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Harper Government Advances Senate Reform

OTTAWA, ONTARIO -- (Marketwire) -- 02/01/13 -- The Honourable Tim Uppal, Minister of State for Democratic Reform, and the Honourable Claude Carignan, Senator and Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate, today announced the launch of a reference on Senate reform to the Supreme Court of Canada. The Government looks forward to receiving the Supreme Court's opinion on what is required to reform the Senate and what is required to abolish the Senate.

"Our Government believes that the Senate must change in order to reach its full potential as a democratic institution serving Canadians," said Minister Uppal. "The Harper Government received a strong mandate to pursue Senate reform and today we are taking action to further our goal of a more democratic, effective and representative Senate."

This is the first time in a generation that the Supreme Court will consider the constitutional amending process for reform to the Senate. The questions referred seek legal certainty on the constitutional amending procedure for:

--  Term limits for senators; 
--  Democratic selection of senate nominees; 
--  Net worth and property qualifications for senators; and 
--  Abolition of the Senate. 

"The Senate plays an important role in our parliamentary system as senators make and review laws that directly affect Canadians," added Senator Carignan. "Canadians deserve a more democratic Senate and the Supreme Court reference will help to advance progress towards that goal."

Should a favourable opinion be received from the Supreme Court, the Government intends to continue to pursue the passage of the Senate Reform Act. The Act would continue through the normal parliamentary process from its current status at second reading in the House of Commons.


This news release is available at

Follow the Minister on Twitter: @MinTimUppal

Related Documents:

--  Backgrounder - Senate Reform Act 
--  Fact sheet - Constitutional Reference 
--  Order in Council 



The 2011 Speech from the Throne reaffirmed the Government's commitment to Senate reform. Accordingly, the Government introduced the Senate Reform Act in the House of Commons on June 21st, 2011. The Act proposes two reforms; a voluntary framework for provinces to use as a basis for legislation to consult voters on Senate nominees and a limit on the tenure of senators.

Part One: Senate Nominee Selection

Proposed Voluntary Framework

Part one of the Senate Reform Act proposes a framework for democratic consultation with voters on the selection of Senate nominees from the provinces. Senators are currently summoned by the Governor General on the advice of the Prime Minister, pursuant to section 24 of the Constitution Act, 1867: "The Governor General shall from Time to Time, in the Queen's Name, by Instrument of the Great Seal of Canada, summon Qualified Persons to the Senate."

The Act would not change how senators are appointed. Rather, it proposes a method to give voters a say on who should be selected to hold a position in the Senate. The Act would not require provinces and territories to implement consultation processes. The Act includes a voluntary schedule, based on Alberta's Senatorial Selection Act, which would set out a basis for provinces to enact democratic processes. Alberta has held several Senate nominee consultations since its legislation was enacted in 1987. Senator Stan Waters was the first Senator appointed following a Senate nominee selection process and current Senators Bert Brown, Betty Unger and Doug Black were all appointed following this process.

The Act requires the Prime Minister to consider the names from a list of elected Senate nominees when recommending Senate appointments. Appointments to the Senate would continue to be made by the Governor General on the advice of the Prime Minister, pursuant to section 24 of the Constitution Act, 1867.

Part Two: Senate Term Limits

Part two of the Senate Reform Act proposes a nine-year, non-renewable term for senators.

Senators were originally appointed to the Senate "for Life", but that was changed unilaterally by Parliament in 1965 through an amendment to section 29 of the Constitution Act, 1867 (via the Constitution Act, 1965). The amendment created limits on senators' terms by stipulating mandatory retirement at the age of 75 years.

Under section 44 of the Constitution Act, 1982, Parliament alone may make laws amending the Constitution of Canada in relation to the executive government of Canada, or the Senate and the House of Commons.

In accordance with section 44, the Senate Reform Act provides that a person who is appointed to the Senate after the coming into force of the legislation shall serve for one term of nine years. Persons summoned to the Senate after October 14, 2008 would also serve one nine-year term commencing upon the coming into force of the Act. The Act would not affect the terms of senators appointed prior to October 14, 2008.

Terms for senators would continue to be subject to the existing section 29A of the Constitution Act, 1867, which stipulates mandatory retirement at the age of 75 years for all senators, regardless of when they are appointed (i.e., before or after the coming into force of the Act).

The Senate Reform Act also provides that, should a Senator's nine-year term be interrupted prior to the completion of the term, that Senator may be summoned again, but only for the remaining portion of the nine-year term. The nine-year term would not be renewable.




--  Under section 53 of the Supreme Court Act, the Governor in Council may
    refer to the Supreme Court, for its opinion, important questions of law
    or fact concerning the interpretation of the Constitution and the
    constitutionality or interpretation of any federal or provincial

--  The Court will then provide an opportunity for interested parties to
    make written and oral arguments. After considering the questions and the
    arguments of interested parties, the Court will render an opinion and,
    to the extent possible, will provide an answer to the questions posed by
    the Governor in Council. 


--  The Governor in Council has referred the following questions to the
    Supreme Court of Canada: 

Senate Term Limits

1.  In relation to each of the following proposed limits to the tenure of
    Senators, is it within the legislative authority of the Parliament of
    Canada, acting pursuant to section 44 of the Constitution Act, 1982, to
    make amendments to section 29 of the Constitution Act, 1867 providing

a.  a fixed term of nine years for Senators, as set out in clause 5 of Bill
    C-7, the Senate Reform Act; 

b.  a fixed term of ten years or more for Senators; 

c.  a fixed term of eight years or less for Senators; 

d.  a fixed term of the life of two or three Parliaments for Senators; 

e.  a renewable term for Senators, as set out in clause 2 of Bill S-4,
    Constitution Act, 2006 (Senate tenure); 

f.  limits to the terms for Senators appointed after October 14, 2008 as set
    out in subclause 4(1) of Bill C-7, the Senate Reform Act; and 

g.  retrospective limits to the terms for Senators appointed before October
    14, 2008? 

Senate Appointment Consultations: National Process

2.  Is it within the legislative authority of the Parliament of Canada,
    acting pursuant to section 91 of the Constitution Act, 1867, or section
    44 of the Constitution Act, 1982, to enact legislation that provides a
    means of consulting the population of each province and territory as to
    its preferences for potential nominees for appointment to the Senate
    pursuant to a national process as was set out in Bill C-20, the Senate
    Appointment Consultations Act? 

Senate Appointment Consultations: Provincial Processes

3.  Is it within the legislative authority of the Parliament of Canada,
    acting pursuant to section 91 of the Constitution Act, 1867, or section
    44 of the Constitution Act, 1982, to establish a framework setting out a
    basis for provincial and territorial legislatures to enact legislation
    to consult their population as to their preferences for potential
    nominees for appointment to the Senate as set out in the schedule to
    Bill C-7, the Senate Reform Act? 

Property Qualifications

4.  Is it within the legislative authority of the Parliament of Canada
    acting pursuant to section 44 of the Constitution Act, 1982 to repeal
    subsections 23(3) and (4) of the Constitution Act, 1867 regarding
    property qualifications for Senators? 

Senate Abolition

5.  Can an amendment to the Constitution of Canada to abolish the Senate be
    accomplished by the general amending procedure set out in section 38 of
    the Constitution Act, 1982, by one of the following methods: 

a.  by inserting a separate provision stating that the Senate is to be
    abolished as of a certain date, as an amendment to the Constitution Act,
    1867 or as a separate provision that is outside of the Constitution
    Acts, 1867 to 1982 but that is still part of the Constitution of Canada;

b.  by amending or repealing some or all of the references to the Senate in
    the Constitution of Canada; or 

c.  by abolishing the powers of the Senate and eliminating the
    representation of provinces pursuant to paragraphs 42(1)(b) and (c) of
    the Constitution Act, 1982? 

6.  If the general amending procedure in section 38 of the Constitution Act,
    1982 is not sufficient to abolish the Senate, does the unanimous consent
    provision set out in section 41 of the Constitution Act, 1982 apply? 


--  Canadians gave the Harper Government a strong mandate to reform the

--  The Senate plays an important role in Canada's parliamentary system as
    senators make and review laws that directly affect Canadian taxpayers.  

--  The Government believes that the Senate, in its current state, must
    change in order to reach its full potential as a democratic institution
    serving Canadians.  

--  The aim in seeking a reference to the Supreme Court is to accelerate the
    pace of Senate reform and to lay the foundation for further reform to
    the Senate. 


--  The questions reflect the Government's position that meaningful change
    to the Senate can be achieved within Parliament's authority. 

--  The additional questions will elicit the opinion of the Court on the
    appropriate amending procedures for a broader set of issues that have
    been prevalent in discussions on Senate reform over the past several
    years, and could pave the way for further reform. 


--  The Supreme Court of Canada will determine the schedule for the conduct
    of the reference. That said, there could be an opinion of the Supreme
    Court within 10 to 24 months of filing the notice of reference. This
    estimate is based on past references before the Court. 

The Order in Council is available at the following address:

Kate Davis
Director of Communications
Office of the Minister of State (Democratic Reform)

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