Court gives thumbs down to Senate reform plan
MONTREAL - The Harper government's most recent attempt at Senate reform has been declared unconstitutional.
The Quebec Court of Appeal has ruled that the federal government had no right, under Bill C-7, to create Senate elections and set term limits without consulting the provinces.
It says the fathers of Confederation considered the role and function of the Senate in great detail, and the conditions they drew up were essential to uniting the provinces under one country.
Now if the Harper government wants to reform the Senate, the court says, it needs to get provincial approval.
The government's Bill C-7 would have set nine-year term limits for senators, and created elections in provinces that wanted them.
But that legislation is already on hold amid intense debate over the nature of the upper chamber, which is currently being rocked by a spending scandal.
The Conservatives have drawn up a reference of their own â€” this one to the Supreme Court of Canada, which will hold hearings on the Senate case later this year.
The provincial-court battle, which ended with today's 20-page verdict, began when the previous Charest government filed a reference motion in May 2012 with the Quebec Court of Appeal, seeking an opinion on the legality of C-7.
It argued that the bill was unconstitutional, that it threatened to affect the functioning of Canadian federalism, and that it would harm certain regions of the country.
Quebec said it cannot support Senate reform unless the provinces are consulted, because such profound changes to the country's institutions shouldn't happen with a simple piece of legislation.
Senate elections would create a new dynamic in Canada's Parliament, where two chambers could suddenly compete over legislation and each claim democratic legitimacy.
The Supreme Court of Canada is to hold hearings on the proposed reforms in mid-November. A written opinion could take months.
The Quebec government has said it hopes the appeal court ruling could be used during this exercise.