News, Politics

How Would You Change The Senate?


Image: Andrijko Z.
The Senate of Canada. Image: Andrijko Z.

What would you do with the Canadian Senate? Change the way Senators are chosen (appointed)? Get rid of it? Keep it as-is?

What is the Senate?
The Senate is a legislative (law-making) body of the government that has almost the same powers as the House of Commons. However, members to the House of Commons are elected; the prime minister appoints Senators. And these tend to be people from his own party, who have done good things for his party. Once they are in the Senate, they almost always vote as their party does in the House of Commons.

The Senate was started this way in 1867 when Canada was formed. It was supposed to be a place for “sober second thought”—thinking carefully about the laws sent to it by the House of Commons and sometimes improving them.

Because the members of the Senate are chosen by the Prime Minister, they rarely use the power they have. That’s because Senate members don’t have the same authority as elected politicians. After all, if Canadians don’t like what elected people (like MPs) do, they can defeat them by not voting for them next time. Not so with Senators. They serve, if they want, until they are 75 years of age.

So for a long time people wondered, ‘what if we could have a better Senate?’ Some people say, ‘Forget about it. The members are appointed and that makes it undemocratic and it should be done away with. Provincial governments don’t have Senates; why does Canada need one?’

The problem with that reasoning is that the Constitution of Canada (a document which outlines Canada’s system of government) calls for a Senate. Getting rid of the Senate would require agreement from all the provinces and the federal government. Getting everybody to agree would be impossible—or close to impossible.

An elected Senate is a great idea but hard to do. What would happen if the politicians in the House of Commons disagreed with the politicians in the Senate? It would end in a tie and nothing would get done.

We could go with the status quo—just stick with what we have now.

Or we could consider what Liberal leader Justin Trudeau has recently recommended: a non-partisan Senate. Non-partisan means the Senators are not connected to any specific political party. The Senate Trudeau recommends would be composed of independent people selected by a panel rather than by the prime minister.

There are lots and lots of questions about how this would work, but given the alternatives: Does anyone have a better idea?

Jeffrey SimpsonJeffrey Simpson is The Globe and Mail newspaper’s award-winning national affairs columnist.





By Kathleen Tilly and Joyce Grant

Writing/Discussion Prompt
The author ends his column with a question: Does anyone have a better idea (for changing the Senate)? What do you think should be changed, if anything, about the Senate? Why?

Reading Prompt: Analysing Text
This article is a column. What does that mean? How is a column different from a traditional newspaper article? Which style of writing do you prefer to read – a column or a more traditional news article?  Why?

Analyse a variety of texts, both simple and complex, and explain how the different elements in them contribute to meaning and influence the reader’s reaction (OME: Reading, 1.7)

Grammar Feature: Latin
The author uses the phrase status quo, which is Latin for “the existing state of affairs.”

Here are some other Latin phrases and their English translations. What do you think these sayings mean? Try to use them in your own sentences.

Carpe diem (seize the day)
Tempus fugit (time flies)
Semper fidelis (always faithful; this is the motto of the U.S. Marines)
Caveat emptor (let the buyer beware)