Academic journal article Canadian Parliamentary Review

The Applicability of the Salisbury Doctrine to Canada's Bi-Cameral Parliament

Academic journal article Canadian Parliamentary Review

The Applicability of the Salisbury Doctrine to Canada's Bi-Cameral Parliament

Article excerpt

The presence of a large number of non-partisan Senators, the work of the Special Senate Committee on Senate Modernization, and the growth of a more activist Senate has focused much attention on the Salisbury Doctrine. This convention of the United Kingdom's Parliament holds that the appointed House of Lords should not reject a government bill passed by the elected House of Commons if the content of the bill was part of the government's electoral campaign platform. In this article, the author outlines the Salisbury Doctrine, examines political consideration which may have influenced its development and use, and reviews whether it may be applicable in Canada's bicameral Parliament. He contends Canada's Senate should not be beholden to the Salisbury Doctrine. The author concludes that while the Senate should show deference to the elected Commons when necessary, it should not accept any agreement, legal or political, that hampers its ability to outright reject any bill it deems outside the apparent and discernable popular will. However, he suggests the Senate should exercise this power with restraint.

The recently more activist Senate has given rise to the consideration of the applicability of the Salisbury Doctrine, a convention of the United Kingdom's Parliament, to Canada's bi-cameral Parliament. At its core, the modern interpretation of the Salisbury Doctrine is that the appointed House of Lords should not reject a government bill passed by the elected House of Commons if the content of the bill was part of the government's electoral campaign platform. (1)

The Salisbury Doctrine is relatively new, dating back to 1945 when the Labour Party won a strong majority in the House of Commons. The new Labour Government faced a large Conservative Party majority in the Lords. The then Viscount Cranborne (later the Fifth Marquess of Salisbury), the Conservative Leader of the Opposition in the Lords along with his counterpart the Viscount Addison, the Labour Leader of the Government in the Lords, developed what became known as the Salisbury Doctrine, so as to not paralyze the legislative agenda of the government by having government bills unduly blocked in the Lords. (2)

However, the Doctrine has its roots much further back than 1945 and in fact speaks to a larger subject--the relationship between the House of Commons and the House of Lords.

As early as 1832 during the debate of the Reform Bill, which would expand the electorate in Britain and signal the beginning of the shift of political power from the Lords to the Commons, it was stated by the Duke of Wellington that no matter how bad a bill is that comes from the Commons, if it was a government bill that was endorsed by the elected house, the Lords had a duty to pass it. However, the

Third Marquess of Salisbury proposed that the House of Lords had a 'referendal function'; which meant that if the Government of the day was using the Commons merely as its tool to pass a bill for which there was no expressed mandate of support from the people then the Lords had a duty to defeat the Bill. This theory put the Lords in the position of guardians of the people despite their non-elected nature. (3)

Political considerations

The 1945 agreement which gave rise to the Doctrine has been interpreted as a face-saving measure by the Conservative Lords. The appointed nature of the Lords, at that time still largely a hereditary body, often generated low popular opinion of the Lords. The Labour Party, portraying itself as the party of the people and the workers, could have easily whipped up popular opinion against the Lords and by extension the Conservative Party who held the majority there. That may have been the reason why Viscount Cranborne proposed the Salisbury Doctrine in the first place, so as to not injure the popular opinion of his party. (4)

The politics of popular opinion aside, there was another fear amongst the Lords--that of being swamped. …

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