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Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty is seen during the spring session at Queen's Park in Toronto, Ont. February 22, 2011. (Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail)
Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty is seen during the spring session at Queen's Park in Toronto, Ont. February 22, 2011. (Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail)

Globe Editorial

On the Senate, premiers need to be less provincial Add to ...

The disingenuous obstreperousness of the premiers of Canada's two largest provinces in the face of Senate reform is confusing.

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty is fighting on absolute principle. The Senate should be abolished, he says, because it is "unaccountable," and because abolishing it would be the "simplest thing."

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But the very reform he opposes (and has effectively opposed for years, by refusing to hold elections for senators-in-waiting) would make the Senate more accountable by making it elected. And abolition would require a constitutional amendment, making that path a very complex thing indeed.

Quebec says it will challenge the Conservatives' Senate reform all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, because provincial consent is needed for senators to be elected from their provinces.

The Senate was designed to represent regions, but unlike the U.S. Senate, it was not created to represent a lower level of government.

Quebec and Ontario, fear, of course, a dilution of their power. But how, exactly, would elected senators threaten them? It is hard to predict what the Senate, once it has elected members, will look like. In a perfect world, maybe we could start anew, fixing all kinds of constitutional irritants, including those involving the Senate.

But in the real world, reopening the Constitution is difficult and undesirable. Having elected senators is an achievable reform, one that would bring a new legitimacy to the upper house. That will be a good thing - the premiers who are fighting this are on the wrong side of the argument, and not in accord with the public.

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