Dennis Patterson tables bill to remove land ownership requirement for senators
Constitution requires Senate appointees to own $4,000 worth of land in province or territory they represent
Nunavut Senator Dennis Patterson wants to change the law to make more Canadians eligible to be appointed to the Senate, particularly residents of the territory he represents.
Patterson has tabled a private members bill in the Senate, proposing to repeal a paragraph of the Constitution Act that requires Senate appointees to own at least $4,000 worth of land.
He says the law means 83 per cent of Nunavummiut are ineligible to become senators, because they live in public housing, rental housing, or own condominiums.
"I just think that's completely unfair. Nunavut has the highest percentage of non-homeowners in Canada. But even in Canada, about 40 per cent of people, generally, aren't eligible to be in the Senate," Patterson said Tuesday in a radio interview with Kevin Kablutsiak on CBC Nunavut's Qulliq.
"I think what's important, I believe, is people who represent their regions live in their regions. It shouldn't matter whether they live in a condo or a cabin, as long as they live in the region."
When Patterson was appointed to the Senate in 2009, the former N.W.T. premier had been living in Vancouver for several years, though he owned property in Iqaluit. The question of Patterson's residency was still raising concerns with the prime minister's office in 2013 because he had filed his 2011 taxes in B.C. and was filing expenses for travel to and from B.C.
The matter of Patterson's residency was settled on Feb. 28, 2013, when the chair of the Senate Board of Internal Economy ruled in his favour.
At one point he also sought out legal advice on the property ownership qualification rule because municipal land in Nunavut can only be held as a lease under the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement.
Support from 'all parties'
In the Supreme Court's reference on Senate reform in 2014, the court ruled this change is the only reform Parliament could make without support from the provinces.
Patterson's "very confident" his bill will pass through the Senate, saying he's already garnered support from "all parties."
"This is not going to happen overnight, but I'm hoping to make progress on it before Parliament recesses," Patterson said.
"I think it's modernizing the Senate and I think it's taking out elitist, dated, feudal provisions, and taking out language nobody today even understands or uses."
Patterson is also proposing to repeal the property qualifications related to Quebec, which would need the approval of Quebec's National Assembly.
Change would also affect First Nations people on reserves
Emmett Macfarlane, a professor at the University of Waterloo, specializing in constitutional law, says if it passes, it will be a significant reform for Canada's aboriginal peoples when it comes to the prospect of becoming senators, since those who own homes on reserves are under a Crown lease.
"It's significant in that context because one of the guiding principles for the new Senate advisory committee, that the prime minister set up, was diversity," Macfarlane said.
"I think indigenous Canadians particularly are a designated group that would be considered, that we would like to see greater indigenous representation in all of our central institutions, particularly the Senate."
But he said he doesn't think the reform will change much in terms of who is selected for appointment to the Senate.
"I don't know that it would necessarily dramatically alter Senate appointments, or revolutionize the Senate itself, but it's a change a lot of people have called for."