As the issue of Senate reform heads to the Supreme Court of Canada, a constitutional law expert at Dalhousie University thinks Nova Scotia could improve its political position through reform in the upper house.
Lawyers from 10 provinces and three territories began making their cases Tuesday at the Supreme Court of Canada, in a historic case that will determine how — or if — the much-maligned, scandal-plagued Senate can be reformed or abolished.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government has asked the Supreme Court of Canada to advise whether it can proceed unilaterally to impose term limits on senators and create a process for electing them.
Wayne MacKay, a law professor at Dalhouse University, said Nova Scotians could have a lot to gain from the process.
“Nova Scotians should care about the Senate and making it a more effective institution. Either getting rid of it altogether, or making it more effective," he said.
"That's why I think we should care about what's being proposed in terms of changes."
The federal government has also asked the country's top court to determine whether outright abolition of the upper chamber could be accomplished with the approval of just seven provinces, representing 50 per cent of the population.
The vast majority of provinces argue that the constitutional hurdles should be set much higher: the approval of at least seven provinces to reform the Senate and unanimity to abolish it.
The recent Senate spending scandal seems to have the public primed for change.
“I don't believe role models for a country such as Canada should be allowed to get away with what they get away with,” said Fiona Turpie.
“As it is now, I don't think the Senate represents Canadians. I don't feel I have a voice in the government any more,” said Deanne Rainville.
MacKay said elections for senators could be one way to restore the Senate's credibility.
“If elections were held right now, the senators Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau would not do very well. I think there would probably would be someone different composition in the Senate if there would be elections, not much doubt about that,” he said.
Because small provinces pull more weight in the Senate, MacKay thinks reform could be to Nova Scotia's benefit.
“If the Senate is changed in a way that it is more powerful and effective, then that's better for Nova Scotia and other small provinces,” said MacKay.
The office of Premier Stephen McNeil said the new government recognizes the need for Senate reform, not abolition. The premier is open to elections to choose Nova Scotia's senators if the federal government pays for the process and if Nova Scotia retains its strong voice in the Senate relative to the province's smaller size.