MLI Managing Director has authored a plan that would produce the kind of Senate Canadians deserve

OTTAWA, April 24, 2014 – On Friday, April 25, the Supreme Court of Canada will rule on a reference put to it by the government of Canada that will guide efforts to reform or abolish the Canadian Senate. The government has asked the court whether a constitutional amendment would be required to impose term limits or require elections for new senators, and what level of provincial consent would be necessary to abolish the Senate. According to Brian Lee Crowley, Managing Director of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, the government's plans won't result in the kind of Senate that Canadians deserve. Crowley is available for media interviews on Friday to share his perspective on this historic decision. Contact information is provided at the bottom of this release.

In an op-ed in the Ottawa Citizen and other Postmedia papers last November, Crowley critiqued the federal government's Supreme Court reference on Senate reform. He pointed out that while the public has grown weary of the recent antics of a few Senators and related scandals, rash reforms are not the answer. Crowley argued at the time that "the government's proposals would create the worst of all possible worlds: the Senate would enjoy real power but no responsibility." He pointed out that real reform would require constitutional amendment, and that giving senators the legitimacy of (consultative) elections without other changes to their powers and tenure could create legislative gridlock. According to Crowley, "the current appointed Senate would be preferable to such a misbegotten reform".

Crowley is the author of a bold plan for Senate reform in an MLI paper titled "Beyond scandal and patronage: A rationale and a strategy for serious Senate reform". According to Crowley, the real issue is that Canada's Senate is terribly ineffective in playing its crucial role within our larger constitutional edifice. His paper lays out in detail why Canada needs a Senate, why reform is necessary, and how it can be accomplished.

When properly designed, upper chambers confer greater democratic legitimacy on national decisions by ensuring that a double majority is needed, one majority of individuals in the lower house, a second majority of communities in the upper house. This is not a job for the premiers, Crowley argues. Their constitutional powers do not include participating in Ottawa's decisions about the national interest. Premiers have an interest mostly in strengthening provincial power.

Crowley identifies five principles to keep in mind in considering Senate reform:

First, an appointed Senate cannot have the democratic horsepower to do its job effectively. Twenty-first century senators require the democratic legitimacy that only elections can deliver.

Second, our parliamentary system requires a Senate that has enough power to influence the government when it really matters, but not so much power that it becomes the government or prevents the government from acting when necessary.

Third, the Senate should not be merely a smaller Commons. The Senate is a separate institution and should have a different mandate, powers, electoral system and terms of office than the lower house.

Fourth, we need to make sure that the Senate has every reason to focus on national issues and questions, and not be mistaken for representatives of the provincial governments in Ottawa. If the Senate is to be valuable it must be a voice for the members of provincial communities, but not of their provincial governments.

Fifth and finally we need to think about the distribution of Senate seats among provinces. There is nothing in logic or our history or the practice of federalism world-wide that says that all provinces should have equal representation. On the other hand, equality is a simple and intuitively appealing principle in that it treats all the constituent communities in a similar way.

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The Macdonald-Laurier Institute is the only non-partisan, independent national public policy think tank in Ottawa focusing on the full range of issues that fall under the jurisdiction of the federal government.

For more information, or to arrange a media interview, please contact David Watson, managing editor and communications director, at 613-482-8327 x. 103 or email at On Twitter @MLInstitute

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