The Honourable the Senate of Canada
, as an appointed body, performs functions that complement the democratically-elected House of Commons
. Honourable senators comprehensively review legislation and launch thorough studies, in a depth that an elected chamber does not have the time nor the resources to dedicate. Honourable senators also give Canadians the tremendous advantage of institutional memory, which ensures that we do not experience the ‘see-saw effect’ of rapid and uncontrolled change when transitioning between governments.
The Senate has powers entirely equal to those of the House of Commons, with one exception: The Senate cannot initiate
money bills, or amend bills such that they would increase an appropriation or substantively alter an appropriation. As the Senate is unelected, however, it very rarely exercises its powers to oppose the democratic will of the House of Commons except under very unique circumstances (for example, when Her Majesty’s Government for Canada in the Senate
attempted to defeat its own prime minister’s Goods and Services Tax). Were the Senate to become an elected chamber, it would habitually flex its democratic weight and regularly defeat Government legislation (the Senate even has the power to reject the Government’s budget, and would likely do so, on occasion, under an elected mandate).
There are countless constitutional crises that could happen as a result of an elected Senate, including the Government being unable to access its funds when the Senate repeatedly defeats a budget, with no mechanism available to appropriate emergency monies. Now, of course, the fact remains that notwithstanding the Government’s current position, the reforms that have been proposed would change the fundamental characteristics of the Senate and, therefore, would require the approval of the Senate, Commons, and seven of the Legislative Assemblies of the Provinces
representing at least one-half of the population, with each of the individual provinces of Ontario
and British Columbia
holding absolute vetoes over Senate reform.
Yes, the Senate is appointed, rather than elected — and this ensures that we benefit from the more thorough and comprehensive reviews of an appointed body, while vesting the majority of decision-making in our elected House of Commons representatives. Anyone who believes that major legislative policy decisions are decided by the Senate without the participation of the Commons obviously does not properly understand our parliamentary system. Our Senate performs the function that the constitution intended the Upper House to perform, and we should not tinker with the advantages that it gives us.