The Triple E Senate of Canada


Public interest in the Senate is currently stronger than it ever has
been. Nearly everyone agrees that our present Senate is unsatisfactory.
Political parties such as the New Democratic Party want the outright abolition
of the Senate while others such as the Reform Party want to elect it. Since the
Senate has not been considered an effective forum for regional representation-
which was one of the reasons for its creation-many Canadians have wondered what
reforms would allow it to perform that role better. The objectives of Senate
reform are based on one idea, that of enhancing the quality of regional
representation of politicians within national political institutions. Through
the implementation of a Triple E Senate (Equal, Effective, Elected), a federal
principle can be constructed into the national government and therefore provide
a check on the majority in the House of Commons.

A major function of second chambers is legislative review. This means
that bills coming from the other house are examined, revised and sometimes
delayed. Unless regional representation is included, the legislative review
function does not examine the purpose of proposed legislation, but instead
attempts to improve it technically. In federal systems, the legislative review
function of the Senate is only secondary to their role in providing for
representation for various parts of the country in the national legislature.
Representation is selected in favour of the smaller regions, in contrast to the
first chamber, where representation is always based on population. Therefore
the functions associated with the Senate are legislative review and the
representation of the various regions on a different basis from the lower house.

The Fathers of Confederation originally intended for the Senate to play
the legislative review role. As sir John A. MacDonald said, the Senate was to
have "the sober second thought in legislation" and should not be "a mere chamber
for registering the decrees of the Lower House". They also agreed on a
particular qualification of Senators, which was intended to help them act as a
check against the majority in the Lower House. This qualification has remained
unchanged since 1867, but its practical meaning has long been discarded.

The other major role meant for the Senate was to preserve what MacDonald
called "sectional interests". It is believed that this agreement about
representation in the Senate was the main factor that allowed the Canadian
federation to be formed. The Senate has functioned quite effectively as a
house of legislative review up to the present time, but its intended role in
regional representation has not been as effectively performed. seventy-five),
the Senate's ability to represent the regions of Canada has been weakened.
During long appointments, the responsiveness to the views and concerns of the
represented is not always guaranteed. There is also no obligation to account to
their respective regions and their representation is not put to any public test.
Even if Senators did perform an adequate role as representatives, the public
might not see it in the light.

The implementation of a Senate which is elected rather than appointed
would ensure that representatives were more responsive to the public. It would
also give the Senate the authority to exercise the substantial powers given to
it by the Canadian Constitution. Any political institution can obtain formal or
legal powers, but if the public does not want them to use it, these powers may
not be exercised. In addition, most Canadians have reservations about
appointments to a legislative body for such a long term in this, a more
democratic age than when the Senate was established.

Senators in our Upper House do not really represent anyone except for
the one who appointed them-the Prime Minister. It is because of this reason
that they cannot effectively express the views of anyone since their appointment
lacks legitimacy in our democratic age. However, when Senators criticize and
delay the legislative process, they only remind us of how much could be
accomplished effectively if only they represented the people who had elected
them.

Another important function of second chambers in federal systems like
Canada's is the representation of the regions on a basis other than
representation by population. When different people from different regions wish
to achieve a common goal while protecting their respective regionally-based
differences against majority rule, a federal system of government is utilized.
When this is the case, the Upper House is seen as a political check on the rule
of a simple majority. It also reflects the diverse interests of the regions of
the federation to the lower chamber.

In countries like Canada where there are two distinct linguistic groups
geographically concentrated within its borders, protection of the interests of
the minority group can be established through specially weighted representation
of the political units in the second chamber.