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Will Canada’s Senate ever be reformed?

The Story


Conceived in Canada's Constitution as a chamber of "sober second thought," the Senate reviews bills passed in the House of Commons before they can become law. But in the century-plus since Confederation, the Senate has become a gold-plated reward for a lifetime of service to one's party. In this 1985 documentary for CBC-TV's The Journal, Keith Morrison finds many critics who agree that Senate reform must happen -- they just can't agree on how it should work or even whether it can.

Medium: Television
Program: The Journal
Broadcast Date: April 30, 1985
Host: Barbara Frum
Reporter: Keith Morrison
Guests: Jerry Grafstein, Doug Fisher, Allan McEachen, Blair Williams, Jim Gray Duration: 15:55

Did You know?


• In February 1985, the Liberal-dominated Senate delayed passage of a borrowing bill passed by the majority Conservatives in the House of Commons. Prime Minister Brian Mulroney was infuriated by the delay and asked Justice Minister John Crosbie to draw up a constitutional amendment that would limit the powers of the Senate. NDP leader Ed Broadbent also called for the abolition of the Senate.

• The furor was the subject of a 1985 Morningside panel discussion in which CBC journalist (and, eventually, Senator) Mike Duffy described the Senate as a "taskless thanks".

• No changes to the Senate resulted. In 1990 Mulroney used a little-known provision in the Constitution Act to appoint eight new Conservative senators to ensure passage of the Goods and Services Tax.

• Alberta began holding elections for its senators in 1989. As of 2013, three sitting Alberta senators were chosen by a provincial vote and subsequently (sometimes years later) appointed by the prime minister.  

 


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