Monday, July 27, 2015

Appointing senators

Who appoints people to the Canadian senate? Many think the Prime Minister of the day appoints. This is not the case. The Canadian constitution is clear:
The Governor General shall from Time to Time, in the Queen's Name, by Instrument under the Great Seal of Canada, summon qualified Persons to the Senate; and, subject to the Provisions of this Act, every Person so summoned shall become and be a Member of the Senate and a Senator.
By convention, the Governor General appoints those whom the Prime Minister recommends. The Wikipedia page on the Prime Minister of Canada explains it well when it says:
As such, the prime minister, supported by the Office of the Prime Minister (PMO), controls the appointments of many key figures in Canada's system of governance, including the governor general, the Cabinet, justices of the Supreme Court, senators, heads of crown corporationsambassadors to foreign countries, the provincial lieutenant governors, and approximately 3,100 other positions.
Since last week we are now in a position where the Prime Minister has declared a moratorium on future senate appointments. Twenty-two of  the 105 seats are vacant, and it is the will of Mr. Harper that this number of vacancies should increase.

Mr. Harper wants to bring reform to the scandal-plagued senate, but the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) ruled that Ottawa cannot act alone to reform the senate, to limit terms, to appoint only elected senators ("Triple E Senate"), but must have the consent of seven provinces representing half the population of Canada to make any changes. Since Mr. Harper feels stymied by the SCC, he has declared his moratorium and has challenged the provinces to pick up the ball on senate reform, or it will be  death of attrition.

However, he seems to have forgotten that the appointment of senators is not within his constitutional powers to perform but within those of the Governor General as representative of the Queen. What should be done?

First we need to be clear on the constitutional fact that the senate is not to be allowed simply to die. The Governor General of the day, His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston, has the duty, according to the constitution, to make the government work, and part of that responsibility is the maintenance of a viable senate. If Mr. Harper will not recommend any people for Mr. Johnston to appoint, then Mr. Johnston, as the Queen's representative, has the obligation to act regardless. Surely he, upon good advice, can come up with the names of twenty-two noble Canadians to appoint as senators.

I do not hold this position because I am in favour of the present senate, which seems monstrously filled with people gleefully "entitled to their entitlements," but because people should perform the duties with which they are charged. The Governor General should not make himself complicit with Mr. Harper's hissy fit.