On July 26, 2017, the Supreme Court of Canada rendered two much awaited decisions respecting the duty of the National Energy Board to consult and accommodate the aboriginal rights of two distinct Indigenous peoples for two distinct projects. In one, Clyde River (Hamlet) v. Petroleum Geoservices Inc., 2017 SCC 40, a tiny Inuit community from Nunavut convinced the Court that it had not been deeply and meaningfully consulted or reasonably accommodated and therefore, the National Energy Board’s approval of the petroleum-testing project was overturned and quashed. In the other, Chippewas of the Thames First Nation v. Enbridge Pipelines Inc., 2017 SCC 41, the Court held that the NEB had appropriately and sufficiently consulted and then accommodated the southwest Ontarian Indigenous nation and upheld the NEB’s approval of Enbridge’s project. Of note, the Court ordered that the Chippewas of the Thames pay Enbridge’s costs.
On January 19, 2016, the Honourable Maryam Monsef, Minister of Democratic Institutions, announced the appointment of first members of the non-partisan panel that is charged with the task of coming up with qualified candidates for Senate vacancies. The panel, which has three federal representatives, two Ontario provincial representatives, two Quebec provincial representatives and two Manitoba provincial representatives, is supposed to come up with five qualified candidates for each Senate vacancy for those three provinces. The recommendations are not binding on the Prime Minister who ultimately submits his choices to the Governor General. The nine members of this initial panel are all eminently qualified. But there is criticism of the process. Some of the criticism has merit.
Last year, when Prime Minister Trudeau announced that he would press ahead with his plans for a non-partisan advisory panel to assist in choosing candidates for the Senate, BC’s Premier, Christy Clark, immediately slammed the proposal. She retorted that BC would not participate. On the same day as the Prime Minister’s announcement, she tweeted that the “Senate has never represented BC’s interests at the national level”. Later, she issued a statement: “[The proposed] changes do not address what’s been wrong with the Senate since the beginning. It has never been designed to represent British Columbians or our interests”. She has argued that BC is grossly under-represented, only getting 6 seats in the 105 seat Senate, and Mr. Trudeau’s changes would only serve to the Senate to think that it is somehow legitimate and that this would allow it to think that it could make decisions on behalf of the country. She stated that the Senate does not have that power and should not have it.
Premier Clark is both right and wrong. Furthermore, in my opinion, British Columbia is not the only party that should be seeking structural changes to the Senate. Specifically, I believe that the indigenous peoples of Canada should be included in any discussions involving revisions to the Senate.