Editor’s note: With a federal election recently out of the way, former Premier Brad Wall feel it might be time to take another look at Senate reform. We hope to hear from him from time to time, if the fancy strikes him.

Brad Wall

 

Senate reform. I was for it before I was against it. But I was still kinda for it – I just didn’t think it was ever achievable. (If you are wincing at how much that sounds like something a politician might say … well I was wincing while I typed it)

I am also not so cognitively dissonant as to be unable to appreciate that Senate reform is not on any one’s COVID cluttered radar. On the other hand, isn’t this a season for the rethinking of things. What could be more deserving of such an exercise then our federation’s design and structure…especially given what we’ve all witnessed over at the neighbors?

My position changed from that of Triple E (Equal, effective, elected) Senate reform supporter/dreamer to a more fatalist belief that meaningful reform was an impossibility. Given the constitutional amending formula’s required path through Queens Park and the National Assembly of Quebec, I just did not believe that change could happen. And so I arrived at what I contended was the logical position that without the possibility of meaningful change – maybe we should just save the $100 million plus that the anachronism costs us each year. Seems like a lot of money to pay for rubber stamps, even if they do come with sober second thought.

Meaningful change to the upper house that could give voice to and remedy for the provinces would require a constitutional amendment. We know that recent Senate tinkering hasn’t changed the Parliament from being a de facto unicameral seat of government where something approximating representation by population is the sole conveyance of policy and regulation and legislation for the country.  For this supposition, Bill C-69, the so called anti-pipeline bill, is exhibit A.

Based on my conversations over the years with first ministers from either of the two most populous provinces, I had come to the view that opening up the constitution to pursue an improved confederation through Senate Reform was not on … and would never be on.

Though I had stepped away from elected politics prior to Doug Ford’s election as Ontario premier, his manifest generosity towards the Canadian energy sector and western Canadian interests has forced me to reconsider ever having said never.

Premier Ford’s nation affirming comments and encouragements reminded me of another Ontario premier, this one a Liberal: David Peterson. As former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney recounts in his memoirs of Peterson: “He had played a vital leadership role in Meech Lake – even offering to give up Ontario’s Senate seats to help the smaller provinces …”

The great irony of this period as it relates to the chance for some amount of constitutional remedy for western alienation is that the western Reform’s Party’s effective opposition helped kill the accord that might have given the region the only real shot at meaningful Senate reform, before or since.

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I have not met Premier Ford. I have not spoken to him about this or anything else for that matter. And like all of the country’s premiers and the federal government, he is, at present, understandably busy with matters far more important than flights of fancy from a retired politician about the chance for a reformed Senate helping lead Canada to some better union.

So my apologies to the premier if this, in any small way, adds to what can only imagine is an already full inbox. Still I cannot help but wonder if he, with the support of other leaders such as Premier Scott Moe, Premier Jason Kenney and Premier Brian Higgs – whom together have led nationally on other issues such as small modular reactor technology as part of our response to climate change – could help us achieve a transformational and uniting change to this country.

There are many views as to how a reformed Senate might look and act:

For me, it would be an equal Senate with each province allocated five senators and each territory allocated one senator. Aboriginal peoples would presumably be represented in the provincial/territorial delegations, but would also be allocated 10 separate senators. Senators would not sit as partisans, but as delegates of their respective provinces. There would be no partisan politics in this new Senate.

For me it would also be an effective Senate with the powers of legislative origination and the requirement of Senate approval for so-called money bills (the budget) and federal legislation in areas of shared constitutional jurisdiction.

And in an admitted divergence from what I once viewed as essential to a reformed Senate; for me, a reformed Senate could be appointed (though elected should not be a deal breaker). A Senate concept where its members are appointed by provincial governments might build support among the premiers for reform that assured the two most important ‘E’s’ of Senate reform: equal and effective.

The duly-elected governments of the Provinces and Territories could appoint their senators. Aboriginal organizations and governments would be consulted and self-determining as to the appointing of their 10 Senators. This delegation would represent the most significant constitutional strengthening of the Aboriginal position in the federation since Section 35 of the Constitution Act of 1982.

The terms should be limited to 4 years on a staggered basis to ensure some continuity and seniority in chamber.

In such a Senate there would be every opportunity for regions alienated by federal policy to find remedy. Bill C-69, The Impact Assessments Act, would have been dramatically improved in such a Senate. All of the amendments made to this bill by the current earnest but powerless Senate would have stood. Indeed, further improvements, if not the outright overturning, of the bill would be the likely outcome of its trip to a new reformed house of sober second thought.

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Consider a Canada with a real Senate; a Canada that constitutionally allocated equal representation to each of the units of the federation and twice that number to our First Peoples. Imagine this upper house free of party discipline and partisan whips, with real power to provide a balance to the population informed representation in the lower house. The notion of a ‘four year dictatorship’ that we all kick around when a federal majority government is elected in the lower house, without the check and balance of anything but a whipped Commons, and the anemic Senate would become its own anachronistic point of history.

It is true, that kind of a bicameral democracy can be messier. Decisions might take a little longer. There might be a little more debate and vote wrangling in the Senate and disagreement between the houses. The improvement to democracy and the unifying source of remedy for alienated provinces and regions offered by such a model are worth the odd mess or gridlock.

There are more variations on what bicameral reform might look like in our country then there are constitutional scholars. I offer the forgoing acknowledging what a long shot any kind of meaningful Senate reform is. I know how far this bridge is. But the country does need a bridge.

There is talk of a ‘reset’ as we come out of this historic pandemic; a reset that is focused on wealth redistribution. What if Canada took this moment to reset as a country? There is, in this, the potential for an historical change that offers greater meaning for a united Canada than any reset to the economic manifesto of the month.

 

Premier of Saskatchewan from 2007 until 2018, Brad Wall was widely regarded as the most popular premier in Canada. A die-hard Roughriders fan who somehow always picked the Riders in the radio show “Premier’s Picks,” he’s also an enormous fan of Waylon Jennings.

These days Wall tries to spend a lot of time on horseback in southwest Saskatchewan, where he resides in the Cypress Hills. We hope to hear from him from time to time, if the fancy strikes him, when he’s not riding or trying to rope.

Wall is a special advisor to legal firm Olser, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP, and sits on the boards of Whitecap Resources Inc, AltaLink, Maxim Power Corp. and NexGen Energy Ltd. He is the principal of a consulting business he started called Flying W Consulting. He’s volunteer chair for the STARS Air Ambulance Fleet Replacement Capital Campaign, a volunteer on the Canadian Cattlemens Association advocacy committee, on the advisory board of the Canadian American Business Council and the Fraser Institute. Wall also writes periodic opinion pieces for the National Post.

https://www.facebook.com/BradWall306/

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https://www.linkedin.com/in/bradwall306/

Launched Oct. 4, Pipeline Online is Saskatchewan’s Energy News. You can find it at PipelineOnline.ca, on LinkedIn., Facebook and Twitter.

  • 0023 LC Trucking tractor picker hiring mix
  • 0022 Grimes winter hiring
  • 0021 OSY Rentals S8 Promo
  • 0020 Sk Oil Show PO Ad 02 speakers with voiceover
  • 0019 Jerry Mainil Ltd hiring dugout
  • 0018 IWS Hiring Royal Summer
  • 0017 eventworx
  • 0016 Estevan Meter Services
  • 0014 Buffalo Potash What if PO
  • 0015 Latus Viro PO Ad 01
  • 0013 Panther Drilling PO ad 03 top drive rigs
  • 0011
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  • 0006 JK Junior
  • 0004 Royal Helium PO Ad 02
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