The Triple E Senate of CanadaPublic interest in the Senate is currently stronger than it ever hasbeen. Nearly everyone agrees that our present Senate is unsatisfactory. Political parties such as the New Democratic Party want the outright abolitionof the Senate while others such as the Reform Party want to elect it. Since theSenate has not been considered an effective forum for regional representation-which was one of the reasons for its creation-many Canadians have wondered whatreforms would allow it to perform that role better.
The objectives of Senatereform are based on one idea, that of enhancing the quality of regionalrepresentation of politicians within national political institutions. Throughthe implementation of a Triple E Senate (Equal, Effective, Elected), a federalprinciple can be constructed into the national government and therefore providea check on the majority in the House of Commons. A major function of second chambers is legislative review. This meansthat bills coming from the other house are examined, revised and sometimesdelayed. Unless regional representation is included, the legislative reviewfunction does not examine the purpose of proposed legislation, but insteadattempts to improve it technically. In federal systems, the legislative reviewfunction of the Senate is only secondary to their role in providing forrepresentation for various parts of the country in the national legislature.Order now
Representation is selected in favour of the smaller regions, in contrast to thefirst chamber, where representation is always based on population. Thereforethe functions associated with the Senate are legislative review and therepresentation of the various regions on a different basis from the lower house. The Fathers of Confederation originally intended for the Senate to playthe legislative review role. As sir John A. MacDonald said, the Senate was tohave “the sober second thought in legislation” and should not be “a mere chamberfor registering the decrees of the Lower House”.
They also agreed on aparticular qualification of Senators, which was intended to help them act as acheck against the majority in the Lower House. This qualification has remainedunchanged since 1867, but its practical meaning has long been discarded. The other major role meant for the Senate was to preserve what MacDonaldcalled “sectional interests”. It is believed that this agreement aboutrepresentation in the Senate was the main factor that allowed the Canadianfederation to be formed.
The Senate has functioned quite effectively as ahouse of legislative review up to the present time, but its intended role inregional representation has not been as effectively performed. seventy-five),the Senate’s ability to represent the regions of Canada has been weakened. During long appointments, the responsiveness to the views and concerns of therepresented is not always guaranteed. There is also no obligation to account totheir respective regions and their representation is not put to any public test.
Even if Senators did perform an adequate role as representatives, the publicmight not see it in the light. The implementation of a Senate which is elected rather than appointedwould ensure that representatives were more responsive to the public. It wouldalso give the Senate the authority to exercise the substantial powers given toit by the Canadian Constitution. Any political institution can obtain formal orlegal powers, but if the public does not want them to use it, these powers maynot be exercised. In addition, most Canadians have reservations aboutappointments to a legislative body for such a long term in this, a moredemocratic age than when the Senate was established.
Senators in our Upper House do not really represent anyone except forthe one who appointed them-the Prime Minister. It is because of this reasonthat they cannot effectively express the views of anyone since their appointmentlacks legitimacy in our democratic age. However, when Senators criticize anddelay the legislative process, they only remind us of how much could beaccomplished effectively if only they represented the people who had electedthem. Another important function of second chambers in federal systems likeCanada’s is the representation of the regions on a basis other thanrepresentation by population. When different people from different regions wishto achieve a common goal while protecting their respective regionally-baseddifferences against majority rule, a federal system of government is utilized.
When this is the case, the Upper House is seen as a political check on the ruleof a simple majority. It also reflects the diverse interests of the regions ofthe federation to the lower chamber. In countries like Canada where there are two distinct linguistic groupsgeographically concentrated within its borders, protection of the interests ofthe minority group can be established through specially weighted representationof the political units in the second chamber. It was because of this reasonthat the French-speaking Fathers of Confederation sought equal representation inthe Senate for the three original regions (Quebec, Ontario and the Maritimes).
This would balance out the House of Commons where there was no guarantee ofproportional francophone representation. As it stands today, the Senate has 104 seats, which are divided into 4divisions. Ontario, Quebec, the Maritimes and the western provinces each share24 seats. Newfoundland has 6 seats while the Yukon and Northwest Territorieshave 1 ea.
. . . . ch. In the case of Quebec, 24 regions were created in order to have abalance of anglophone and francophone representatives.
Under the proposedTriple E Senate, there would be 6 representatives from each and every provincewhile the territories had one each. This would provide for a new 62 memberSenate which would be elected at the same time as Members of Parliament. Theonly exception would be Quebec where Senators would be hand-chosen by theNational Assembly. The principle of equality simply means that every province or regionwould be equally represented in the Senate regardless of its population. Theneed for equal representation arises when provinces like Ontario are compared toPrince Edward Island, Since Ontario’s population is so huge compared to manyother provinces, it along with Quebec could automatically become the majority inthe Commons when their interests were similar. The comparison between Ontarioand Prince Edward Island might be a bit extreme, but what it really equates tois that Alberta and other provinces cannot have the same powers as Ontario andQuebec.
With equal representation, no province would have to worry about beingoutvoted by such a wide margin that the interests of the citizens werecompletely ignored. The Government of Canada stresses the importance in strengthening therole of the Senate in representing people from all parts of the country. Equalrepresentation allows the Parliament to speak and act with greater authority onbehalf of all Canadians. Meanwhile, a delicate equilibrium must be establishedif the Senate’s role in regional representation is to be upgraded whilemaintaining the effectiveness of Parliament.
At the time of its creation, the Senate was assigned extensive formalauthority and with only two qualifications, it would be equal in power to theHouse of Commons. Not until recently were limitations placed on the UpperChamber’s powers as a result of constitutional amendments. However, even today,no federal legislation can be passed until it has been passed by majorities inboth the Senate and the House of Commons. The problem of the present Senate isnot a lack of power, but the lack of confidence and legitimacy that would allowit to maintain and use that power. The Canadian Upper House has all the formallegal power imaginable, including a complete veto on any and all governmentlegislation.
Even with so much power, the Senate has felt no justification indefying the Lower House ever since the widespread democratic sentiment in Canadanot long after Confederation. Another reason for the Senate’s past ineffectiveness is due to the factthat Senate appointments are partisan in nature. The majority in the UpperHouse would usually correspond to the majority in the Lower House sinceappointments were made by the Prime Minister. The House of Commons willcontinue to be the subject to tight party discipline, whereas it can be lessstrict in the Senate, since it was designed so that it does not control the fateof the government. Another reason is because the majority of amendments tobills have been introduced to the Senate after it was already approved by theHouse of Commons. Therefore, it did not really matter whether or not there wasa majority in both chambers by the same party.
One of the benefits of the Triple E Senate is that it will definitelyhave a positive effect on the rest of Canada’s political institutions. If theHouse of Commons was to have a reformed Senate watching over it, it would haveto work harder, implement more compromises into their policies and this wouldmake it that much more effective. The regional interests and views on nationalpolicy can also be dealt with by a reformed Senate, thus allowing provincialpowers to focus on their respective mandates instead ofjust campaigning onnational policies. Regionalism is a major force in Canada, one that pervades almost allaspects of our political lives.
Therefore, it is extremely important thatameans of expression is available to us in our national institutions. The TripleE Senate builds a federal principle into the national government which thenprovides a more effective regional balance on the majority rule of the House ofCommons. More specifically, a reformed Senate will enhance the visibility ofprovincial and regional representation in Ottawa, create more effectiveterritorial checks and balances within the legislative process and improve thecredibility and legitimacy of the national government in disaffected regions ofCanada. Ten years ago, the concept of a Triple E Senate was unimaginable, butit is very much on the minds of Canadians these days.
Due to insufficientregional and provincial representation at the national level , Canadians are nowasking whether we could not follow the example of other federations bystrengthening the second chamber of our national Parliament. BIBLIOGRAPHYCampbell, Colin. The Canadian Senate. Toronto: The Macmillan Company of CanadaLtd. ,1978. Dyck, Rand.
Canadian Politics: Critical Approaches. Scarborough: Nelson Canada,1996. Fox, Paul w. , ed. Politics: Canada Seventh Edition.
Toronto: McGraw-HillRyerson Ltd. ,1991. Kunz, F. A. The Modern Senate of Canada / 1925-1963.
Toronto: University ofTorontoPress, 1967. MacGuigan, The Hon. Mark.Reform of the Senate: A Discussion Paper.Ottawa:Publications Canada, 1983.MacKay, Robert A.The Unreformed Senate of Canada.Toronto: Oxford UniversityPress, 1963.White, Randall.Voice of Region: The Long Journey to Senate Reform in Canada.Toronto: Dundurn Press Ltd., 1991.h