Senators must be subjects of the Queen, at least 30 years old; have real property worth $4000 free of mortgage and a net worth of at least $4000; and reside in the province or territory for which they are appointed, and in Québec (divided into 24 senatorial divisions) reside or have their real property in the division for which they are appointed. Senators lose their seats if they become aliens; become bankrupt, insolvent or public defaulters; are attainted or convicted of felony or any infamous crime; lose their residence or property qualification; or are absent for 2 consecutive sessions of Parliament. They receive a sessional indemnity of $57 400 (1987) and a tax-free expense allowance of $9200 (both partially indexed for increases in the cost of living), free mail privileges, free coach-class rail transportation, and a limited amount of free air transportation.
The Senate was created under the CONSTITUTION ACT, 1867, primarily to protect regional interests but also to provide what George-Étienne CARTIER called a "power of resistance to oppose the democratic element." The HOUSE OF COMMONS was to be elected on the basis of representation by population. In 1867 Ontario was the most populous, fastest-growing province, but Québec and the Maritimes were more important to the national economy than their population suggested. They dared not leave matters such as tariffs, taxation and railways to the mercy of an Ontario-dominated Commons, and they insisted on equal regional representation in the Upper House, without which there would have been no CONFEDERATION. The Senate was not set up to represent provincial governments or legislatures, or to protect the provinces against federal invasion of their powers. The courts protected provincial powers, and the protection of provincial interests in matters under federal jurisdiction soon fell mainly to the ministers from each province in the federal CABINET. The first Cabinet had 5 senators out of a total of 13 ministers. From 1911 to 1979, there were seldom more than 2, often only one. In 1979 the Conservatives were so short of Québec and French Canadian members in the Commons that they had to eke out their Québec and French Canadian representation in the Cabinet with 3 senators; from 1980 to 1984, the Liberals were equally short of western members and did the same.
The Senate was intended also to provide "sober second thought" on legislation (though the Commons has passed very few bills that even the Senate could consider radical) and to protect minorities, but although the Senate was responsible for establishing official BILINGUALISM in the original North-West Territories, it has not been very effective in this role, partly because the Commons has done the job so effectively.
The Senate has almost the same powers as the House of Commons, eg, bills are read 3 times in the Commons as well as the Senate. It can only delay constitutional amendments for 180 days. But no bill can become law without its consent, and it can veto any bill as often as it likes. It cannot initiate money bills (taxes or expenditures). Neither House can increase amounts in money bills. The Senate has not vetoed a bill from the Commons since 1939. It killed one (in 1961) by insisting on an amendment the Commons refused to accept. It did not proceed with the bill to remove the governor of the BANK OF CANADA, because he removed himself by resigning. The Senate now very rarely makes amendments of principle. The amendments it does make now are almost always related to drafting, ie, to clarify, simplify and tidy proposed legislation. In 1987 the Senate temporarily blocked Bill C22 (pharmaceutical patents) but eventually agreed to amendments. In 1990 the Liberal dominated Senate effectively blocked plans of the Conservative government to pass the legislation for the unpopular GST. This led PM Brian Mulroney to use his power to add 8 senators in order to ensure passage of the legislation in 1990.
Much of the Senate's main work is done in COMMITTEES, which go over the bills clause by clause and often hear voluminous evidence, sometimes over a period of months. Committees are usually nonpartisan and can draw on a vast reservoir of members' knowledge and experience: former federal and provincial ministers, former members of the Commons and provincial Assemblies, veteran lawyers and business people, farmers, women and ethnic representatives, and even an occasional trade unionist. Its committees have produced careful studies on UNEMPLOYMENT, land use, SCIENCE POLICY, POVERTY, AGING, the mass media (see COMMUNICATIONS) and INDIAN AFFAIRS.
Senate investigations have produced valuable reports, which have often led to important changes in government policy or legislation. The Senate is usually less partisan in its operations than the House of Commons, but in certain areas, eg, tax reform, the heavy representation of lawyers and businessmen, many of whom hold positions with private companies, is reflected in its reactions. The Senate's legally absolute veto was expected to be really no more than a delaying veto because, until the late 1860s, governments were usually short-lived, and none, it seemed, would be able to build up a large enough majority in the Senate to block a successor government of the opposition party. But most Canadian governments since then have been long-lived, and as appointments are almost invariably partisan, the Senate has often had a large opposition majority, and for the last 20 years a heavy preponderance of Liberals.
A traditional objection to the Senate is that PATRONAGE appointees have no right to a position of authority in a democracy. Proposals to make the Senate more representative of regional interests were introduced by the Liberal government in 1978 but received little support. An appointed Upper House with a legal absolute veto on legislation had come to seem anomalous until the idea was resurrected in the constitutional debates of the late 1980s. Senate reform was widely debated during the struggles over the MEECH LAKE and CHARLOTTETOWN ACCORDS (see MEECH LAKE ACCORD: DOCUMENT; CHARLOTTETOWN ACCORD: DOCUMENT). Some provinces proposed that Senate appointments be turned over to the provinces. Senators could act as provincial representatives, defending regional interests. delegates, although critics charged that such a system would run counter to the principles of FEDERALISM and representative democracy. In the long negotiations over the Charlottetown Accord, the proposal for a so-called "Triple-E Senate" (elected, effective and equal), championed particularly by Alberta premier Don Getty, became a primary focus of debate. Following the collapse of the Meech Lake Accord, Alberta held a provincial election to fill a vacant Senate seat. Although not constitutionally bound to do so, PM Brian Mulroney appointed the nominee, Stan WATERS, to the Senate in 1990.
Under the present constitutional arrangement, ie, the CONSTITUTION ACT, 1982, making the Senate elective would require the consent of 7 provincial legislatures, representing at least half the population of the 10 provinces. So, too, would any change in the Senate's powers, or in the number of senators from any province.
Links to Other Sites
Parliament of Canada
The official source for current news and information about the Parliament of Canada. Also features online webcasts, Hansard, history notes and much more. Check out the useful "How Canadians Govern Themselves" paper from the Information and Documentation Branch.
The website for the Historica-Dominion Institute, parent organization of The Canadian Encyclopedia and the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada. Check out their extensive online feature about the War of 1812, the "Heritage Minutes" video collection, and many other interactive resources concerning Canadian history, culture, and heritage.
Senators and Members Parliament of Canada
An online guide to current senators and Members of Parliament in Ottawa. Includes brief biographies, notes about party affiliations and roles on committees, and other pertinent details regarding their work in Parliament. From the Parliament of Canada website.
How Canadians Govern Themselves
See an online version of Eugene Forsey's very readable book about Canada's parliamentary system of government. Also compares Canadian and American forms of government. Includes biographical notes on the author. From the Parliament of Canada.
The Canadian State: Documents & Dialogue
The Canadian State Web exhibition enables students to explore the various aspects of Canadian governance and to use a set of unique "real life" activities to create their own political party. The activities cover a wide variety of Social Science disciplines: History, Civics, Law, Language Arts, World Issues, Communications, and Canada in a North American Perspective. From Library and Archives Canada.
Canadian Association of Former Parliamentarians
The Canadian Association of Former Parliamentarians (CAFP) is composed of former parliamentarians who served in either the Senate or the House of Commons of Canada.