Senate Reform in Canada – Going Boldly Where No Senate Has Gone Before?

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This weekend, I had the pleasure of attending a conference at the Centre for Constitutional Studies at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Alberta. The conference was entitled “Time for Boldness on Senate Reform”. Its opening speaker was the Right Honourable Kim Campbell, former prime minister of Canada. She delivered a thoughtful review of her experience both as a minister under Brian Mulroney’s government and as prime minister and her recollections about how the Senate had acted in response to both the Progressive Conservative’s government’s proposal for free trade with the United States and to the Mulroney government’s later proposal for the Goods and Services Tax (“GST”). The conference ended with the eminent professor and scholar Roger Gibbins reviewing the results of the various speakers and summarizing his experience at the conference. Professor Gibbins asked himself two questions. First, he asked whether the conference participants had been successful in living up to the conference’s : were they “bold” in their suggestions for Senate reform. He answered that question with a “No”. Then, he asked whether he learned whether Canada had to be bold in reforming the Senate. To that, he responded “Yes”.

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David Suzuki and the plea for a constitutional right to a healthy environment

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Dr. David Suzuki, that famous Canadian scientist who has used the media to advance his arguments for the protection of the environment, is up to it again. As part of his recently concluded “Blue Dot Tour”, he has pressed for the amendment of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to include a “right to a healthy environment” (Newfoundland & Labradaor, TheIndependent.Ca, September 24, 2014). He states that virtually all Canadians would support such an objective.

While I agree with Dr. Suzuki’s overall objectives, I think other types of constitutional reforms may be more effective in achieving the ultimate goal of a clean and healthy environment.

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Today’s vote in Scotland is a reminder for Canada – we have work to do

Today, the people of Scotland are voting in a referendum to decide whether or not Scotland should be an independent country. Canadians have experienced this twice before – once in 1980 and another time in 1995. The parallels between the 1995 Quebec vote and today’s referendum are uncanny: in both cases, the “No” campaign was expected to win. In both cases, the “No” campaign was left to a less than inspiring leadership. In both cases, near the end of the referendum, there was a surge of popular support for the “Yes” campaign. In both cases, the leadership at the national level severely underestimated the potential for the “Yes” vote. And in both cases, there were last minute desperate rallies on the part of the “No” campaigners, with national prime ministers and national opposition leaders alike coming together to plead for the future of the greater country. Whether the 11th hour pleas will succeed in moving enough Scots over to the “No” side we do not know. We will find out tomorrow.

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“Stop! In the name of love (or the Constitution)” – The Supremes Block the Government’s Plans for Senate Reform

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Today, the Supreme Court of Canada denounced the federal government’s plans to reform the Senate by unilaterally imposing term limits for senators and by holding non-binding “consultative” elections for the selection of future senators. The Court also decried the proposal that, by use of the general amending formula, the Senate could be abolished. The decision, Reference re Senate Reform, 2014 SCC 32, was rendered by “the Court” without any one of the eight justices who heard the appeal identified as the author of the reasons for judgment. In making these pronouncements, the Court did no more than its job: it upheld the Constitution of the country and held the federal government (and provincial governments) to the letter, spirit and intent of the supreme law of the land. For that, we all owe the Court a debt of gratitude.

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The Supreme Court Rules on the Eligibility Requirements for its Three Members from Quebec – Back to the Drawing Board for the Prime Minister

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Another day and another defeat for the Government of Canada. This time, a six-to-one majority of the Court has ruled that the Prime Minister’s attempt to appoint Mr. Justice Marc Nadon, a supernumerary justice of the Federal Court of Appeal who, prior to his appointment to the Federal Court, had been an advocate of the Province of Quebec for more than 10 years, was not constitutional and his swearing in was void. Moreover, the Government’s attempt to amend the Supreme Court Act was found to be unconstitutional. Continue reading