Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Editorial Exchange: Smart Advice for Trudeau on Senate Reform

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Editorial Exchange: Smart Advice for Trudeau on Senate Reform

Article excerpt

Editorial Exchange: Smart advice for Trudeau on Senate reform

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An editorial from the Toronto Star, published March 14:

Justin Trudeau is committed to creating a modern, non-partisan Senate. He took the first step as Liberal leader when he removed all senators from his party's caucus, making them independent legislators. As prime minister, he has promised to follow a merit-based process in appointing new senators.

That's fine as far as far as it goes, says Senator Dennis Patterson, the former premier of Nunavut. But it won't democratize the upper house of Parliament. Senate membership still requires that an individual own property worth at least $4,000 and have a minimum net worth of $4,000.

These qualifications may not seem onerous. But they exclude all Canadians who rent apartments or homes, live in condos (they don't own the land), reside on aboriginal reserves (they don't have title to their land), or take a vow of poverty to join a religious order. Moreover, they signal to the members of Trudeau's advisory board that financial assets - not skills, contributions to the community, or a desire to serve the public - should guide their recommendations.

"It's elitist, it's inequitable and particularly for my region, it excludes the vast majority of residents from eligible for even being considered," he told the Star's Joanna Smith after tabling a private member's bill that would amend the 149-year old section of the Constitution that governs Senate appointments to set more inclusive criteria.

Nationally, it excludes approximately a third of the population, including many who are working hard to fight poverty and homelessness, speak out for people with disabilities and raise public awareness of the needs of the marginalized.

Changing Canada's Constitution is notoriously difficult, as past governments that tried to revamp - or abolish--the Senate have found. But Patterson, who practised law before entering politics, believes the amendment he is proposing could be made with a resolution from the House of Commons and Senate, supported by the legislatures of provinces to which it applies (which would exclude Quebec, which has its own Senate selection criteria). …

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