Harper Government Introduces the Senate Reform Act

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Ottawa, ON (June 21, 2011) – Today, the Harper government introduced the Senate Reform Act to make the Senate more democratic, accountable, and representative of Canadians.

“After receiving a strong mandate from Canadians, our Government is taking action on our commitment to make the Senate more democratic, accountable, and representative of Canadians,” said Tim Uppal, Minister of State (Democratic Reform). “With the Senate Reform Act, tabled today in the House of Commons, our Government is proposing measures that will give Canadians a say in the selection of their Senate nominees and will limit new senators to one nine-year term.”

The Senate Reform Act, introduced in the House of Commons today, provides a voluntary framework for provinces to implement a democratic process that enables voters to select nominees for the Senate. The Prime Minister will be required to consider the names of Senate nominees when making recommendations on appointments to the Senate. The province of Alberta has already established a democratic process for the selection of senators, which resulted in the appointment of Senator Bert Brown in 2007.

“The Prime Minister has already demonstrated his commitment to this process with my appointment to the Senate,” said Senator Brown. “This bill is an important step in making the Senate more representative of Canada and Canadians in the 21st century.”

Senators who were or will be appointed after the October 2008 election will be subject to nine-year terms from the date of the coming into force of the bill.

“We have listened to Canadians and acted quickly on our commitment to move forward with these important and reasonable Senate reforms,” added Minister Marjory LeBreton. “The measures introduced today will go a long way in making the Senate a more accountable and democratic institution.”

“As a senator, I am well aware of the importance of the Senate in our parliamentary system,” said Senator Claude Carignan. “The Senate Reform Act, announced today in the House of Commons, builds on our Government’s long-standing commitment to transform the Senate into a renewed institution based on democratic principles.”

For information, contact:
Kate Davis
Office of the Minister of State (Democratic Reform)
(613) 995-3611

Backgrounder - Senate Reform Act

The 2011 Speech from the Throne reaffirmed that Senate reform is a priority for the Government and stated that the Government would reintroduce legislation to encourage provinces and territories to hold elections for Senate nominees and to limit term lengths. Accordingly, the Government has introduced the Senate Reform Act in the House of Commons. The Act would provide a framework for provinces to elect Senate nominees and would limit the tenure of senators.

Part 1: Senate Nominee Selection

General Framework

The Government has encouraged provinces and territories to implement a democratic process for the selection of Senate nominees. Part 1 of the Senate Reform Act would codify this approach by proposing a framework for consulting voters on the selection of Senate nominees from the provinces. It would not require provinces and territories to implement consultation processes but would strongly encourage them to do so. It also demonstrates support for those provinces that have already undertaken legislation to establish such democratic processes.

The Act includes a voluntary schedule, based on Alberta’s Senatorial Selection Act, which would set out a basis for provinces to enact democratic processes.

The Act would not be binding on the Prime Minister or the Governor General when making appointments to the Senate. However, it would require the Prime Minister to consider the recommended names from a list of elected Senate nominees when recommending Senate appointments.

Current Appointment Method for Senators

Senators are currently summoned by the Governor General on the advice of the Prime Minister, pursuant to section 24 of the Constitution Act, 1867: “The Governor General shall from Time to Time, in the Queen’s Name, by Instrument of the Great Seal of Canada, summon Qualified Persons to the Senate.”

This bill would not change how senators are selected. Rather, it proposes a method to give voters a say on who should be selected to hold a position in the Senate. Appointments to the Senate would continue to be made by the Governor General on the advice of the Prime Minister, pursuant to section 24 of the Constitution Act, 1867.

Part 2: Senate Term Limits

Section 23 of the Constitution Act, 1867 provides that senators “shall be of the full age of Thirty Years”, and section 29(2) states that a senator shall “hold his place in the Senate until he attains the age of seventy-five years”. Thus, a senator could serve a term as long as forty-five years should he or she be appointed at the age of 30 and serve until the mandated retirement age.

Under section 44 of the Constitution Act, 1982, Parliament alone may make laws amending the Constitution of Canada in relation to the executive government of Canada, or the Senate and the House of Commons. In accordance with section 44, the Senate Reform Act provides that “a person who is summoned to the Senate after the coming into force of the Constitution Act, 2011 (Senate term limits) shall hold a place in that House for one term of nine years”.

As for persons summoned to the Senate after October 14, 2008, they will remain a senator for one term, which expires nine years after the coming into force of this Act. The Act will not affect the terms of senators appointed prior to October 14, 2008. The Act provides that, should a senator’s nine-year term be interrupted prior to the completion of the term, that senator may be summoned again, but only for the remaining portion of the nine-year term. The nine-year term would not be renewable.

Term limits for senators will be subject to the existing section 29A of the Constitution Act, 1867, which provides the retirement age of seventy-five years for all senators, regardless of when they are appointed (i.e., before or after the coming into force).

Senators were originally appointed to the Senate “for Life”, but that was changed unilaterally by Parliament in 1965 through an amendment to section 29 of the Constitution Act, 1867 (via the Constitution Act, 1965) that created the current mandatory retirement provision for senators attaining the age of 75 years.