Canada faces a constitutional crisis. The solution? Senate Reform.

Written By Amiel Pion, Posted on January 1, 2020

The constitution of a liberal democracy sets the foundations of and legitimizes the principles for that society. It’s the degree of consolidation that determines its longevity, as does an informed and involved voter base.

See the collapse of the Weimar Republic for the failures of such.

The main objective of a constitution is to limit the powers of the government and uphold the rule of law. Tyranny and despotism need to be kept at bay; if norms and regulations are enforced and respected. The political structure it espouses forms the basis of how the government should govern and how to balance different political interests. To ensure the health and longevity of our civil institutions.

James Madison describes political function, as “A number of citizens whether amounting to a majority or minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse by some common of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.”[1]

Herein states that conflict between different functions with divided interests is an inevitable display of human nature. We’re naturally self-interested beings – that’s for sure. But, the social contracts we ‘signed’ as naturalized citizens orders the chaos around us, providing a de jure safety net in the event an authoritarian entity seeks power. It prevents the abuse of power and is a necessity for maintaining the health of a democracy.


The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms Constitution (1982) codified the importance of human rights and provided constitutional protections for unique cultures (i.e. First Nations and Francophones) and other minorities. We also achieved political independence from Great Britain by codifying our constitution, unlike the latter.

This achievement, however, does come with some caveats. An outdated model that dates back to the 1688 Glorious Revolution in England solidified the supremacy of Parliament over the monarchy through the Westminster model, without any amendments to its structure.

For starters, it grants too much power to the Prime Minister, who can appoint senators that favour the policies of the governing party. Majority governments can easily ignore the concerns of the opposition, including regional representation in the senate.

In the United States, each state elects two senators, regardless of the regional population. Per the Constitution’s 17th Amendment, each term lasts six years. In Canada, senators remain until the age of seventy-five or their subsequent passing.

Statutory laws are passed with greater ease and rubber-stamped without regional considerations. 

Bill C-69 and Bill C-48 are notable examples that predominantly impact Conservative strongholds to the west. Trudeau’s Liberals tend to ignore any grievances in western Canada outright because the seats are unlikely to go Liberal. Compared to Central Canada, they have far lesser seats.

Result: It creates regional divisions that never heal.

Solution? Senate Reform.

As our neighbours to the south, the Senate should be elected. Regardless of their principles, they should hold the governing body accountable, and not be its lackey. Even if they are predominantly independent with centre-left tendencies, there is no excuse for a critical part of our democracy to be reduced to an unaccountable, toothless apparatus. 

We should divide the two houses to ensure “no communication to resist encroachments of the other’s ambition must counteract ambition.”[2] As a check and balance to the House of Commons, the Senate must reclaim its title as the chamber of “sober second thought.”

“If a majority be united by a common interest, the rights of the minority will be insecure.”[3]

According to Hans O. Staub and Harry Zohn:

“Democracy is, by definition, government of the majority. It is the protection of the minority (and its rights) by the majority, the control of the state (and its administration, its jurisdiction) by the majority – or by the “people,” however one wishes to define that term. But today, as our century approaches its end, such definitions have a ring of mockery. It is not the majority that governs. Minorities of all kinds have become the decision-makers; they dominate, tyrannize, or terrorize the majority, which appears principally as a conglomerate of constantly changing minorities.[4]”

The “flight into a minority … concerns itself exclusively with a small number of clearly defined vital questions. It may be flight into a religious or political “sect” that concentrates on a single dogma or flight into an interest group that fights for single causes.”[5]

“Individuals … protect themselves from the excessive complexity of [the] world … [by locking themselves] in the ivory tower of a specific cause.”[6]

Each province should get equal representation at the federal level, as Quebec and Ontario have forty-eight seats combined, leaving twenty-four seats total for British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba.[7]

Canada should adopt a similar model to that of the U.S. midterm elections. The Senate or the “upper house should be more representative of the smaller provinces, as it was to be the guardian of the rights and privileges.”[8]

Also, granting provinces that pay heavily into Confederation (i.e. equalization, social and health transfers) with the ability to opt-out per the constitution, would give said regions a leg-up in advocating for a fair deal.                                         

[1]  Madison, Hamilton and Jay: The Federalist Papers (1788) published by Signet Classics, pg. 72.

[2]  Madison, Hamilton and Jay: The Federalist Papers (1788) published by Signet Classics, pg. 318-319.

[3]  Madison, Hamilton and Jay: The Federalist Papers (1788) published by Signet Classics, pg. 320.

[4]  Hans O. Staub and Harry Zohn. (1980). The Tyranny of Minorities. Daedalus 109 (3), pg. 159.

[5]  Hans O. Staub and Harry Zohn. (1980). The Tyranny of Minorities. Daedalus 109 (3), pg. 161.

[6]  Hans O. Staub and Harry Zohn. (1980). The Tyranny of Minorities. Daedalus 109 (3), pg. 161.

[7]  Christopher Moore: 1867, How the Fathers Made A Deal (1997) pg. 106.

[8]  Christopher Moore: 1867, How the Fathers Made A Deal (1997) pg. 105.

Amiel Pion

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