Dr.Dawg

Senate abolition and the experts

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Does binning the Senate and putting its assorted fogeys, lackeys, bagpersons and stamplickers out to pasture require unanimous support of the ten provinces, the House of Commons, and the Senate itself?

So say the “experts.” I use shudder-quotes because we are meant to shudder. When authorities pronounce from Olympus, mere mortals must tremble, tug our forelocks and ask no questions:

“They really haven’t done much homework on the pros and cons of bicameralism. I don’t know if they honestly know how to spell the word,” constitutional expert Peter Russell said of the NDP’s calls for abolition.

One can see his aristocratic lip curling.

The “expert” consensus is that abolishing the Senate is an impossibly steep hill to climb. It’s all there in Section 41 (b) of the Constitution Act, they insist.

I have nothing against experts: this is an age where the sheer volume of specialized knowledge requires them. But that doesn’t mean we should abandon our intellectual scepticism altogether and merely bathe in their radiant light. Here is Section 41(b) in its entirely:

  1. An amendment to the Constitution of Canada in relation to the following matters may be made by proclamation issued by the Governor General under the Great Seal of Canada only where authorized by resolutions of the Senate and House of Commons and of the legislative assemblies of each province:

…(b) the right of a province to a number of members in the House of Commons not less than the number of Senators by which the province is entitled to be represented at the time this Part comes into force;

On its face, this refers to representation in the House of Commons. In referring to the Senate, it takes a snapshot in time: the number of MPs from any province will be not less than the number of Senators that existed when the Section actually came into effect.

The Section appears to say nothing about the future of the Senate, and does not address its abolition.

The coterie of academics cited in the article do not agree on the efficacy of the Senate, at least. But their defeatism is dispiriting. Can nothing really be done to rid our country of those ragtag Constitutional squatters?

I know that there are some constitutional experts who take a peek at this blog from time to time. Perhaps some recondite meaning is indeed lurking beneath what appears to be plain, unequivocal language. I would be more than willing to have the matter explained—but not declaimed.

UPDATE: Interesting Twitter convo.

UPPERDATE: Professor Ryder has confirmed that he was misquoted: he referenced Section 41(e), not (b).

Here is Section 41(e):

  1. An amendment to the Constitution of Canada in relation to the following matters may be made by proclamation issued by the Governor General under the Great Seal of Canada only where authorized by resolutions of the Senate and House of Commons and of the legislative assembly of each province:

…(e) an amendment to this Part.

The argument is that abolishing the Senate involves a change to the Constitutional amending formula, because a resolution in the Senate is required for a Constitutional amendment. I don’t necessarily agree—abolishing the Senate may simply make Constitutional references to the Senate moot—but, as always, I am open to explanation and, within limits, to instruction.

UPPESTDATE: (February 20, h/t Stephen Neil) A much more comprehensive look at the question. /how-difficult-is-senate-abolition-law.html

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This page contains a single entry by Dr.Dawg published on February 18, 2013 10:01 AM.

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