In the Throne Speech for this current session of parliament, Prime Minister Harper’s government pledged: the senate will “either be reformed or, as with its provincial counterparts, vanish” – a poetic way to say be abolished.
Before making this commitment, the government had been advised that “unanimity” was required for a constitutional amendment to abolish the senate – authorization by 12 legislatures, Parliament’s lower and upper houses, and each of the ten provincial assemblies. Since then, the Supreme Court has confirmed this.
It is incontrovertibly clear that “reform” of Canada’s most unchanged and unchangeable institution is impossible. To fulfill its promise, therefore, the government need simply introduce a motion to authorize removing the words “an Upper House styled the Senate” from section 17, and repeal of sections 21 through 36, of the Constitution of Canada.
This is not about “opening up” the constitution, but closing sections of it down.
There is nothing to negotiate, least of all with provinces that decades ago set this precedent by abolishing their own unnecessary upper houses.
When Parliament’s upper house supports Canada’s evolution by voting itself out of existence, present occupants will receive generous severance benefits and pension credits in their bank accounts, and much credit in our history books, too.
Once all 12 legislatures pass this resolution, the governor general will issue a royal proclamation that the senate no longer exists. That number is now 11, in fact, because Saskatchewan’s legislature has already voted for abolition.
This unfulfilled Throne Speech pledge came from a government that thrice campaigned for and received electoral mandates to resolve the national embarrassment of an upper house that is unaccountable, unelected, and unnecessary. All that is needed now is follow-through. As a national leader, the prime minister himself ought to move the historic motion. And to remind everyone that this act of nation building transcends partisan differences, the leader of the official opposition should be the one to second it.
With damaging fallout from criminal trials yet to take place and audit reports still to be tabled, it is hard to believe that any Conservative would want to head into an election campaign without delivering on this unfulfilled commitment. Conservatives keen to emphasize economic and financial wellbeing could even point to yearly savings of some $100,000,000 in direct costs by no longer perpetuating what the prime minister himself called “a relic of the nineteenth century.”