"If the upper house agrees with the lower it is superfluous, if it
disagrees, it ought to be abolished. " - Abbé E.J. Sieyès, 18th century French
"It is difficult to find a powerful, successful, free democratic
constitution of a great sovereign state which has adopted the single Chamber
government." - Sir Winston Churchill
Just a few years after the Fathers of Confederation had laboured to
define what the nature and role of a second chamber for our new nation should be, the
Senate became the target of public and political criticism. Prime Minister Mackenzie was
frustrated with the Conservative majority in the Senate, which had defeated some important
bills during his first administration. By 1893, Senate reform was included in the Liberal
Party platform. Alternately accused of being a rubber stamp when it passes legislation
quickly or of overstepping its mandate as an appointed body if substantive amendments are
proposed or the power of veto is exercised, the Senate has never gained the reputation,
and thereby position, its many achievements should have earned for it as an institution.
Questions on the role and usefulness of the Senate have persisted for more than a
century and, along with them, arguments and proposals for Senate reform. The following
review of the Senate, from both historical and current perspectives, will attempt to
answer some of the questions, clarify some of the arguments and generally bring the
Canadian Senate into reasonable focus.
"... in the Upper House, - the controlling and regulating, but
not the initiating, branch - ... in the House which has the sober second-thought in
legislation, it is provided that each of those great sections shall be represented
equally" - Sir John A. Macdonald
Of approximately 50 bicameral legislatures in the world, Canada's was
designed to serve the distinct needs of this unique federation. The preamble of the Constitution
Act 1867 sets out the decision of the federating provinces to adopt a constitution
"similar in principle to that of the United Kingdom." Thus our two Houses of
Parliament were patterned after those of Britain, with two intentional exceptions only: as
a young country without an aristocracy, Canada's upper chamber could not be occupied by
hereditary peers, but rather would house mature men (and, some time later, women) of
diverse experience summoned by the Governor General on the recommendation of the Prime
Minister; and secondly, the principal geographic regions of Canada would be represented
equally. In the Commonwealth tradition, the Senate would primarily play a revising role,
although its power was that of absolute veto. The lower chamber would be elected on the
principle of representation by population.
The Constitution Act required that prospective senators be
subjects of the Queen, be at least 30 years of age, have their permanent residence in the
province (or, in the case of Quebec, one of its 24 senatorial divisions) for which they
were appointed, and possess at least $4,000 in real property. The latter provision is of
little consequence today, although it could serve to ensure that senators are solvent. In
1867, the property qualification permitted the Senate to represent a further
"minority" beyond those of the regions: the propertied classes. Originally
appointed for life, in 1965 the Constitution was amended so that senators appointed after
that date would be required to retire at age 75.
The Fathers of Confederation chose not to apply the principle of equal
provincial representation in the Senate due to Canada's singular situation whereby one of
its largest and most populous provinces also embodied a cultural and linguistic minority
in the country. To have given Quebec the same number of senators as other less populous
provinces that do not have any significant minorities would have defrauded that province
of the opportunity for its French-speaking minority voice to be heard.
The solution was found through weighing Senate representation to favour
the less populous provinces. An equal number of appointments would be made to Canada's
main regions which were, at the time of Confederation, Canada's two most populated
provinces -- Ontario and Quebec, and the Maritime provinces - New Brunswick, Nova Scotia,
and Prince Edward Island. Both Ontario and Quebec would have 24 senators each, while New
Brunswick and Nova Scotia would be represented by 10 senators each and Prince Edward
Island by four. By 1867, Prince Edward Island chose not to enter into the Canadian union
immediately, and New Brunswick and Nova Scotia were granted 12 senators each to match
Ontario's and Quebec's 24, for an original Senate of 72 members. Eventually, New Brunswick
and Nova Scotia would drop their membership back to 10 senators each to provide four seats
to Prince Edward Island and 24 more senators would be appointed to represent the four
Western provinces (six each). Thus the four main regions of Canada - the Western
provinces, Ontario, Quebec and the Maritime provinces -- are equally represented with 24
senators each. The balance was somewhat skewed when Newfoundland became a Province of
Canada in 1949 and six more (maritime) senators were appointed. The Yukon and Northwest
Territories were each granted one Senate representative in 1976 and Nunavut received a
representative in 1999, for a current total of 105.
The Fathers of Confederation were perhaps predisposed to the idea of an
appointed upper chamber due to the experience of many of the provinces. Most of the
British North American provinces had established appointed legislative councils to
complement the work of their elected assemblies, with the exception of Prince Edward
Island whose legislative council was elected.1 The Province of
Canada, created when Upper and Lower Canada (later to become Ontario and Quebec) united in
1840, had an appointed Legislative Council until 1856, when a bill was passed to gradually
replace the Council with elected members. The experience of the Province of Canada with an
elected Council had not been favourable for various reasons, including the disinclination
of worthwhile candidates to run for election due to the considerable cost of seeking votes
in very large, 19th century constituencies, as well as the practice of appointing
councillors to the ministry, which purposely had served to diminish its role as a check on
legislation. Furthermore, the Council was acquiring "ambitious members who sought to
make an active political career and became in effect 'a second edition of the
assembly'."2 The United States Senate, whose senators were
appointed by state legislatures at the time of Canadian Confederation, only confirmed the
notion that Canadian senators should be centrally appointed, as the Fathers of
Confederation were of the opinion that it was the power struggle between the states and
central government that had precipitated the American Civil War.
The concept of having an elected upper chamber was also unappealing to
the Fathers, as it begged the obvious question of whose will would prevail if both Houses
were composed of the chosen representatives of the voting public. "In their opinion
[the Fathers of Confederation], both chambers would see themselves as popular assemblies
capable of reflecting the will of the people -- a recipe for conflict and stalemate."3
Many provinces abolished their upper chambers within years of their
entering the federation, although some lasted longer, such as Quebec's Legislative Council
which remained in place until 1968. One of the main reasons for this abolition was that
the original federal upper chamber had principally drawn upon the members of the
provincial legislative councils for its appointments4, and another,
the great expense to the provinces of maintaining second chambers.
Ultimately, the appointed federal chamber was charged with two
important tasks by our constitutional authors: in the British tradition, its principal
duty would be the revision and correction of legislation from the popular chamber, which
would require "impartiality, expert training, patience and industry"5 in tandem with the representation of provinces, regions and
minorities. Yet the Senate would go on to perform functions the Fathers of Confederation
had not imagined.
A full six out of the fourteen days the Fathers deliberated at the
Quebec Conference in 1865 were devoted to discussing the Senate. In fact, Confederation
would not have taken place at all if there had not been agreement on the Senate because,
with the House of Commons membership based on representation by population, both Quebec
and the Maritime provinces made it clear that they would not enter into the union without
a Senate for fear that the populous Province of Ontario would take control. Beyond the
need for increased representation for the smaller provinces, our constitutional authors
did not want to leave all the power in the hands of the "popular element," but
aimed for a Senate that would act as a check upon the House of Commons.6
Sir John Alexander Macdonald recognized that this could not be achieved unless the upper
house were granted the power to oppose, amend or postpone legislation from the lower
Chamber. Nevertheless, such extensive power would have to be used with care; Macdonald
pointed out that the Senate "will never see itself in opposition against the
deliberate and understood wishes of the people7." George Brown,
an Upper Canadian Liberal and later a senator himself, added that the Senate would have to
refrain from vetoing money bills.8
Patterned after the British House of Lords, section 53 of the Constitution
Act denied Canada's Senate the power to introduce bills "for appropriating any
part of the public revenue, or for imposing any tax or impost." This section has been
subject to varied interpretation through the years, ranging from George Brown's simple
observation in 1865 that the Senate should not veto money bills, to the all-inclusive
interpretation that the Senate should not amend or delay such legislation in any way
(generally espoused by the House of Commons), to the view that the Senate has the power to
do all save introduce financial legislation or amend it in a way that would cause an
increase in tax or appropriation.
Controversy about the Senate's powers with regard to money bills seems
to lie in the fact that, by 1867, the House of Lords had reluctantly resigned its power to
amend money bills coming up from the Commons. In search of clarification, the Senate
referred the question on its power with regard to financial legislation to a special
committee chaired by Senator W.B. Ross in 1917. Commonly known as "the Ross
Report," the committee's conclusion was that the preamble to the Constitution Act,
which stated that Canada's Constitution was to be "similar in principle to that
of the United Kingdom," did not override the language of section 53, which only
prevented the Senate from introducing appropriation and taxation bills. The Ross
Report was adopted unanimously by the Senate on May 22, 1918.9
When establishing the provisions for the upper chamber, the Fathers of
the Canadian federation did not provide a mechanism to break a deadlock between the two
Houses, as they believed the governments would be short-lived and that such a mechanism
would not be necessary, nor did they want the governments of the day to follow the British
practice of swamping the Senate with extra members simply to "carry out their own
schemes.10" The British, based on their experience, advised our
constitutional fathers to create a deadlock mechanism, however small, which they did.
Similar to the swamping principle in the House of Lords but on a far lesser scale, the Constitution
Act contained in sections 26 to 28 provision for the appointment of one or two extra
senators from each of the three (later four) regions. Under section 26, the maximum number
of senators could be increased by three or six senators (later four or eight) as required
to break a deadlock. Although at least two Prime Ministers considered invoking section 26
as far back as Prime Minister Mackenzie in 1873, the appointment of senators over and
above the usual 104 was not used until 1990 when Prime Minister Mulroney appointed eight
additional senators to pass the Goods and Services Tax. This is not to say that use of
this measure to ensure passage of controversial legislation was not considered before the
GST was introduced, but rather that invoking section 26 would not likely have produced the
desired results, because the Opposition majority was too large to be overturned by eight
additional government supporters.
In addition to its power to initiate all but financial legislation as
well as that of absolute veto, the Senate was dealt a strong hand in 1867 on how Canada's
Constitution would be altered in the future, since its concurrence would be required to
make any constitutional amendments. The Senate exercised its right to refuse on only two
occasions: in 1936 when it failed to pass an amendment to the Constitution that would have
widened the provinces' rights to tax, and again in 1960 when it changed a constitutional
amendment by freeing district and county court judges from an age 75 retirement
requirement, leaving the age limit to apply to superior court judges only. The House of
Commons concurred11. The requirement of the Senate's concurrence for
constitutional amendment was revoked with the patriation of the Canadian Constitution in
1982, although the Senate maintains a 180 day suspensive veto on such amendment.
In being able to amend, postpone and veto legislation, the Senate was
constitutionally granted the power needed to make it effective. Yet, due to its appointed
nature and in the shadow of public criticism, the Senate has often refrained from
exercising this power.
The Fathers of Confederation had envisioned a Senate that would check
the prerogative of the elected body, when required, through its intervention in the
legislative process, as well as represent the regions and social minorities. In fact, its
role expanded well beyond this vision. As the 19th century distrust of democracy
disappeared, the Senate evolved; Sir Clifford Sifton wrote in The New Era in Canada in
No nation should be under unchecked, single-chamber government ... It
must also be remembered that, under our system, the power of the Cabinet tends to grow at
the expense of the House of Commons ... The Senate is not so much a check on the House of
Commons as it is upon the Cabinet, and there can be no doubt that its influence in this
respect is salutary."12
This observation stands true even today, however mild or ultimately
inconsequential that check may prove, for the potential to intervene on greater questions
In the legislative area, the Senate has proven itself the ideal House
for the introduction of bills of private interest, principally because it is less costly
($200 along with legal, printing and translation costs as opposed to $500 plus the same
costs in the House of Commons). This practice has assisted in lightening the legislative
burden of the lower house while ensuring that the needs and interests of private
individuals or corporations are duly considered.
With regard to government legislation, the Senate has slowly withdrawn
itself from more active opposition to the will of the Commons, except in very few
instances where it was believed that the Commons had presented an initiative to which the
people were opposed and for which there was no popular mandate. In the first sixty years
after Confederation (1867 - 1927), approximately 180 bills were passed by the House of
Commons and sent to the Senate that subsequently did not receive Royal Assent either
because they were rejected by the Senate or were passed by the Senate with amendments that
were not accepted by the Commons. In contrast, less than one-quarter that number of bills
was lost for similar reasons in the sixty-year period from 1928 to 1987.13.
In the 1970s, the practice of pre-study of bills before they reached the Senate virtually
eliminated the need for amendments when bills reached the Senate, as the amendments were
often taken care of while the bills were still in the Commons. Since the 1980s, pre-study
has been rare, and a significant number of direct amendments to some controversial
legislation have been recommended by the Senate. This has led to the loss of some Bills
when the House has not concurred before the end of a session. Only four bills -- Bill C-43
on abortion, Bill C-93 on the reorganization of certain boards, agencies, commissions and
tribunals, Bill C-28 on the L.B. Pearson International Airport, and C-220 on profiting
from authorship respecting a crime have actually been defeated in the past several
decades, with all of these defeats occurring in the 1990s.
The Senate has fulfilled other very important functions that were not
anticipated at the time of Confederation. It has assumed investigative, deliberative and
political duties to the benefit of the country.
The Senate began its social investigative work in earnest with the
emergence of the modern welfare state in the 1960s. Political science professor Colin
Campbell did not fail to recognize that, "Students of the Senate often dismiss social
investigation as `busywork' for part-time legislators ... Yet, during the late 1960s and
early 1970s, social investigation became integral to the ultimate development of
innovative policy.14" Special committees have
produced valuable reports in such areas as land use, manpower and employment, consumer
credit, poverty, aging, science policy and mass media, among others. Among the more
visible outcomes, Senate reports have led to the enactment of legislation based on their
recommendations and the establishment of new government departments such as Manpower and
Immigration, Consumer and Corporate Affairs and the Ministry of State for Science and
Technology. Many of the reports from the special studies the Senate conducted years ago
are still in popular demand today. As many Senate-watchers have observed, "Senate
Committees do much the same thing as royal commissions and task forces, only they cost
Canadian taxpayers less"15 and, one might add, often finish
their investigations in less time.
In its deliberative role, the Senate has served as a national forum for
the discussion of matters of public interest and the raising of concerns and protests from
all parts of the country. These same deliberations have occasionally compelled the Senate
to carry out investigations such as those mentioned above.
Politically, senators have served the national parties as fundraisers
and campaign coordinators. Especially during the legislative lull of election periods,
senators have been able to serve vital backstage roles in the election process -- roles
which could otherwise be carried out only by professionals who would likely be compensated
through campaign contributions.
And what of the Senate's role in provincial and regional representation and in
protecting minority rights? Constitutional expert and former Senator Eugene Forsey wrote
in 1982 that:
Part of the answer is that [the Senate] has not needed to (represent
the provinces), because the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, from about 1892 on,
so interpreted the British North America Act that the power of the national Parliament was
steadily narrowed . ... Canada is now the most decentralized federation in the world. So
the national Parliament's power to work injury to regional interests has turned out to be
much smaller than the Fathers had expected; and big, powerful, pushing provinces, working
through the frequent federal-provincial conferences, have largely taken over the task of
protecting the regions and provinces even in matters under Dominion jurisdiction.16
As for the protection of minority rights, the Senate has all but left
the affluent to manage on their own, instead making significant achievements - almost
ironically - for the poor in Canada, the aging, the unemployed, farmers, fishermen and
veterans, to name just a few. Through its membership, the Senate has spoken out not only
for English- and French-speaking Protestant and Catholic minorities, but for all the
cultures and religions that make up the Canadian mosaic.
Although a young nation, Canada's federal democracy is one of the
longest-standing. At the time of Canadian Confederation, there were only two examples of
federal democratic systems for Canada to draw upon: those of the United States of America
(1787) and Switzerland (1848). Any observation southward at that time was not so much to
emulate as to avoid what were perceived to be flaws in the American system of government,
since the Fathers of Confederation believed that too much power in the hands of the states
had triggered the Civil War. Furthermore, the governments of the British North American
colonies were already based on Great Britain's parliamentary system and would form the
basis for Canada's parliament. The British example nevertheless had to be adapted to the
Canadian condition, hence the call for regional representation in the Senate.
Since 1867, however, several new federations have created second
chambers: Australia (1901), and the post-1945 federations such as Germany, India,
Malaysia, the West Indies and Nigeria.17 A review of the current
operation of second chambers in a few of these federations, as well as in the United
Kingdom, is opportune in considering how, and whether, Canada's own system might be
improved or not.
Until 1999 membership of the House of Lords at Westminster varied
according to deaths and the appointment of new life peers, but was generally over 1000
members: approximately 800 hereditary peers and over 300 life peers In 1999 the government
of Prime Minister Blair introduced a revolutionary change in the composition of the Lords
as the first part of a two stage reform plan. The House of Lords Act, 1999 created
a transitional House by reducing the number of hereditary peers to 92. Seventy-five peers
were elected by the political parties and Cross Bench: 42 Conservatives; 28 Cross
Benchers; 3 Liberal Democrats; and, 2 Labour. Fifteen were elected office holders-Deputy
Speakers or Committee Chairs- and two were appointed Royal office holders, the Earl
Marshall and the Lord Great Chamberlain.
To reduce patronage in the appointment of life peers, an Appointments
Commission was established to make proposals to the Prime Minister for recommendations to
Her Majesty for the conferment of life peerages under the Life Peerages Act, 1958.
The Commission alone is responsible for nominating Cross Benchers, and is to scrutinise
the suitability of all candidates in relation to political donations. It has 8 members,
four of whom are appointed by a Special Commission consisting of the Prime Minister, the
Speaker of the House of Commons and Lord Chairman of Committees of the House of Lords. In
addition, the Leader of each of the three main parties nominates a member, as does the
Convenor of the Cross Bench Peers.
On 1 March 2001 the membership of the transitional House of Lords
consisted of 685 members: 567 Life Peers (3 of whom were on leave of absence); 92
Hereditary Peers; and, 26 Archbishops and Bishops. Whereas almost 60% of the pre-reform
House consisted of hereditary peers, more than 80% of the post-reform House consists of
The first stage of reform was not intended to have any impact on the
role, responsibilities or powers of the House of Lords. With regard to legislation, the
Lords continue to have the power to delay government bills for thirteen months, after
which time the will of the Commons prevails. Money bills are passed with minimal delay,
often going through all stages in just a day. They maintain the power of veto over Private
Members' Bills and statutory orders.
A Royal Commission, established to examine the second stage of reform
of the House of Lords, submitted its report, A House for the Future, in January
2000. The Report, with its recommendation of a partially elected, but mostly appointed,
House with at least the same powers as the existing one, was not greeted with much
enthusiasm by the opposition parties, academic commentators or the media. This lack of
consensus on implementing the recommendations (not to mention the fact that stage one of
the reform has eliminated the voting power of the large Conservative majority among
hereditary peers), may have encouraged the government to put less emphasis on pushing
through reform of the functions and powers of the House of Lords.
The United States of America
At the time of Canadian Confederation, United States senators were
appointed by the legislatures of each State of the Union. The constitution was amended to
provide for senatorial elections in 1913. Now comprised of 100 popularly-elected senators
who serve six-year terms based on equal representation of two senators per state, the
American Senate has gained great respect and legitimacy as a national power-base in a
pluralist federation whose central powers had to be divided.
The Senate has the same legislative powers as the House of
Representatives. In addition, its approval is needed for all treaties and executive
appointments and it tries all impeachments of public office, including the President. It
has "often been acclaimed the world's most powerful second chamber.18
" Its clear division of powers as a pluralist federation, as opposed to a
parliamentary one, makes the American experience a difficult one to apply elsewhere, for
example in Australia.
The creation of Switzerland's Council of States was a compromise
between those who wished the National Council to house equal cantonal representation and
those who wanted representation by population. The Council of States has 46
directly-elected members, two from each of the 23 cantons. Members may also hold a seat
within their canton but, unlike Germany, are forbidden to vote by instruction.
The legislative powers of the Council of States are equal to those of
the National Council. The two houses jointly elect a seven member executive whose members
must resign as members of the National Assembly. Referendum procedures exist for the
resolution of disputes. The Council of States has proven itself a successful guardian of
cantonal interests in Switzerland, and the referendum as a mechanism for dispute
resolution is intriguing, but could prove too costly in the Canadian framework.
In 1901 when Australia reached federation, most of its states had over
40 years of experience with the "difficulty of blending bicameralism with
British-style parliamentary government.19 " The Australian
choice was a Senate of 76 members elected from state constituencies by proportional
representation (12 members from each of the six states and two from each of the two
territories), for six-year terms, except when there is double dissolution.
The Senate has the same powers as the House of Representatives in
dealing with legislation, but cannot initiate money bills or amend them to cause an
increase. It can veto any kind of bill, and the government may reintroduce a bill three
months after a Senate veto. The only way around persistent Senate opposition is through
double dissolution, which has occurred infrequently and has proven very costly since new
elections for both houses must be held.
In Commonwealth parliamentary federations such as Australia's and
Canada's, "adherence to the principle that the Cabinet should be continuously
responsible to the popularly elected legislative house has in each case led to second
chambers which have been considerably weaker both in constitutional authority and in
political influence and prestige.20 " In Australia's case, this
coupled with the fact that senators are essentially partisan due to their dependence upon
the support of the party for election funding, has made the ability of Australia's Senate
to represent state interests questionable.
Campbell Sharman says of the Australian experience:
[W]ithin a few years of federation, state particularisms had ceased to be the major
divide in the Senate, but it took some seventy years for the more substantial ambiguity in
the role of the Senate to produce a major confrontation between the rival philosophies of
government, the American and British, that had been discussed at its foundation.21
This very incongruency between American and British-style government
is, in part, what makes the question of Senate reform a difficult one to resolve in
When the Parliamentary Council of the Federal Republic of Germany drew
up its Basic Law or constitution in 1948 and 1949, it deliberated at length on the
composition and responsibilities of the Bundesrat. After considering other models
including the American, the 1949 post-Nazi restoration of the Bundesrat finally adhered to
its traditional structure, in that it was the second parliamentary body after the
Bundestag and its members were to be drawn from Land or state cabinets.
From 1949 to Germany's unification in 1990, the Bundesrat represented
the eleven Laender or states of the Federal Republic of Germany. Since the German
unification, five former states have been re-established for a national total of sixteen.
Each Land was then, and continues now to be, provided with a number of votes dependent
upon the size of its population, i.e., each Land has at least three votes, states with
more than two million inhabitants have four votes, those with more than six million
population have five votes, and a population of more than seven million entitles a state
to six votes. Votes for each Land must be cast as a block, hence the concept of voting
"by instruction." In fact, the members are not instructed by a third party, but
must come to a consensus with their fellow state representatives in order for the vote to
be cast uniformly. Bundesrat members are subject to recall at any time by the state
The Bundesrat presently has 69 members, whose term varies depending
upon the formation of the State Councils. Therefore, 35 votes are required for an absolute
majority and 46 votes represent the two-thirds required to approve constitutional
amendments. The Bundesrat has the right to initiate legislation, as well as the power of
absolute veto on bills with special bearing on state interests, which comprises
about half of the federal legislation.
Bundesrat members, like the Lords of Great Britain, are not paid for
their work (they are already paid as Laender representatives), but are given a fixed daily
allowance for expenses and travel.
Several other of the more economically or politically stable nations in
the world have elected upper chambers: Italy, Japan, Spain and France.22
Each of these nations may offer some direction on where Canada could go with Senate
reform, although Canada is unique with its two prominent founding cultures and its
foundation on the British parliamentary model. The review of bicameral legislatures in
other federations clearly demonstrates that there are no simple solutions to the Canadian
As former Senate Law Clerk Russell Hopkins wrote in 1962, "the
volcano of Senate Reform, never extinct but for some time dormant, may erupt
once more,23" and of course it has on numerous occasions since
Senate reform in Canada is "widely viewed as a panacea for all
manner of ills afflicting Canadian society24." The common view
is that a reformed upper chamber will render it more representative and less partisan. Yet
the question of how to reform Canada's Senate remains unresolved.
A 1991 article by F. Leslie Seidle25 provides a thorough narrative
chronology of reform proposals, which may be condensed as follows:
David Mills, M.P. states in House that " our
Constitution ought to be reformed
... to confer upon each Province the power of selecting its own Senators."
A proposal to fix senators' terms to the life of three
Parliaments is debated in the House of Commons.
Sir Richard Scott moves that a proportion of senators (approx.
two-thirds) be elected for seven-year terms.
The Progressives of the West propose abolition (later to
become platform of the CCF and the NDP).
Various reform proposals are discussed at the
Senate reform is not a major issue during the
federal-provincial meetings of the late 1960s, although it is briefly addressed at the
First Ministers' Conference of February 1969. It is then agreed that the Senate should be
reorganized to provide for the more formal and direct expression of the interests of the
provinces, while maintaining there "an influence for the unity of Canada." The
proposal suggests that a proportion of senators could be selected by the provinces, with
or without the approval of their legislatures.
The Special Joint Committee on the Constitution recommends a
selection method for the 1969 proposal: one-half of appointments would be chosen from
panels of provincial/territorial nominees while the other half would continue to be
appointed federally. Also, representation for the Western Provinces would be increased
from six to twelve senators, and legislative powers of the Senate would be reduced to a
suspensive six month veto.
Election of the Parti québécois. This coupled with Western
demands for greater influence cause a number of reform proposals to be made up to 1980.
The Trudeau government's program, "A Time for
Action," calls for the establishment of a "House of the Federation."
Members are to be indirectly elected by provincial legislatures and the House of Commons
through a form of proportional representation. The House of the Federation would have a
suspensive veto of 120 days.
This same year, the
government of British Columbia proposes a "house of the provinces" based on the
West German Bundesrat model. The leading senator for each region would be a provincial
Cabinet minister, with others appointed by provincial governments. It would hold an
absolute veto only over those matters affecting the provinces. The essence of this
proposal is later supported by the Ontario Advisory Committee on Confederation and the
Committee on the Constitution of the Canadian Bar Association.
The Pepin-Robarts Task Force on Canadian Unity recommends a
"Council of the Federation" based on the house of the provinces model.
The Canada West Foundation publishes a task force report
entitled, "Regional Representation: The Canadian Partnership," which for the
first time generates serious debate on the option of a directly-elected Senate.
The Alberta government supports reform along the lines of the
house of provinces.
The Special Joint Committee on Senate Reform recommends a
directly-elected Senate with increased representation for all provinces but Ontario and
Quebec. The elected Senate would have a 120 day suspensive veto only.
The Royal Commission on the Economic Union and Development
Prospects for Canada recommends a Senate similar to that proposed by the Special Joint
Committee, but calls for election by proportional representation.
In March, 1985, the
report of the Alberta Select Special Committee on Upper House Reform gives rise to the
concept of the Triple-E Senate - elected, equal and effective.
Quebec's endorsement of the Constitution Act 1982 is sought at
Premiers' Conference. The provinces' joint list of conditions, mainly to gain Quebec's
full participation in the Canadian federation, includes a reference to Senate
On March 10, the Alberta legislative assembly unanimously
endorses the recommendations of the 1985 Committee for a Triple-E Senate.
On April 30,
first ministers meet at Meech Lake where an agreement is reached on Senate reform. Under
the agreement, reform will require unanimous consent of provinces and for the time-being,
the federal government would fill all future Senate vacancies from lists provided by
provincial governments. Senate reform is to remain on the agenda of annual constitutional
conferences until it is achieved.
First ministers meet in Ottawa on June 2-3 to approve the text of the
constitutional amendments which would form the basis of the Meech Lake Accord.
As part of its platform, the Reform Party issues a draft
constitutional amendment which provides for direct election of ten senators per province
for six-year terms.
In April, a Gallup poll shows that for the first time since it
began polling on Senate reform options in 1945, a majority of respondents favour an
Although not provided for in the Meech Lake Accord, on October 16
Alberta holds an election to filla Senate vacancy. Reform Party candidate Stan
Waters wins the election. Alberta recognizes the risk that if other provinces were to
follow suit, "the current inequalities and the current powers" could be
entrenched in a newly-elected Senate.
On April 6, Newfoundland rescinds its adoption of the Meech
On March 21, Premier McKenna introduces the Meech Lake
resolution and a companion resolution intended to address concerns of official language
minorities, aboriginal peoples and the territories.
On May 17, a special committee of the House of Commons recommends
additions to Premier McKenna's companion resolution, including a possible three year limit
to the unanimous consent rule where Senate reform is involved.
June 3-9, first ministers meet and agree to seek adoption, by July 1,
1995, of an amendment on Senate reform to provide for: a) its election; b) equitable
representation of less populous provinces and territories; and c) effective powers.
On June 11, Prime Minister Mulroney appoints Stan Waters to the Senate.
Manitoba and Newfoundland fail to ratify the Meech Lake Accord by the
June 23 deadline. The June 9 agreement, however, demonstrates the importance of Senate
reform on the constitutional agenda and that the politicians are hearing the public's call
for an elected, effective and -- if not equal -- equitable, Senate.
Seidle's chronology on Senate reform ends with the Government of
Canada's 1991 reform proposals, which supported the "two and one-half Es"
presented by the first ministers in June 1990, without giving many specifics on such
points as how senators would be elected or the length of their term.
Canada's 125th year, 1992, marked another peak in the path to reform
when the Government of Canada included Senate reform in its constitutional amendment
package known as the "Charlottetown Accord." The Accord offered Canadians the
opportunity to constitutionally recognize Quebec as a distinct society, to provide
Aboriginals with self-government and to reform the Senate. Senate reform provided for a 62
member elected 26 Senate, which would have the power to veto bills
resulting in fundamental tax policy changes and to block key order-in-council
appointments. Senate disapproval of ordinary legislation would be dealt with at a joint
sitting with the House of Commons, at which a simple majority would decide the matter.
However, the Canadian public itself determined that the Accord would not meet its needs --
a majority of Canadians turning down the Charlottetown package in a nation-wide referendum
held on October 26, 1992.
Without a doubt, the move for reform has increased both in terms of the
strength and numbers of reform proposals and of the nature of the reform, in that it has
become fundamental and will require nothing less than amendment of the Constitution Act
1867-1982. But the provinces' difficulties in reaching a consensus on Senate reform in
the past will more than likely resurface in future, possibly making a gradual road to
reform the only one plausible.
"Unlike the members in the other place, we do not address ourselves to the
electors - we are content to address ourselves to the question. " - Senator Raoul
An understanding of the framework within which senators operate is
essential to an understanding of what they are accomplishing collectively, but a closer
look will show that throughout the years there have been some outstanding individuals who
have served as senators and who have achieved much for the Canadian people and nation.
This part of the review provides a statistical overview of the membership of the upper
chamber since 1867, a look at the representative duties of senators as compared to members
of the House of Commons, and highlights the accomplishments of some of the more memorable
senators in the history of the institution.
After much debate, the Fathers of Confederation agreed to draw the
Senate's first members from the legislative assemblies of the provinces. In 1867, the
original Senate had equal representation by senators on the government and opposition
sides. Future appointments would not maintain this equality, however.
Senate membership has volleyed back and forth from Conservative to
Liberal majority and back again several times in the past 134 years. Since 1955, there
have been some independents sitting in the upper chamber as well, and from 1972 to 1983
one senator representing the Social Credit party. Since 1990 the Reform Party/Canadian
Alliance has also been represented in the Senate.
The Conservatives held a Senate majority from 1867 to 1901, when the
balance of power weighed in the Liberals favour and they held a majority in the Senate
from 1903 to 1917.27. The Conservatives again had the majority from
1918 to 1929, and the Liberals again briefly in 1930 and 1931. The Conservatives' next
majority lasted from 1932 to 1941, when the Liberals took over and held on for a very long
period from 1941 to 1990. In the 1990s the Conservatives enjoyed a brief period as
the majority party before the balance shifted back to the Liberals. At one point in 1956,
the Conservatives were down to only five Senate representatives against the Liberal
party's 76, at which point Liberal Prime Minister St. Laurent appointed a Conservative
senator and some Independents. Appointments made by Prime Minister Diefenbaker from 1957
to 1963 did not reach the point at which the balance of power in the Senate would swing in
the Conservatives' favour. As an advocate of gradual Senate reform, Prime Minister Trudeau
would be the next after St. Laurent to break with tradition, replacing Conservative
vacancies with Conservative appointments in the 1970s.
In 1990, Prime Minister Mulroney set an important precedent when he
appointed Stan Waters of the Reform Party, who was Canada's first elected senator. In the
autumn of that same year, Mulroney set another significant precedent in terms of
senatorial appointments, by invoking section 26 of the Constitution Act and
summoning eight extra regional senators.
In 1993, in the few weeks prior to leaving his office, Prime Minister
Mulroney appointed 13 Conservative senators and one Independent, bringing the Senate up to
104, its full complement at the time.
Prime Minister Chrétien has appointed a wide range of men and women to the Senate,
including a number of Independents and members with few previous ties to the Liberal
Party. Perhaps the most notable aspects of his selection have been the appointment of
almost equal numbers of men and women and of many men and women within a few years of
reaching the retirement age of 75. As of late May 2001 the party standings were: Liberals,
54; Progressive Conservatives, 33; Independent, 5; and Canadian Alliance, 1. Twelve of the
105 seats were vacant.
The Senate houses professionals of long and broad experience. Professor
Franks, in the article "The Senate and its Reform," quotes R. MacGregor Dawson,
labelling the Senate "a shelter for those whose active life is almost over,"
then goes on to give a breakdown of the past political experience of its members: "Of
the 101 Senators in 1985, seventeen had sat in provincial legislatures, including several
provincial premiers, and 26 had sat in the House of Commons. Two had held seats in both
the federal and provincial legislatures.28" Yet plainly,
individuals who have grown accustomed to representing the interests of their provinces as
elected members cannot simply cease to act as loyal spokespersons for their provinces and
constituents when they are appointed to the upper chamber.
Robert J. Fleming's analysis of the composition of the federal houses
of Canadian Parliament showed that "while all legislatures have a significant
proportion of business persons and lawyers, none has as high a percentage as the Senate.29" In general, the Senate has proportionately more members with
graduate level education, more female members (35.5 % to 20.6 % in the House of Commons in
2001), more professional experience, more political experience and longer years of service
as parliamentarians. This provides the Senate with a long institutional memory, by way of
senators who have become knowledgeable and experienced legislators.30
With regard to investigative work done by committees, Franks notes that
Senate investigations "are usually of a higher standard than those by committees of
the House of Commons.31" Professor Franks lists several reasons
for this, stating that the Senate investigations are usually non-partisan, that they do
not suffer from excessive media exposure, and that senators (in addition to being
"extremely able and experienced") have the time to dedicate themselves to
exhaustive research and analysis, often over long periods of time without having to meet
the demands of the electoral process. These same factors that Franks points out as being
favourable to Senate investigative work carry over into other committee work and to the
Chamber in general, although they are most clearly manifested in investigations, when the
Senate is free to set its own agenda.
The lack of partisanship among senators, particularly in
non-legislative work where they do not feel that they are in any way impeding the
government's legislative agenda, is one of the positive results of the much-criticized
appointment system. Senators are appointed to age 75, and thus need not be concerned about
being re-appointed, nor about seeking the support of their political parties so that they
may be re-elected.
Historically, senators played more prominent roles in Canadian
government than they do today. Five of thirteen ministers in the first Cabinet were
senators, and two governments were led by senators - Sir John Abbott (1891-1892) and Sir
Mackenzie Bowell (1894-1896). Senators have held nearly every major portfolio other than
Finance, and today the Leader of the Government in the Senate continues to be a Cabinet
In his well-known publication, "The Unreformed Senate of
Canada," Robert A. Mackay of Carleton University lists several of the "best
known senators politically," generally from the first 75 years of Confederation. F.A.
Kunz lists principally the same members with some additions, calling them the "most
shining political names of the era.33" Based on these two lists
and with a few more recent senators included, a precis of the lives and accomplishments of
several prominent senators follows:
Hon. George Brown (Lib.): Born in 1818 in Alloa, Scotland,
he came to Canada with his brother Gordon in 1843 and established the Toronto Globe. First
allied with the Reform Party, he soon split due to his abhorrence of any connection
between Church and State, and headed the Clear Grit group. The principle of representation
by population was the cornerstone of his political career. In pre-Confederation Canada,
Brown formed a Government with Lower Canada's A.A. Dorion for a few short days in 1858.
Brown, a Father of Confederation, was involved in the Quebec Conference
where the future Senate's role was defined. He was called to the Senate in 1873 and served
until 1880, when he was slain by a fired employee at his newspaper.
Sir Oliver Mowat (Lib.) - Born in 1820 in Kingston, Sir Oliver
Mowat was educated in law. He served in various administrations of Upper Canada through
the 1850s and 1860s, serving at the Quebec Union Conference as a cabinet minister from the
united Canadas. He retired temporarily from politics in 1864 when he was appointed
Vice-Chancellor of Upper Canada.
Sir Mowat returned to political life in 1872 when Edward Blake resigned
as Premier of Ontario and Mowat succeeded him, elected for North Oxford. Mowat held the
premiership and served as Ontario's Attorney General for an unprecedented 24 years. During
this period, he fought for and gained greater provincial rights.
In 1896, Mowat was appointed to the Senate and served as Laurier's
Government Leader in the Senate and Minister of Justice. In 1897, he retired to accept the
lieutenant-governorship of Ontario, a post which he occupied until his death in 1903.
Sir Alexander Campbell (Cons.) - Born in Yorkshire, England in 1822 and came to
Canada at a young age with his father. He was a law partner with Sir John A. Macdonald and
held many prominent positions, including that of Director of the Bank of Upper Canada,
Dean of the Law Faculty at Queen's University and Bencher of the Law Society.
Campbell served in Upper Canadian Parliament, elected to the
Legislative Council in 1858. A Father of Confederation, he was present at the
Charlottetown Conference and the Quebec Union Conference. Campbell was appointed to the
Senate in May 1867 and held several Cabinet posts through the years. He served until his
death nearly twenty years later.
Sir Richard John Cartwright (Lib.) - Born in Kingston, Ontario in
1835, Cartwright was the President of the Commercial Bank of Canada. Sir Cartwright was
elected to the Parliament of United Province of Canada from 1863-67, then to the House of
Commons from 1867-78 and again from 1883-1904. He was Finance Minister for the Mackenzie
administration from 1873-78, and Minister of Trade and Commerce for Sir Wilfrid Laurier in
1896. Cartwright served as Acting Premier on two occasions during Sir Wilfrid Laurier's
absences. He passed away in 1912.
Sir George Wm. Ross (Lib.) - Born in Middlesex County, Ontario in
1841, George Ross was an educator who later became a lawyer, receiving a doctorate in law
in 1886. He was a member of the House of Commons for many years and served as the Minister
of Education from 1883 to 1899. Ross subsequently served as Premier of Ontario from 1899
to 1905, then as Leader of the Opposition in the Ontario legislative assembly until he
resigned in 1907. He was appointed to the Senate in 1907 where he served as Liberal leader
from 1910 until his death in 1914.
Sir George E. Foster (Cons.) - Born in Carleton County, New
Brunswick in 1847, Sir Foster was a professor of the classics and held several honourary
degrees. He was first elected to the House of Commons in 1882 and served as the Minister
of Marine and Fisheries in Sir John A. Macdonald's Cabinet. He was continuously re-elected
up to 1917, with the exception of the 1900 federal election.
Sir Foster was summoned to the Senate in 1921 and represented Canada
periodically throughout the 1920s at the League of Nations. He passed away in 1931.
Sir Allen Aylesworth (Lib.) - Born in Newburgh, Ontario in 1854,
Sir Aylesworth was a lawyer and a Bencher of the Law Society of Upper Canada. He was a
member of the House of Commons from 1905 to 1911, and served as Postmaster General, as
well as minister of Labour and later Justice. He was appointed to the Senate in 1923 and
served till his death in 1952.
Sir James Alexander Lougheed (Cons.) - Bornin Brampton,
Ontario in 1854, Lougheed served as a lawyer in Toronto until 1883 when he moved to
Calgary and was called to the bar of the Northwest Territories.
Lougheed was called to the Senate in 1889 and became Conservative
leader in the Senate in 1904. He was a minister without portfolio and Government Leader in
the Senate in the Borden government in 1911. During World War I, he chaired the Military
Hospitals Commission. After the war, he became head of the newly created Department of
Soldiers' Civil Reestablishment until 1920, then served as minister of the Interior, Mines
and Indian Affairs in 1921 when Meighen was succeeded by Mackenzie King. Lougheed passed
away in 1925.
Raoul Dandurand (Lib.) - Born in Montreal in 1861, Dandurand
graduated from Université Laval in Law in 1882. He married the accomplished writer
Josephine Marchand, daughter of the Premier of Quebec, in 1886. Appointed to the Senate by
Sir Wilfrid Laurier in 1898, Dandurand became Speaker in 1905. He presided over the first
major revision of Senate Rules in 1906, which would give the Speaker the seldom used power
to enforce order and decorum.
Senator Dandurand founded and was the first President of the Canadian
branch of the Interparliamentary Peace Union (IPU). He was highly interested in and
dedicated to international affairs and matters of world peace and was elected President of
the Assembly of the League of Nations in 1925, serving as Canadian representative to the
Assembly again from 1927 to 1930.34
Senator Dandurand also worked to develop Canada's independence from
Britain on the international scene, and through his efforts Canada's first two diplomatic
missions (other than that in Washington) were opened in Paris and Tokyo in 1928.35 Upon his death in 1942, he was widely recognized as a great Canadian
nationalist and a dedicated internationalist.
Arthur Meighen (Cons.) - Bornin Anderson, Ontario in 1874,
Meighen was first elected to the House of Commons in 1908. He was appointed Solicitor
General in 1913 and handled several ministerial portfolios over the years, including
Secretary of State, Mines, the Interior and Indian Affairs. He served as Prime Minister
from 1920-21, and again in 1926.
Arthur Meighen was summoned to the Senate in 1932 and chosen Leader of
the Government in the Senate in Prime Minister Bennett's Cabinet. He reluctantly left the
Senate to resume the Conservative leadership and, after failing to re-enter the House of
Commons in a 1942 by-election, he returned to private life to pursue his business
interests. He passed away in 1960.
Thomas Alexander Crerar (Prog.) - Born in 1876 in Molesworth,
Ontario, Crerar was raised on a farm. He taught school for several years, then he farmed.
Crerar also held various presidencies and directorships in Winnipeg where he resided.
Crerar was elected to the House of Commons in 1917, sworn to the King's Privy Council and
appointed Minister of Agriculture in the Union government of Sir Robert Borden. In 1921,
he became leader of the 66 member Progressive Party in the House of Commons until his
resignation in 1922. He served in MacKenzie King's Cabinet in 1929 as Minister of Railways
and Canals, and again in 1935 as Minister of Mines and Resources, which included matters
of the interior, immigration and Indian affairs.
Appointed to the Senate in 1945, Crerar specialized in legislation
dealing with natural resources and agriculture. Crerar was the first politician to be
named to the Companion of the Order of Canada. He retired in 1966 and passed away nine
Cairine Reay Mackay Wilson (Lib.) - Born in 1885 to a wealthy
Montreal family, her father was a businessman and later a senator. Like her father, Wilson
took a great interest in politics. Cairine Wilson was married in her early twenties and
spent the first ten years of married life running a large household and raising her
children. Setting new outward-looking objectives for herself, she became involved in the
Liberal party organization in her thirties and helped found two associations: The National
Federation of Liberal Women of Canada and the Twentieth Century Liberal Association.
On October 18, 1929, a judicial committee of the Privy Council declared
the eligibility of women for appointment to the Senate, and Cairine Wilson was appointed
in February 1930. She was immediately named chairman of the Public Buildings and Grounds
Committee and belonged to thirteen committees over her years in the Senate. Wilson and her
colleague and friend Muriel McQueen Fergusson considered the committees "the heart
and soul of the Senate... it is in committee that senators study and often rework
ill-considered and badly drafted bills that come from the Commons... [and where they] call
witnesses, receive briefs, amass great bodies of research and prepare reports, some of
which become landmarks in Canada's political evolution."36
Senator Wilson passed away in 1962.
James Gladstone (Independent Cons.) - Born in 1887 in Mountain
Hill, Northwest Territories, Gladstone was a member of the Blood Tribe of the Blackfoot
Nation. He worked at several jobs before becoming involved in politics and being appointed
to the Senate, including as a drayman at Fort McLeod, as a Scout with the Royal North West
Mounted Police, as a mail carrier, as a ranchhand and later as a rancher himself.
Gladstone was President of the Indian Association of Alberta from 1948-54 and in 1956,
Honourary President in 1957 and Patron in 1958. He served as a delegate to Ottawa on
native problems and issues in 1947, 1951 and 1953. He was called to the Senate in 1958 and
was the first treaty native to serve there. Gladstone gave his native speech in the Senate
in Blackfoot. He passed away in 1971.
Charles Gavan (Chubby) Power (Lib.) - Born in Sillery, Quebec in
1888, Power was a lawyer who served in World War I. He was first elected to the House of
Commons in 1917, and was re-elected up to 1953. He became a member of the Privy Council in
1935, and served as minister of various portfolios through the years, including that of
National Defence. Power was called to the Senate in 1955. Power passed away in 1968.
Chubby Power, who was recognized as a superb politician with a half a
century of experience, authored his revealing memoirs, A Party Politician, in 1966,
providing the public with a rare insight into Canadian politics. (See Appendix 1, p. 45.)
Michael Grattan O'Leary (Cons.) - Born in 1888 in the impoverished
county of Gaspé, Quebec, O'Leary was essentially a self-educated man. He worked in a
lumber mill at age 11 and went to sea by the age of 15. By 1909, O'Leary was working as a
reporter with the Saint John Standard, and by 1911 with The Ottawa Journal
where he was appointed to the Parliamentary Press Gallery. He later became an editorial
journalist. In 1961, O'Leary headed the Royal Commission on Publications.
O'Leary was called to the Senate in 1962 and continued on as president of The Ottawa
Journal until 1966. He passed away ten years later in 1976.
William Ross Macdonald (Lib.) - Born in Toronto in 1891, Macdonald
was a lawyer and served in World War I. He ran unsuccessfully in the federal general
elections for Brantford, Ontario in 1926 and 1930, but was elected in 1935 and re-elected
in 1940, 1945 and 1949. Macdonald served as Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons from
1945-1949 and as Speaker from 1949-1953. In 1953, Macdonald was summoned to the Senate
where he served as Leader of the Government and Solicitor General from 1953 to 1957.
Macdonald then became Leader of the Opposition until 1963, at which time he served again
as Leader of the Government and minister without portfolio for nine months, when he
resigned. He passed away in 1976.
Salter Adrian Hayden (Lib.) - Born in Ottawa in 1896, Hayden was a
corporate lawyer and prominent businessman with numerous Canadian companies. Hayden ran in
the federal election of 1935 for Toronto-St. Paul's, but was defeated. He was summoned to
the Senate in 1940 and served as chairman of the Standing Committee on Banking, Trade and
Commerce for nearly three decades. Hayden resigned his Senate seat in 1983 due to ill
health and passed away in 1987.
Muriel McQueen Fergusson (Lib.) - Born in 1899 in Shediac, New
Brunswick, she graduated in law and practised a short while before marrying a fellow
lawyer in 1926. For ten years she worked at home. When her husband became ill in 1936, she
returned to legal practice, assuming her husband's duties as Judge of the Probate Court,
Clerk of the County Court and town solicitor of Grand Falls. Upon his death in 1942, she
was confirmed in these positions, being the first woman to hold them. She was the first
woman elected alderman to Fredericton's City Council in 1950, becoming Deputy Mayor in
1953. This experience was brief, as she was summoned to the Senate in May 1953.
As a senator, McQueen Fergusson continued to fight for the rights of women, the elderly
and the poor. She made a valuable contribution to the Special Committee on Poverty.
Outside the Senate, she was highly involved in international and community-based
Muriel McQueen Fergusson was Parliament's first woman Speaker, holding
that office from 1972-1974. Having sat on the committee which recommended that senators
retire at age 75, McQueen Fergusson herself decided to retire from the Senate in 1975 at
age 76. She passed away in 1997.
David Croll (Lib.) - Born in Moscow in 1900, David Croll left when
he was only five years of age. He lead a widely varied career: at age 25 he was a lawyer;
by age 30 mayor of Windsor; from 1934 to 1944, he was a member of the Ontario legislature
taking on various ministerial portfolios over that period; from 1939 to 1945 he was on
active military service, entering as "His Worship Private Croll" and rising to
the rank of lieutenant-colonel. Croll built a reputation as a reformer, fighting for the
worker and against discrimination.
David Croll was summoned to the Senate in 1955 and served until his
death in 1992. One of his best known contributions as a senator was the "Report of
the Special Senate Committee: Poverty in Canada". He was the first Jewish cabinet
minister and first Jewish senator in Canada.37
Maurice Bourget (Lib.) - Born in Lauzon,
Quebec, in 1907, Maurice Bourget was educated as a civil engineer. He became involved with
the Liberal Party at the age of 19 and was himself elected to the House of Commons in
1940, where he sat for 22 years until the Social Credit party gained prominence in Quebec
in the early 1960s. As a member of the House of Commons he served as a delegate to the
United Nations in Paris in 1951, was appointed Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of
Public Works and was a delegate to the Commonwealth Interparliamentary Conference in
London in 1961.
Maurice Bourget was appointed to the Senate in 1962 and became Speaker
in 1963, serving in that capacity until 1966. Senator Bourget served as delegate to many
interparliamentary groups and conferences during his Senate career and spoke out on the
CBC's role in promoting Canadian unity and culture, and Quebec's need to increase its
Senator Bourget passed away in 1979.
Eugene Forsey (Lib.) - Born in Grand Bank, Newfoundland in 1904,
Eugene Forsey was a Rhodes scholar who pursued careers as a professor, a research director
with the Canadian Labour Congress and later a senator, but is best remembered for his
expertise on constitutional matters. Although raised in a Conservative family, Forsey
supported the CCF until the founding of the NDP in 1961 which he, as an advocate of strong
central government, feared would grant too much power to the provinces.
Forsey was appointed to the Senate on the recommendation of Prime
Minister Trudeau in 1970 and chose to sit as a Liberal until his retirement in 1979.
Forsey remained a personality on Parliament Hill after his retirement, and in 1982 he
declared himself an Independent. Forsey continued to speak out on constitutional matters
up to the time of his death in 1991.
Renaude Lapointe (Lib.) - Louise Marguerite Renaude Lapointe was
born in Disraeli, Quebec on January 3, 1912. She first earned a degree in music and later
took courses in literature, languages and sociology. She was recruited by Le Soleil as
a music and drama critic, and worked there for 12 years, often writing editorials for the
editor-in-chief. In 1959, she was the first woman to join La Presse as a general
news reporter, and she became an editorial writer for that paper in 1965. Her excellent
journalism won her the Bowater Certificate of Merit in 1962 and journalist of the year in
Renaude Lapointe was summoned to the Senate in 1971, where she took special interest in
Senate reform, bilingualism, the United Nations (to which she had served as a delegate)
and old age security. She served as Speaker of the Senate from 1974-79, and continued to
be active in several parliamentary associations. Lapointe retired from the Senate in 1987.
Jacques Flynn (Cons.) - Born in St. Hyacinthe, Quebec in 1915,
Jacques Flynn was a graduate in law and later a law professor at Laval University where he
had studied. He sat on the Wartime Prices and Trade Board during World War II. Flynn was
elected to the House of Commons in 1958 and served as Deputy Speaker and Chairman of
Committees there in 1960-61. In 1961-62, Flynn served as Minister of Mines & Technical
Jacques Flynn was summoned to the Senate in 1962 where he served as
Leader of the Opposition from 1967-79 and 1980-84, and as Leader of the Government and
Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada in 1979-80. He died in 2000.
Duff Roblin (Cons.) - Born in Winnipeg in 1916, Roblin held a
doctorate of laws. He served in World War II. Roblin was elected to the Manitoba
Legislature in 1949 and was re-elected continuously up to 1966. He was chosen leader of
the Progressive Conservative party in Manitoba in 1954 and became Premier in 1958. He
resigned as Premier of Manitoba in 1967 and as an M.L.A. in 1968.
Roblin then turned to a career in business, and was summoned to the
Senate in 1978. He served as Leader of the Government in the Senate from 1984-86.
Martial Asselin (Cons.) - Born in 1924 in La Malbaie, Quebec,
Asselin studied law. He was both Mayor of La Malbaie from 1957-63 and the Member of the
House of Commons for Charlevoix from 1958-62. Asselin was appointed Minister of Forestry
in Diefenbaker's Cabinet in 1963. He was re-elected in 1965 and 1968 and served as
Canadian delegate to several international organizations and conferences.
Asselin was called to the Senate in 1972, and was appointed Minister of
State responsible for the Canadian International Development Association in 1979. He
served as Deputy Speaker of the Senate from 1984-88. Asselin resigned from the Senate in
1990 when he became Lieutenant Governor of Quebec.
Gildas L. Molgat (Lib.) Born in 1927 in Ste. Rose du Lac, Manitoba, Molgat
received his education at St. Pauls College and the University of Manitoba where he
was a Gold Medallist, Commerce Honours in 1947. He was first elected to the Manitoba
Legislature in 1953, where he served five consecutive terms and was Leader of the Liberal
Party of Manitoba and Leader of the Opposition from 1961 to 1968.
In 1970, Molgat was summoned to the Senate on the advice of Prime
Minister Trudeau and served in various political and parliamentary positions, including
Government Whip, Deputy Opposition Leader, and Deputy Government Leader. He served as
Speaker of the Senate from 1994 to 2001. His Senate career was marked by his involvement
in constitutional affairs. He died in February 2001.
"[T]he Senate as it is now constituted does quite a good job ... senators
could make more money doing something else...It does a super job of polishing and refining
the raw legislation that comes to it from the House of Commons. " - William F.
Gold, Calgary Herald
Undeniably, the Senate has largely fulfilled the role determined for it
by the Fathers of Confederation. With a collective legislative experience greater than
that of the Commons, senators have been integral to the revision and correction of
legislation. In addition, the Senate has undertaken a significant duty in its
investigative work, which has proven effective in the development of innovative policy.
Criticism that the Senate has been less effective in the area of regional representation
may be well-founded, yet, formal federal-provincial negotiations have compensated for this
shortcoming, while the Senate has gone on to study and advance the causes of social
The Canadian taxpayer may feel that the Senate's achievements do not
merit its cost, yet a review of its cost as compared to other Canadian legislatures
showed, in 1991-92, that the Senate cost $1.61 per capita, while the House of Commons cost
$8.49 per capita and the provincial legislatures cost anywhere from $18 to $30 per capita.38 While the per capita amounts will have increased somewhat over the
past decade, the figures remain an accurate reflection of relative costs. In an elected
Senate, especially one of a hundred or less members, senators would be representing great
numbers of people in their constituencies. They would be required to set up constituency
offices and increase their staff in Ottawa as well. The cost of an elected Senate would
likely be quadruple its present cost of $56 million annually.
The call for Senate change is too loud to be ignored, and yet, after
many years of study, debate and negotiation, Canadians have been unable to abolish or
reform this important national institution. So what solutions can be found to the Senate
impasse? To begin with, all Canadians must be made aware of the many achievements of its
federal upper house -- to bring it into clear focus. Only then can the many
recommendations, ranging from constitutional reform to internal renewal of the Senate, be
fairly assessed to determine which will be the most effective in permitting Canada's
second -- but not secondary -- chamber to further its accomplishments for all Canadians in
years to come.
Prince Edward Island alone negotiated for an elected Senate.
Quoted in F. Leslie Seidle, "Senate Reform and the
Constitutional Agenda: Conundrum or Solution?", Canadian Constitutionalism:
1791-1991. Janet Ajzenstat ed., (Ottawa, Canadian Study of Parliament Group, 1991).
'Kenny, Hon. C. "If Senators Were Elected." (Ottawa,
Niemczak, P. Compensation/Severance Packages and the
Abolition and Reform of Upper Chambers. (Ottawa, Library of Parliament, 1992) pp.3-9.
Quoted in Sir G.W. Ross, The Senate of Canada, its
constitution, powers and duties, historically considered, (Toronto, Copp, Clark,
Kunz, F.A. The Modem Senate of Canada, (Toronto,
University of Toronto Press, 1965) pp. 10-11.
ibid, p. 11and Parliamentary Debates on
Confederation. (Quebec, Hunter Rose, 1865) pp. 35-36.
Campbell, C. The Canadian Senate: A Lobby from Within,
(Toronto, MacMillan of Canada, 1978) p. 4.
Hopkins, E. Russell. "Financial Legislation in the
Senate," Canadian Tax Journal. (Vol. VI, No. 5, SeptemberOctober 1958)
Parliamentary Debates on Confederation, op. cit,
Kunz, F.A. op. cit. pp. 325-326.
Quoted in F.A. Kunz, op. cit., p. 18.
Eshelman, L. (compilation), Brooks, J. (update).
"Treatment of Bills passed by the House of Commons and sent to the Senate that did
not receive Royal Assent." (Ottawa, Library of Parliament, January 1987).
Campbell, C. op. cit., p. 19. Italics added.
Kenny, Hon. C. "The virtues of appointing Canadian
senators," The Globe & Mail (Toronto, March 26, 1993).
Forsey, Eugene. "The Canadian Senate," The
Parliamentarian (October 1982, Vol. LXIII, No.4) p.274.
Watts, R.L. "Second Chambers in the Federal Political
Systems," Ontario Advisory Committee on Confederation: Background Papers and
Reports. Vol. 2, Wm. Kinmond publisher, (Toronto, Queen's Printer and Publisher,
Watts, R.L. op. cit., p.334.
Sharman, Campbell. op. cit., p. 88.
Watts, R.L. op. cit., p.336.
Sharman, Campbell. op. cit, p.90.
Although in France's case, senators are elected indirectly by
electoral colleges formed by the National Assembly deputies, General Councillors and
delegates of the Municipal Councils, as opposed to by the people.
Hopkins, E. Russell. "What's Right about the
Senate," McGill Law Journal Vol. 8, No. 3 (Montreal, Faculty of Law, McGill
University, 1962) p. 16.
Jackson, Robert and Doreen. Politics in Canada: Culture,
Institutes, Behaviour and Public Policy. (Scarborough, Prentice-Hall Canada Inc.,
1990) p. 371.
Seidle,F. Leslie. op. cit. Janet Ajzenstat ed (Ottawa,
Canadian Study of Parliament Group, 1992) pp. 91 - 122.
Elections could be by the people or by their provincial or
No figures are available for 1902.
A 1988 survey by Robert J. Fleming in Canadian Legislatures
1992 (see footnote 34) showed that only 32.5% of Commons' members at that time had
prior experience as parliamentarians.
Fleming, Robert J. Canadian Legislatures 1992: Issues,
Structures and Costs (Toronto, Global Press, 1992) pp. 162.
Kenny, Hon. Colin op. cit.
Franks, Dr. C.E.S. "The Senate and its Reform," Queens
Law Journal. (Vol. 12, No. 3 1987) pp. 458-459.
The Senate of Canada: Legislative and Historical
Overview". (Ottawa, Senate Committees Directorate, 1992) p. 16.
Kunz, F.A. op. cit. pp. 60-61.
Purves, Grant. Speakers of the Senate. (Ottawa, Library
of Parliament, 1988) pp. 33-35.
Grenon, Jean-Yves. "Raoul Dandurand: Pionnier de la
diplomatie canadienne," Cap-aux-Diamants. (Vol. 5, No. 4, Hiver 1990) pp.
Knowles, Valerie. First Person: A Biography of Cairine
Wilson, Canada's First Woman Senator. (Toronto, Dundurn Press Ltd., 1988) p. 124.
Rowe, Hon. Frederick W. Into the Breach.
(Toronto-Montreal, McGraw-Hill Ryerson Ltd., 1988) p. 153.