The Applicability of the Salisbury Doctrine to Canada’s Bi-Cameral Parliament

The Applicability of the Salisbury Doctrine to Canada’s Bi-Cameral Parliament

The presence of a large number of non-partisan Senators, the work of the Special Senate Committee on Senate Modernization, and the growth of a more activist Senate has focused much attention on the Salisbury Doctrine. This convention of the United Kingdom’s Parliament holds that the appointed House of Lords should not reject a government bill passed by the elected House of Commons if the content of the bill was part of the government’s electoral campaign platform. In this article, the author outlines the Salisbury Doctrine, examines political consideration which may have influenced its development and use, and reviews whether it may be applicable in Canada’s bi-cameral Parliament. He contends Canada’s Senate should not be beholden to the Salisbury Doctrine. The author concludes that while the Senate should show deference to the elected Commons when necessary, it should not accept any agreement, legal or political, that hampers its ability to outright reject any bill it deems outside the apparent and discernable popular will. However, he suggests the Senate should exercise this power with restraint.

The recently more activist Senate has given rise to the consideration of the applicability of the Salisbury Doctrine, a convention of the United Kingdom’s Parliament, to Canada’s bi-cameral Parliament. At its core, the modern interpretation of the Salisbury Doctrine is that the appointed House of Lords should not reject a government bill passed by the elected House of Commons if the content of the bill was part of the government’s electoral campaign platform.1