Supreme Court rejects Harper government proposals for Senate reform
Ottawa cannot act alone to reform the Senate, limit terms or appoint only elected senators, and must have the consent of seven provinces with half the country’s population, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled Friday.
Abolition of the Senate altogether can only be done with the unanimous consent of the federal Parliament and all provinces, the country’s top court concluded.
In a landmark defeat for Prime Minister Stephen Harper that could yet set the stage for a referendum by a government frustrated at its failure to unilaterally legislate Senate reform, the high court dismissed nearly every single argument brought before it by federal lawyers.
A referendum is seen by some within the Conservative government as a potential political hammer to pressure reluctant provinces to go along with Senate reform. Maxime Bernier, a Conservative cabinet minister from Quebec, said Friday the court decision means a referendum is the only way to go.
The high court decision was a unanimous 8-0 judgment. In a clear sign of the strong judicial consensus, the 52-page ruling was signed by “The Court” as a whole, not penned by any one judge.
Hours after the ruling Prime Minister Stephen Harper in brief comments at Kitchener said the result is no change to the Senate will happen anytime soon.
“The Supreme Court of Canada essentially said today that for any important Senate reform of any kind, as well as abolition, these are only decisions the provinces can take.
“We know that there is no consensus among the provinces on reform, no consensus on abolition, and no desire of anyone to reopen the constitution and have a bunch of constitutional negotiations. So essentially this is a decision for the status quo, a status quo that is supported by virtually no Canadian.”
“So look, I think that given that the Supreme Court has said we’re essentially stuck with the status quo for the time being and that significant reform and abolition are off the table I think it’s a decision I’m disappointed with but I think it’s a decision that the vast majority of Canadians will be very disappointed with, but obviously we will respect that decision.” (Source: Toronto Star)