Does anyone really care about the Harper government’s Supreme Court reference on Senate reform in Canada?

Feb 1st, 2013 | By | Category: In Brief

Honourable Tim Uppal, Minister of State for Democratic Reform.

[UPDATED FEBRUARY 2]. Unlike many of its other actions, the Harper government’s longstanding plans for what used to be known as step-by-step reform of the unreformed Senate of Canada have been broadly supported on this site since their beginnings, many, many moons ago.

(For just a few recent cases in point, see “Three strikes and you’re out .. Harper government not really driving Canadian Senate reform agenda now?” [May 5, 2010] ; .”Another miniature long-winded dissertation on why Canadian Senate reform remains crucial, despite all the arguments against it!” [June 11, 2011] ; and “PM Harper : Senate reform ‘much slower than I’d hoped, but … we’ll continue to push it forward’” [July 20, 2012].)

Today another piece in the puzzling lengthy soap operetta has been announced by the “Honourable Tim Uppal, Minister of State for Democratic Reform, and the Honourable Claude Carignan, Senator and Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate.”

Honourable Claude Carignan, Senator and Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate.

To quote from the official media release, Minister Uppal and Senator Carignan have “announced the launch of a reference on Senate reform to the Supreme Court of Canada … The questions referred seek legal certainty on the constitutional amending procedure for: * Term limits for senators … * Democratic selection of senate nominees … * Net worth and property qualifications for senators …  and  * Abolition of the Senate.”

The media release goes on : “Should a favourable opinion be received from the Supreme Court, the Government intends to continue to pursue the passage of the Senate Reform Act.  The Act would continue through the normal parliamentary process from its current status at second reading in the House of Commons.”  (Where the Senate Reform Act, or current Bill C-7, sets nine-year term limits for senators, and establishes a procedure for provincial consultative elections that would facilitate “democratic selection” of those Senate nominees recommended to the governor general by the prime minister, under the current constitutional authority.)

Justices of the Supreme Court of Canada.

It is being reported that a “final ruling” on the referred questions from the Supreme Court “could take as little as 10 months, or as long as two years, according to the government, which based its estimates on previous references filed with the court.” If this is correct, and if a “favourable opinion” is finally received, the provisions of Bill C-7 could be in  place at long last before the next federal election in October 2015.

So maybe there is now at least some kind of ultimate time frame for the Canadian Senate reform soap operetta. And we suppose we are happy enough about that. Like other observers, however, we have also now seen so much water pass under the Harper government step-by-step Senate reform bridge that we can’t help entertaining many further scepticisms. We were thinking about going into more detail on all this (or that). But the more we think about it, the more tiresome (to say nothing of tiring) the prospect seems. For the moment we will spare ourselves and anyone else who may or may not be interested any further miniature long-winded dissertations on any branch of the various subjects involved.

Flip Wilson as Geraldine Jones from the television program The Flip Wilson Show, interviewing Dr. David Reuben, probably November 1971, when Prime Minister Harper was 12 years old : “Lips that touch liquor will never touch mine!”

We will just say that it will certainly be interesting to hear what the justices of the Supreme Court of Canada will finally say on the “questions referred” to ”seek legal certainty” — as little as 10 months, or as long as two years away.  (Maybe? And meanwhile, of course, there is the much more recent news that “PM Harper appoints 5 new senators,” etc, etc, etc, etc — despite all earlier protests about how, to quote the late great Flip Wilson another many, many moons ago, “lips that touch liquor will never touch mine,” etc, etc, etc, etc, etc, etc! I.e., guess who said  “I will not name appointed people to the Senate. Anyone who sits in the Parliament of Canada must be elected by the people they represent” on March 14, 2004?)

UPDATE FEBRUARY 2 : Some initial feedback suggests that, in our haste to avoid further tiring and tiresome comment, we have neglected to explain just why the Harper government has felt it necessary to ask the Supreme Court about the constitutionality of its Senate Reform Act. Very quick and dirty (as some old bureaucrats might say), the government had felt that the federal parliament alone could pass this legislation. Various critics — including both some of Mr. Harper’s own current appointed Senators (!!!!) and, most importantly, the province of Quebec — have urged that, according to the Constitution Act, 1982, the approval of seven provincial legislatures representing 50% of the Canada-wide population is also required. The long and short is that the Harper government has asked the Supreme Court to rule on this and several allied issues, as noted above.

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