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Canada court kills off government's Senate reform plan

By Randall Palmer-Fri Apr 25, 2014 OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada's Supreme Court ruled on Friday that Parliament cannot enact ma or re!orms to the Senate on its o"n# e!!ecti$ely %illin& o!! Conser$ati$e Prime 'inister Stephen (arper's e!!orts to ma%e the unelected upper house more democratic)

The court said (arper's Plan B -- to a*olish the Senate i! re!orm pro$ed impossi*le -- must "in the appro$al o! the le&islatures o! all +, pro$inces# not ust an outri&ht ma ority) Parliament has t"o cham*ers# the elected (ouse o! Commons and the Senate# "hose mem*ers are named *y prime ministers o$er the years and "hich rarely *loc%s (ouse le&islation) Be!ore pushin& throu&h le&islation that the top court mi&ht later stri%e do"n# the Conser$ati$es had as%ed the top court to pronounce ahead o! time "hat po"er Parliament has to ma%e chan&es) The court se$erely diminished the prospect o! Senate re!orm *y re-uirin& constitutional amendments) .n reaction# (arper thre" in the to"el# sayin& people %ne" !ull "ell there "as no consensus amon& the pro$inces and no desire to reopen the Constitution) /The Supreme Court has said "e're essentially stuc% "ith the status -uo !or the time *ein& and)))si&ni!icant re!orm and a*olition are o!! the ta*le#/ he said at a *usiness e$ent in 0itchener# Ontario) /. thin% it's a decision that the $ast ma ority o! Canadians "ill *e $ery disappointed "ith# *ut o*$iously "e'll respect that decision)/ .n its unanimous decision# the court declared1 /We conclude that Parliament cannot unilaterally achie$e most o! the proposed chan&es to the Senate# "hich re-uire the consent o! at least se$en pro$inces representin&# in the a&&re&ate# at least hal! o! the population o! all the pro$inces)/ .t added1 /A*olition o! the Senate "ould !undamentally chan&e Canada's constitutional structure# includin& its procedures !or amendin& the Constitution# and can only *e done "ith unanimous !ederal-pro$incial consensus)/ The Conser$ati$es ha$e lon& included Senate re!orm as a plan% in their election plat!orms# *ut (arper "anted to a$oid politically dan&erous ne&otiations o$er constitutional amendments) Past attempts to ma%e constitutional chan&es ha$e !ailed misera*ly# "hile in!lamin& separatist sentiment in the mostly French-spea%in& pro$ince o! 2ue*ec)

(arper had hoped to ha$e Parliament# "here his party holds ma orities in *oth houses# ma%e chan&es "ithout any constitutional amendments) The impetus !or re!ormin& the Senate mounted o$er the past year "ith a scandal o$er li$in& e3penses that "ere deemed inappropriate) 2uestiona*le claims !or e3penses "ere made *y one 4i*eral appointee and three Conser$ati$es appointed *y (arper) (arper's e!!orts to chan&e the Senate# e$en i! they !ail as the result o! the court's decision# may miti&ate dama&e to his political ima&e as he prepares !or the 5,+6 &eneral election) 7)S)-ST849 :9A:4OC0 The t"o salient chan&es the &o$ernment sou&ht "ere a !rame"or% !or senators to *e chosen $ia pro$incial elections and term limits on senators# "ho no" are a*le to ser$e until a&e ;6) To side-step the need !or a constitutional amendment# (arper had proposed le&islation that "ould retain the ri&ht o! prime ministers to appoint senators# *ut re-uire that they *e chosen !rom amon& the "inners o! pro$incial /consultati$e elections)/ But the court said the proposal !or such elections amounted to a constitutional amendment in itsel!) /They "ould "ea%en the Senate's role o! so*er second thou&ht and "ould &i$e it the democratic le&itimacy to systematically *loc% the (ouse o! Commons# contrary to its constitutional desi&n#/ it said# echoin& an ar&ument lon& made *y opposition 4i*eral constitutional e3pert Stephane :ion) An e3ultant :ion told reporters in the Supreme Court lo**y that an elected Senate could ha$e led to &ridloc% similar to that in the 7nited States# "here mem*ers o! the Senate and the (ouse are *oth elected) /.ma&ine t"o elected cham*ers paraly<in& each other# "ith the Senate contradictin& the (ouse not t"ice a decade as "as the case no"# *ut may*e t"ice a month or t"ice a "ee%#/ he said) /The 7nited States in the last !our years has *een una*le to come up "ith a *ud&et) .t's their pro*lem *ut "hy "ould "e import this pro*lem into Canada=/ The contrast *et"een election !or (ouse mem*ers and e3ecuti$e appointment !or senators "as /not an accident o! history#/ the court "rote# addin& that term limits "ere also so su*stanti$e that they "ould re-uire a constitutional amendment) /Fi3ed terms pro$ide a "ea%er security o! tenure) They imply a !inite time in o!!ice and necessarily o!!er a lesser de&ree o! protection !rom the potential conse-uences o! !reely spea%in& one's mind on the le&islati$e proposals o! the (ouse o! Commons#/ the court decided) The name o! the case is Re!erence re Senate Re!orm# 5,+># SCC ?5) (9ditin& *y Fran% 'c@urty# Chi<u Aomiyama# Ste$e Orlo!s%y and 4eslie Adler)