The Senate – An Essential House of Parliament

The Senate – An Essential House of Parliament

The Senate plays a critical role in the form and function of the Canadian Parliament. In this article, the Hon. Noël A. Kinsella highlights the Senate’s role as a regional counterweight to representation by population, an independent source of legislative review, an excellent source for investigative policy studies, and a place where appointments can sometimes balance disparities in representation of the Canadian population in the elected chamber. This article is revised from remarks made to the 31st Canadian Presiding Officers’ Conference in Ottawa.

Yet again the Senate is at the centre of a constitutional debate. Last November, the Supreme Court of Canada sat three days hearing arguments on the Senate, dealing with various issues about its reform or abolition. These questions were brought forward by the federal government to clarify the parameters of possible changes or reforms to the Senate. In brief, the government wants to know what it can do without involving the constitutional amending formula of either 7/50 or unanimity. This concentrated attention is not new: in Quebec City in 1864, the Fathers of Confederation devoted six days to the topic of the Senate.