Senate Reform: Let Us Get it Right

Two reform proposals are before the Canadian Parliament now: Electing Senators to make the Senate more democratic and better able to redress regional imbalance; and instituting fixed, 8-year terms. These proposals are arguably not as simple as they would seem. Far from improving the situation, acting on these proposals without first anticipating unintended consequences could actually make matters worse.

The Senate can veto virtually all budgets and other legislation that is passed by the House of Commons. This power is used only occasionally because unelected Senators are reluctant to overturn legislation passed by the elected House. However, if Senators were elected, this constraint would be lifted and the Senate could literally grind governments to a halt, unless procedures for breaking impasses between the two houses were implemented.

While simply electing Senators to 8-year non-renewable terms would do nothing to address regional imbalances under the current seat distribution system, an elected Senate would cause a significant restructuring of power. The authority of the Prime Minister would be lessened and while this may have its advantages, it would significantly reduce the potential for decisive leadership. The speaker will outline other examples of what forms an elected Senate may take, including that of possibly becoming a powerful US type Senate.

Speaker: Senator Grant Mitchell

Grant Mitchell has had careers in the public service, business and politics in Alberta. He received a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in Political Science from the University of Alberta in 1973, a Master of Arts in Political Studies from Queen’s University in 1976 and a Chartered Financial Analyst title in 1983. From 1976 until 1979, he worked for the Government of Alberta and later he was an executive for the Principal Group 1979 to 1986.

From 1994 until 1998, Senator Mitchell was leader of the Alberta Liberal Party, Alberta’s official opposition. Prior to this, he was the official opposition’s House Leader in1993 and 1994. He was a member of the Alberta Legislative Assembly for the riding of Edmonton McClung and served his constituents with dedication and diligence from 1986 to 1998. Senator Mitchell later worked as an investment advisor and taught graduate level courses at the University of Calgary and Edmonton until he was appointed to the Senate in 2005.

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