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Queen's University

The Democratic Dilemma: Reforming the Canadian Senate

An in-depth examination of the Tory Senate reform proposal and what it means for government.


Edited by Jennifer Smith

In 2006 Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government introduced two bills to reform the Senate: one to establish limited terms for senators, replacing the existing system of appointment until age 75 and the other to establish consultative elections for the Senate with the prime minister nominating the winners of the election. Both bills have been heard in the House of Commons and the Senate but neither bill has been enacted into law.

The government’s initiatives are proving controversial for two reasons. One is the contents of the bills. The other is procedural and concerns the federal government’s strategy of treating Senate reform as a matter for Parliament alone to determine - a matter of federal legislation rather than an amendment of the constitution.

Contributors examine all angles of the debate on Senate reform. They address the constitutionality of the proposals and bring to light features of the bills that have not yet been analyzed, assessing their significance for the conduct of a reformed chamber. They consider whether the objectives of the reformers are likely to be met by these proposals or whether the result will have unintended consequences. They demonstrate how complicated Senate reform is, full of unexpected twists and turns, and show that successful reform requires a deep understanding of the country’s parliamentary system and culture and a delicate approach to institutional change.

Contributors include Jane Ajzenstat (McMaster University), Peter Aucoin (Dalhousie University), Louise Carbert (Dalhousie University), Don Desserud (University of New Brunswick in Saint John), Andrew Heard (Simon Fraser University), Tom Kent (Institute for Research on Public Policy and Queen’s University), Stephen Michael MacLean (independent scholar), Lorna Marsden (York University), Vincent Pouliot (lawyer and entrepreneur, Quebec), Hugh Segal (Senate of Canada), David Smith (University of Regina), Nadia Verrelli (Queen's University), Ron Watts (Queen's University), and John Whyte (University of Saskatchewan).

Jennifer Smith is a professor of political science, Dalhousie University.

You can view the chapter abstracts for The Democratic Dilemma: Reforming the Canadian Senate  In English and French.

To purchase a copy, simply visit the McGill-Queen's University Press .

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