At the time this article was written, David
Peterson represented London Centre in the Ontario Legislative Assembly. He
testified before the Special Joint Committee on Senate Reform September 8,
We are considering reform of the Canadian
Senate because our existing structures and political leadership have failed to
address some of the needs of the Canadian people. In recent times, the Senate
has failed to represent regional or provincial interests adequately.
We have seen a situation where confrontation
has characterized recent political events in our nation i.e. petty squabbling
between the federal government and the, premiers, who appear on many occasions
more motivated by regional self-interest than by national concerns. I am
convinced that the average Canadian is fed up with the squabbling and it is our
collective responsibility to create a vehicle to marshal our strengths, rather
than play upon our weaknesses.
The persistent breakdown of
federal-provincial conferences, the failure to produce a united position on the
national interests of the day, can be traced to the lack of political
accountability of the elected representatives attending some of those
conferences. Before the lenses, microphones and pens of the news media, they
have postured primarily for public consumption back home, largely ignoring the
greater responsibility to reconcile natural differences of opinion which arise
in a country as vast as ours.
Under such strained and self-serving
conditions. Federal-provincial conferences clearly have not worked particularly
well. We must create a structure, an institution. which will place the national
responsibility squarely upon the shoulders of our provincial premiers, a forum
where the perceived rights of the provinces can be articulated but where the
premiers are also required to register their position for the national good by
way of a recorded vote. The essential thesis in my submission. is that we can
use this opportunity to institutionalize a national responsibility for the
provincial premiers, who have a much more significant role in our national
affairs than they have demonstrated to this point in history
I believe a new Canadian Senate could
provide us with the method of channelling our energies into more productive
Our land has been described as an
archipelago of solitudes tenuously connected by communication and
transportation links Conciliation, out of necessity, has been the politics of
Canada. It has enabled us to grow and survive as a ration for none than a
century. But in recent years conciliation has too often succumbed to the
politics of confrontation. Our political representatives nave been constantly at
odds. Their meetings have been punctuated by acrimony, serving to divide rather
than unite. Solutions nave become lost in the flow of inflammatory rhetoric. So
fractious has recent dialogue been that parts of our nation have seriously
considered separation, challenging our capacity to hold the confederation
Some of this confrontation, I would submit.
has resulted from understandably divergent interests from within this country's
distinctive regions. Clearly, the interests of the fisherman along the Grand
Banks vary from those of the miner in Sudbury, the rancher in Alberta and the
lumberman along the west coast. It is not unusual that each region should
develop its own set of priorities, which might from time to time be
incompatible with those elsewhere. But I also submit that the vast majority of
Canadians are anxious that the nation survive and prosper in ail of its
diversity and dynamism. I believe that the average Canadian feels the acrimony
which has characterized our provincial and national affairs in recent times
must end. It is the fault of us, the politicians, rather than the result of
narrowing regional self-interest.
We must devise an institution in which to
channel our energies more efficiently and effectively. Such an institution can be
the Canadian Senate.
Reformation of the Senate into a truly
federal national institution where senior levels of government can reconcile
their views and better co-ordinate the division of services to their peoples is
one method by which we can renew the sense of national purpose lacking over the
last decade or two.
History shows that federal-provincial
conferences have failed to fulfil this conciliatory function. Partisan politics
and regional self-interest have too often aligned to create an atmosphere it
tension in which negotiation is difficult if possible at all.
A reformed Senate providing representation
from all of the provinces and the federal level could be the vehicle we need to
enable us to prosper as a nation into the next century.
Therefore, I would propose a Senate selected
half by the House of Commons and half by the provincial legislatures, In
addition, provincial premiers and the Prime Minister could sit in the Senate at
any time as Senate members, and that indeed would be encouraged. Such a Senate
would safeguard and guarantee input from both national and provincial
governments on pressing issues of the day and areas of public concern open to
In a nation so diverse it is essential that
our political institutions fairly represent this diversity, and a reformed
Senate such as I propose would truly represent this political diversity and not
just other views of one government or even disparate governments.
The Senate would be transformed into a
full-time functioning institution where the many voices of the Canadian peoples
would be heard where the Prime Minister, premiers. ministers and other
representatives could speak and vote on any issue affecting our lives in
Other proposals have been made. We have
heard calls for the creation of a council of the provinces and to, a somewhat
revised upper chamber to continue functioning as a house of review. I suggest,
however, that unless we conduct a major overhaul of the Senate, clarifying its
powers and broadening its representation, we will do little to accommodate the
divergent views in the country and clear away the prevailing confrontational
I see a Senate as an institution offering a
secure representation to smaller provinces in the Confederation. It would
offset current disparities by increasing representation from the west. To
function effectively the new Senate would require that Ontario and Quebec
reduce some of their numerical superiority.
Upon his or her own election. each
legislator would be free to nominate a candidate to, the Senate. whose name
would be placed on a central list and qualifications debated. Candidates would
then be elected by their legislatures based on proportional political
representation within their own jurisdiction.
To my mind this method of indirect election
to the Senate would overcome some of the obvious deficiencies of the existing
appointment procedure. For one thing. it would suspend the worrisome trend
toward executive government in Canada. which, is exacerbated when further powers
are granted to premier/prime minister and cabinets at the expense of the
legislatures. It would also curtail patronage, which is undermining public
confidence in the democratic process. Also, it would cause a systematic change
in Senate representation with each provincial and federal election, thereby
ensuring that the Senate would reflect the changing political face of Canada.
What powers should be vested in such a
Senate? Certainly the Senate should continue to function as an institution of
sober second thought on legislation of the day. It would continue to coexist
but be separate from the House of Commons and the provincial legislatures.
Personally, I would like to see some powers
of veto vested in the new Senate to provide a real sense of responsibility and
accountability to the Canadian people. A Senate which could at least suspend a
bill for up to, say, three months would become an institution of real
importance, an institution of significance, and would have a positive effect of
allowing for public debate and of ensuring that minority rights are not
trampled even when the makeup of the federal Parliament changes dramatically.
The new Senate would be able to defend
provincial rights and have some power to make national legislators reassess
legislation when necessary.