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Supreme Court of Canada says no to unilateral Senate reform

OTTAWA (NEWS1130) – The Supreme Court of Canada has shot down Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s hopes of a quick fix for the scandal-plagued Senate.

The top court says Harper’s plans to impose terms limits on senators and to create a election process for choosing nominees can’t be done by the federal government alone.

It says the reforms would require constitutional amendments approved by at least seven provinces representing 50 per cent of the population — a process fraught with political landmines which Harper had hoped to avoid.

Harper has threatened to abolish the Senate if his reform plans are stymied. But the Supreme Court has set an even higher constitutional hurdle to get rid of the upper house altogether: unanimous consent of all 10 provinces.

Harper calls this a “decision for the status quo” that virtually “no Canadian” can support. That said, Harper says the federal government will abide by the decision.

Dennis Pilon, a political science professor at York University, says he was not surprised Supreme Court judges ruled against the reforms. “Harper and his government have moved very aggressively with a quite radical interpretation of the constitution and what is possible for them to do, and I think they were really rolling the dice and thinking well maybe we’ll get lucky maybe we will win.”

CTF also not surprised with the ruling

Gregory Thomas with the Canadian Taxpayers Federation — a group that’s been a critic of the Senate for years — says Canada’s been saddled with a “constitutional mess.”

“Canadian politicians haven’t done the job of updating the constitution from the 1860s, when it was originally written. It’s going to continue to be a problem for Canada for many years to come until we get our constitution sorted out.”

The CTF is again calling for a referendum to allow Canadians the chance to vote on whether the Senate should be reformed or even abolished.

“We believe that Canadians from coast to coast are sick and tired of the senators wasting their money and not doing too much work. We don’t think [today’s ruling] is an impediment; we think if Canadians vote to get rid of the Senate in a national referendum, politicians would have to listen,” says Thomas.

He tells us the CTF has numbers to back up its claim that people really do want to get rid of the Senate.

“We had thousands of our supporters participate in a survey,” he explains. “Historically, they have been divided evenly between people who want to fix the Senate and people that want to get rid of it. After all the shenanigans last year, two thirds of our supporters want to get rid of it. Over 80 per cent want to have a vote on it; they want to have a referendum.”