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The Triple E Senate Of Canada Essay, Research Paper

The Triple E Senate of Canada

Public interest in the Senate is currently stronger than it ever has

been. Nearly everyone agrees that our present Senate is unsatisfactory.

Political parties such as the New Democratic Party want the outright abolition

of the Senate while others such as the Reform Party want to elect it. Since the

Senate has not been considered an effective forum for regional representation-

which was one of the reasons for its creation-many Canadians have wondered what

reforms would allow it to perform that role better. The objectives of Senate

reform are based on one idea, that of enhancing the quality of regional

representation of politicians within national political institutions. Through

the implementation of a Triple E Senate (Equal, Effective, Elected), a federal

principle can be constructed into the national government and therefore provide

a check on the majority in the House of Commons.

A major function of second chambers is legislative review. This means

that bills coming from the other house are examined, revised and sometimes

delayed. Unless regional representation is included, the legislative review

function does not examine the purpose of proposed legislation, but instead

attempts to improve it technically. In federal systems, the legislative review

function of the Senate is only secondary to their role in providing for

representation for various parts of the country in the national legislature.

Representation is selected in favour of the smaller regions, in contrast to the

first chamber, where representation is always based on population. Therefore

the functions associated with the Senate are legislative review and the

representation of the various regions on a different basis from the lower house.

The Fathers of Confederation originally intended for the Senate to play

the legislative review role. As sir John A. MacDonald said, the Senate was to

have “the sober second thought in legislation” and should not be “a mere chamber

for registering the decrees of the Lower House”. They also agreed on a

particular qualification of Senators, which was intended to help them act as a

check against the majority in the Lower House. This qualification has remained

unchanged since 1867, but its practical meaning has long been discarded.

The other major role meant for the Senate was to preserve what MacDonald

called “sectional interests”. It is believed that this agreement about

representation in the Senate was the main factor that allowed the Canadian

federation to be formed. The Senate has functioned quite effectively as a

house of legislative review up to the present time, but its intended role in

regional representation has not been as effectively performed. seventy-five),

the Senate’s ability to represent the regions of Canada has been weakened.

During long appointments, the responsiveness to the views and concerns of the

represented is not always guaranteed. There is also no obligation to account to

their respective regions and their representation is not put to any public test.

Even if Senators did perform an adequate role as representatives, the public

might not see it in the light.

The implementation of a Senate which is elected rather than appointed

would ensure that representatives were more responsive to the public. It would

also give the Senate the authority to exercise the substantial powers given to

it by the Canadian Constitution. Any political institution can obtain formal or

legal powers, but if the public does not want them to use it, these powers may

not be exercised. In addition, most Canadians have reservations about

appointments to a legislative body for such a long term in this, a more

democratic age than when the Senate was established.

Senators in our Upper House do not really represent anyone except for

the one who appointed them-the Prime Minister. It is because of this reason

that they cannot effectively express the views of anyone since their appointment

lacks legitimacy in our democratic age. However, when Senators criticize and

delay the legislative process, they only remind us of how much could be

accomplished effectively if only they represented the people who had elected


Another important function of second chambers in federal systems like

Canada’s is the representation of the regions on a basis other than

representation by population. When different people from different regions wish

to achieve a common goal while protecting their respective regionally-based

differences against majority rule, a federal system of government is utilized.

When this is the case, the Upper House is seen as a political check on the rule

of a simple majority. It also reflects the diverse interests of the regions of

the federation to the lower chamber.

In countries like Canada where there are two distinct linguistic groups

geographically concentrated within its borders, protection of the interests of

the minority group can be established through specially weighted representation

of the political units in the second chamber. It was because of this reason

that the French-speaking Fathers of Confederation sought equal representation in

the Senate for the three original regions (Quebec, Ontario and the Maritimes).

This would balance out the House of Commons where there was no guarantee of

proportional francophone representation.

As it stands today, the Senate has 104 seats, which are divided into 4

divisions. Ontario, Quebec, the Maritimes and the western provinces each share

24 seats. Newfoundland has 6 seats while the Yukon and Northwest Territories

have 1 each. In the case of Quebec, 24 regions were created in order to have a

balance of anglophone and francophone representatives. Under the proposed

Triple E Senate, there would be 6 representatives from each and every province

while the territories had one each. This would provide for a new 62 member

Senate which would be elected at the same time as Members of Parliament. The

only exception would be Quebec where Senators would be hand-chosen by the

National Assembly.

The principle of equality simply means that every province or region

would be equally represented in the Senate regardless of its population. The

need for equal representation arises when provinces like Ontario are compared to

Prince Edward Island, Since Ontario’s population is so huge compared to many

other provinces, it along with Quebec could automatically become the majority in

the Commons when their interests were similar. The comparison between Ontario

and Prince Edward Island might be a bit extreme, but what it really equates to

is that Alberta and other provinces cannot have the same powers as Ontario and

Quebec. With equal representation, no province would have to worry about being

outvoted by such a wide margin that the interests of the citizens were

completely ignored.

The Government of Canada stresses the importance in strengthening the

role of the Senate in representing people from all parts of the country. Equal

representation allows the Parliament to speak and act with greater authority on

behalf of all Canadians. Meanwhile, a delicate equilibrium must be established

if the Senate’s role in regional representation is to be upgraded while

maintaining the effectiveness of Parliament.

At the time of its creation, the Senate was assigned extensive formal

authority and with only two qualifications, it would be equal in power to the

House of Commons. Not until recently were limitations placed on the Upper

Chamber’s powers as a result of constitutional amendments. However, even today,

no federal legislation can be passed until it has been passed by majorities in

both the Senate and the House of Commons. The problem of the present Senate is

not a lack of power, but the lack of confidence and legitimacy that would allow

it to maintain and use that power. The Canadian Upper House has all the formal

legal power imaginable, including a complete veto on any and all government

legislation. Even with so much power, the Senate has felt no justification in

defying the Lower House ever since the widespread democratic sentiment in Canada

not long after Confederation.

Another reason for the Senate’s past ineffectiveness is due to the fact

that Senate appointments are partisan in nature. The majority in the Upper

House would usually correspond to the majority in the Lower House since

appointments were made by the Prime Minister. The House of Commons will

continue to be the subject to tight party discipline, whereas it can be less

strict in the Senate, since it was designed so that it does not control the fate

of the government. Another reason is because the majority of amendments to

bills have been introduced to the Senate after it was already approved by the

House of Commons. Therefore, it did not really matter whether or not there was

a majority in both chambers by the same party.

One of the benefits of the Triple E Senate is that it will definitely

have a positive effect on the rest of Canada’s political institutions. If the

House of Commons was to have a reformed Senate watching over it, it would have

to work harder, implement more compromises into their policies and this would

make it that much more effective. The regional interests and views on national

policy can also be dealt with by a reformed Senate, thus allowing provincial

powers to focus on their respective mandates instead of just campaigning on

national policies.

Regionalism is a major force in Canada, one that pervades almost all

aspects of our political lives. Therefore, it is extremely important that a

means of expression is available to us in our national institutions. The Triple

E Senate builds a federal principle into the national government which then

provides a more effective regional balance on the majority rule of the House of

Commons. More specifically, a reformed Senate will enhance the visibility of

provincial and regional representation in Ottawa, create more effective

territorial checks and balances within the legislative process and improve the

credibility and legitimacy of the national government in disaffected regions of

Canada. Ten years ago, the concept of a Triple E Senate was unimaginable, but

it is very much on the minds of Canadians these days. Due to insufficient

regional and provincial representation at the national level , Canadians are now

asking whether we could not follow the example of other federations by

strengthening the second chamber of our national Parliament.


Campbell, Colin. The Canadian Senate. Toronto: The Macmillan Company of Canada


Dyck, Rand. Canadian Politics: Critical Approaches. Scarborough: Nelson Canada,


Fox, Paul w., ed. Politics: Canada Seventh Edition. Toronto: McGraw-Hill

Ryerson Ltd.,


Kunz, F.A. The Modern Senate of Canada / 1925-1963. Toronto: University of


Press, 1967.

MacGuigan, The Hon. Mark. Reform of the Senate: A Discussion Paper. Ottawa:

Publications Canada, 1983.

MacKay, Robert A. The Unreformed Senate of Canada. Toronto: Oxford University

Press, 1963.

White, Randall. Voice of Region: The Long Journey to Senate Reform in Canada.

Toronto: Dundurn Press Ltd., 1991.


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