I came across this speech today – an address by then rookie Prime Minister Stephen Harper before a Senate committee discussing his plans to reform the upper chamber. Some seven years later, the federal government is readying to argue Parliament has the power to move ahead alone with reforms including implementing term limits before the Supreme Court of Canada next week.
There’s video here
Harper on 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.
On “modest” Senate reforms like term limits:
“We must act. The Government believes that S-4 is achievable through the action of Parliament itself….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.
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.