Honourable senators, before we take leave of this place for the Christmas break, I wish to speak briefly on an issue that is of great importance to me, that being the irresistible cause of Senate reform.
A clear majority of Canadians, when asked if they want to elect future senators, has always said “yes.” Most also agree that the primary purpose of senators is to effectively represent and defend provincial, regional and minority interests. A well-functioning Senate, whose membership is selected at the provincial level, is essential to bringing balance in a country as large as Canada, and especially one with its population so heavily concentrated in the center.
Senators also make and review laws that directly affect all Canadians every day. I believe that all lawmakers, including senators, should be selected by Canadians, thereby conferring upon them a democratic mandate from the people. Also, limited terms of office will ensure that Canadians can regularly choose their Senate representatives.
I used the word “irresistible” intentionally, because I am more optimistic for meaningful Senate reform today than I have ever been during the 15 years I have been publicly advocating for the cause. I say this for several reasons.
First, the status quo in the Senate is politically unsustainable. Canadians increasingly oppose the appointment of unelected senators, who can serve for decades without a democratic mandate.
Second, no prime minister since Confederation has been more committed to appointing elected senators than Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and his appointment of Senator Burt Brown and me clearly points to that fact.
Third, reasonable and achievable reform legislation, which does not affect the Constitution, now lies before the House of Commons.
Fourth, fully half of the provinces have either passed legislation enabling the selection of senators, or have introduced such bills, or have spoken in favour of them.
Finally, more than 70 per cent of Canadians surveyed in a recent Angus Reid poll expressed support for an elected Senate, including 72 per cent in Alberta, B.C. and Ontario; 77 per cent in Manitoba and Saskatchewan; 68 per cent in Quebec; and 75 per cent in the Atlantic provinces.
All these factors, in my view, are leading inexorably to the day when seven or more provinces, representing at least 50 per cent of Canadians, will join with Parliament to pass a constitutional amendment, creating a reformed Senate that is truly representative of Canada and Canadians in the 21st century.