Senate Reform

Ottawa, Ontario
7 September 2006


Good afternoon. 

I want to begin by thanking Senators for allowing me to appear here today and discuss the issue of Senate reform.

I am advised that my appearance here today represents the first time a sitting prime minister has addressed a Senate committee.

And it underscores the importance I place on the issue of Senate reform.

So, given that our time is limited. 

And our topic is important. 

I will cut to the chase.

The importance of Senate reform

As everyone in this room knows, it has become a right of passage for aspiring leaders and prime ministers to promise Senate reform - on their way to the top.

The promises are usually made in Western Canada.

And these statements of intent are usually warmly received by party activists, editorial writers and ordinary people.

But once they are elected, Senate reform quickly falls to the bottom of the Government's agenda.

Nothing ever gets done.

And the status quo goes on.

Honourable Senators, this has got to stop.

For the Senate must change.

And we will be the ones to make it happen.

The Government is not looking for a report.

We are seeking action.

Honourable Senators, years of delay on Senate reform must come to an end.

And it will.

For the Senate must change.

And we intend to make change happen.

The Government is not looking for another report.

We are seeking action.

Action that responds to the commitments we made to Canadians during the recent federal election.

As you all know, during the recent campaign, we promised to push Senate reform if elected.

And I have come here today to personally reiterate my commitment to begin reforming this institution.

Reform that will make the Senate more democratic.

More accountable.

And more in keeping with the expectations of Canadians who, as we all know, are not at all satisfied with the status quo.

Recognizing the importance of the Senate

Honourable Senators, I believe in Senate reform because I believe in the ideas behind an upper house.

Canada needs an upper house that provides sober - and effective - second thought.

Canada needs an upper house that gives voice to our diverse regions.

Canada needs an upper house with democratic legitimacy.

And I hope we can work together to move towards that enhanced democratic legitimacy.

S-4:  a modest reform

A modest but positive reform would be the passage of S-4 by the Senate.

S-4 does not promise full-scale Senate reform, nor will it deliver such.

But it does represent positive change... limiting Senators to eight-year terms... amount of time roughly equivalent to the lifespan of two consecutive majority governments.

This, I believe, is a fair proposal.

And in keeping with the common sense of the Canadian people.

The fact that Senators can be - and sometimes are - appointed for terms of 15, 30, even 45 years is just not acceptable to the broad Canadian community of the 21st century.

And this practice has few parallels in modern Western democracies.

Therefore, we must act. 

The Government believes that S-4 is achievable through the action of Parliament itself.

And Senators will know that the 1984 Molgat-Cosgrove Report on Senate Reform not only made a similar recommendation regarding term length...

...but argued that such a change was achievable without using the general constitutional amending formula.

As you know, the Molgat-Cosgrove Report called for a slightly longer term:  9 years rather than the 8 proposed in S-4.

I believe the Beaudoin-Dobbie report called for a 6-year term.

The Government can be flexible on accepting amendment to the details of S-4…

…to adopt a 6-year term or an 8-year term or a 9-year term.

The key point is this:

We are seeking limited, fixed terms of office, not decades based on the antiquated criteria of age.

I have carefully reviewed your deliberations on this Bill.

Some Senators have said the Bill goes too far.  Others have said it does not go far enough.

But we can all agree on one thing:  it does go somewhere. 

Somewhere reasonable, and somewhere achievable.

And I would ask Senators -- when you resume sitting at the end of this month -- to bring your deliberations on S-4 to a successful conclusion because the Senate must change.

And Canadians will be watching to see whether the current Senate will make itself part of that process of change.

There's more to do

As I said before, S-4 is a modest reform.

More must be done.

And the Government is committed to pushing ahead.

As yet another step in fulfilling our commitment to make the Senate more effective and more democratic, the Government – hopefully this fall,
– will introduce a bill in the House to create a process to choose elected Senators.

This bill will further demonstrate how seriously the Government takes the issue of Senate reform.


In conclusion, I would like to read a quote from a book I reviewed recently. On page 206, the author writes, and I quote:

“Probably on no other public question in Canada has there been such unanimity of opinion as on that of the necessity for Senate reform.”

The author is Robert MacKay.

The book is The Unreformed Senate of Canada.

The year is 1926.

Honourable Senators, this institution, the Senate of Canada, must truly change.

And I hope you join us, the Government and the Canadian people, in being a constructive partner in that change.

Passage of S-4 would be a modest move forward.

And after that, we will continue to move forward with further proposals.
- As part of our plan to give Canadians the accountable, democratic institution they desire - and deserve.