In a landmark decision announced on Friday, Canada’s top court has clarified that the federal government cannot individually reform the Senate or abolish it outright. The court explained that the government needs agreement of at least seven provinces, representing half the country’s population, to set term limits or allow for elections for Senate nominees. Whereas, in order to abolish the Senate, the court said a unanimous agreement of all provinces is needed along with the agreement of the Senate itself.
The legal opinion signed by every member of the court has turned out to be a major blow to the government’s proposals for Senate reform, which it wanted to push through without opening up the Constitution. The unanimous court decision states that “parliament cannot unilaterally achieve most of the proposed changes to the Senate” because “the desirability of these changes is not a question for the court; it is an issue for Canadians and their legislatures.”
On the other hand, the Liberals accused the Harper government of being “deliberately misleading” in asserting that they could implement Senate reforms without opening the Constitution. Liberal Intergovernmental Affairs Critic, Stéphane Dion, mentioned in a statement that “The Supreme Court has clearly stated that the Harper Conservatives cannot achieve their Senate reform proposals without opening up the Constitution.” It was added that the “Liberals have already shown that Senate reform can occur without re-opening the Constitution, and we challenge the Prime Minster to match our action in making Senators independent of political parties and end partisanship in the Senate.”
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