanating from the House of Commons. Like it or not, the vote of a senator is equal to the vote of a member of Parliament.
So the question is, why change from an appointed Senate at all? The majority of Canadians, when asked if they wanted to elect future Senators, have always said yes. The last national poll resulted in 75 per cent in agreement.
Democratic elections by provinces of their future senators would bring more diverse political philosophies to the representatives in the Senate and very possibly change the focus of its members away from the two-party system that the Senate was not intended to be. The constitution of our nation states that senators are there to represent the provinces at the federal level. It is critical for future senators to align their votes with their provinces, not with one of two political parties to whom they are beholden.
For the first time since confederation, our current prime minister is trying to do just this -- return more power to the provinces by giving them an opportunity to fill future vacancies in the Senate with elected senators. That is the intent of Bill C-7, The Senate Reform Act (respecting the selection of senators and nine-year term limits).
We believe that provincially-elected senators, with equal representation for all provinces, is the ideal mechanism for the task. In fact, when a majority of elected senators in the Senate is reached through our process, the time for a stand-alone constitutional amendment will have arrived.
The provinces are constitutionally sovereign in many areas: education, health care, manpower, immigration, and provincial taxation. Over the last few generations, the federal government has used its taxation powers to encroach on the areas in which the provinces are empowered. The solution to this encroachment is the complete reform of the Senate to allow provincial input into every aspect of federal legislation.
Lastly, a simple but powerful override process that would maintain the supremacy of the House of Commons is key to our vision. Our override is a straightforward three-step process that would apply when a simple majority of the Commons passes a bill. If the Senate chooses to veto a bill it could only do so with the support of a majority of senators from each of seven out of 10 provinces representing 50 per cent of the population.
As we see it, the way forward to an effective, elected and equal Senate is before us. The momentum is building from the people of Canada, the political leaders of our provinces and territories and our federal government. It is time to seize this opportunity and bring democratic choice to the people of Canada through real reform of our Senate.