Canada’s top court says 7 provinces with half the population needed for any reform
By Leslie MacKinnon, CBC News Posted: Apr 25, 2014 9:54 AM ET Last Updated: Apr 25, 2014 10:32 AM ET
The Supreme Court of Canada has denied the federal government the power to enact nearly all of the changes it had proposed for the Senate.
In a unanimous decision released Friday, eight judges of the top court concluded that implementing fixed terms for senators or provincial elections for Senate candidates would require the consent of seven provinces representing half the population. The government had asked whether it could legislate these changes on its own.
‘The desirability of these changes is not a question for the Court; it is an issue for Canadians and their legislatures.’– Supreme Court of Canada opinion on proposed Senate changes
On the key question of how the Senate could be abolished, the court said the consent of all the provinces would be necessary.
The only reform the government can make unilaterally, according to the court, is to eliminate the archaic requirement that senators must own at least $4,000 worth of property in the province they represent.
The court made it clear in its ruling that it is merely providing a legal framework for implementing specific changes to the Senate and that is has no opinion as to the merit of the proposals.
“The desirability of these changes is not a question for the Court; it is an issue for Canadians and their legislatures,” the judges said in a 59-page decision.
The opinion marks the first time the highest court has taken a comprehensive look at the amending formula set out in the Constitution Act of 1982.
Last summer, Prime Minister Stephen Harper asked the Supreme Court to advise the government on four questions.
The first three questions inquired whether Parliament, on its own, can make changes to senators’ terms, qualifications and method of selection:
- Can senators be appointed for terms of 8, 9 or 10 years, or for the lives of a couple of Parliament sessions?
- Can senators be chosen by consultations with the provinces in the form of provincial elections, as has happened in Alberta?
- Can the archaic requirement of a senator owning at least $4,000 worth of property in his or her province be eliminated?
Finally, there is a question about the Senate’s future: Can the Senate be abolished with the consent of seven provinces representing 50 per cent of the country’s population, known as the 7/50 formula, or is the consent of all provinces mandatory?