Toward a Rational Redistribution of Seats in Canada’s Senate

Article 6 / 11 , Vol 33 No 4 (Winter)

Toward a Rational Redistribution of Seats in Canada’s Senate

The current division of seats in the Senate of Canada provides neither representation-by-population nor provincial equality, nor any compromise between the two. It is based on no consistent formula or principle. It is an incoherent hodge-podge of obsolete nineteenth-century regionalism and later exceptions and adjustments. This paper proposes three fundamental principles that might assist future leaders in rethinking seat distribution. First, the obsolete regionalism that formed the basis of the current distribution of Senate seats ought to be abandoned and seats distributed on a strictly provincial basis; second, the distribution of seats ought to give some weight to the equal franchise of each province as a member of the Canadian federation; and third, to the extent that the number of seats held by each province is based on a variable (such as population), the constitution should entrench a formula responsive to that variable instead of a fixed allocation, to reduce the necessity of future constitutional amendments.

At present, there are 105 regular seats in the Senate. One province has four seats, five provinces have six each, two have ten each, two have 24 each, and the territories have one each. These various levels of representation are purely arbitrary, and not connected to population, geographic size, cultural distinctiveness or any other factor. The Prime Minister may appoint either four or eight extra Senators to pass contentious legislation. None of those extra Senators may come from Newfoundland and Labrador or any of the territories. Many Senators represent entire provinces, but many others choose a specific area within the province as their ‘senatorial designation.’ Only Quebec has permanently delineated senatorial districts. None of those districts are in Quebec’s north, so that region is formally without any representation in the Senate.

Electing Senators by the Single Transferable Vote

Article 9 / 13 , Vol 33 No 1 (Spring)

Electing Senators by the Single Transferable Vote

Calls for the democratization of the Canadian Senate began before the ink was dry on the British North America Act, and have intensified as Canada’s democratic standards have evolved. In recent decades, a multitude of commissions and committees have recommended every conceivable means of selecting Senators. The current federal government has introduced legislation “to provide for consultations with electors on their preferences for appointments to the Senate,” and to limit Senator’s terms of office to eight years. This article examines some recent proposals and suggests that the best means of selecting Senators would be by election using the Single Transferable Vote.