Abolishing the Senate? But Why?

by Marc Moisan, C.D.

I have heard recently the leader of the New Democratic Party broached the idea of having a referendum on the abolition of the Senate.¹ I have some concerns with this proposal. Referenda cost money, and such money could be much better spent on traditional social initiatives that the NDP has been so supportive of in the past. Let me explain my position:

Check and Balance

Our country is unique in a number of ways and the diversity of our population is one of them. In each province, the citizens have different priorities and the population of the provinces vary considerably. But despite this, our founding fathers have, intentionally or not, found a way to counteract the disparity between provinces by creating the institution of the Senate.

The Senate is essential to our democratic system. First, it allow legislation to be debated again and re-checked before final approval, which ensure that no government can simply rush an Act through, without the essential second look. Second, the Senate allows provinces with smaller populations and considerably under represented in the House of Commons to actually be an important part in the democratic process. This allow regions that are important part of our country to truly have a say in its governance, their smaller voice in the House of Commons is somewhat balanced by a stronger one in the Senate.

In my opinion, this is where our system shines. Canada respects the opinions of minorities and has always understood that the democratic process is more than just a popular vote.

Senate Reform

While I am strongly opposed to the abolition of the Senate, I am not against some sort of reform as long as the intentions of our founding fathers and the interests of smaller provinces are taken into consideration, which can only be truly achieved if the current system is properly explained to all, and constitutional committees gather extensive feedback from all parts of the country.

The terms of office has often been a subject for debate in regards to the Senate, and while I think change is good and support limiting their time in office, I think that the term of any Senators should not be less than ten years. Any terms of less than ten years would counteract any utility of the Senate as a sober second look entity.

About electing our Senators, I am not convinced it would be in our best interest. Our founding fathers feared that democracy could lead to mob rule and wanted to reserve some power for men of “substance”.² I am of the opinion that if we elect them, the Senate would only become an extension of the House of Commons. Also, many good senators that are perfect for the job and thus get appointed, have no desire to expose themselves by running in an election.

The faulty part of the current system is that the government in place appoints Senators which means that after 12 years of Party ‘A’ being in power, the Senate will be dominated by Party ‘A’ and Party ‘B’ once elected stands very little chance to pass legislation that Party ‘A’ would oppose. As I see it, there is two good ways to resolves this issue, limiting terms of office as explained earlier and changes in the way Senators are appointed. How about letting Lieutenant-Governors in each province (i.e. provincial governments) appoint the Senators for their province? This would allow in my opinion an even better form of check and balance by permitting the population of a province that does not support Party ‘A’ at all to be represented in the Senate by representative of the party they themselves elected provincially.


I do not pretend to know what is best for Canada, but I seriously doubt abolishing the institution of the Senate is in our country’s best interest. This is obviously the opinion of the Honourable Jack Layton and others probably agree with him partly because of the party’s history of looking after the interest of minorities, but I dare to challenge that most people do not truly understand the important role the Senate plays in our democratic system and should they'd be properly explained, would likely change their opinion.

As the real debate on the Senate will commence after Government House Leader Peter Van Loan tables his Bill³ I am hopeful that our decision-makers will fully understand what is at stake and render the decision that will be to the fair benefit of us all.

1. Laghi, Brian. “Harper would back plan for referendum on abolishing Senate.” globeandmail.com 6 Nov 2007. <http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/LAC.20071106.SENATE06/TPStory/National>.

2. Herstein, H.H., L.J. Hughes, and R.C. Kirbyson. Challenge & Survival: The History of Canada. Scarborough, ON: Prentice-Hall, 1970. 236.

3. Akin, David. “Hoo-hah! Let's reform the Senate!” David Akin's On the Hill 12 Nov 2007. <http://davidakin.blogware.com/blog/_archives/2007/11/12/3350005.html>.

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This page was last edited on November 12, 2007 at 20:54 AST.
© Copyright 2007 Marc Moisan