Canada court kills off government's Senate reform plan

Fri Apr 25, 2014 1:16pm EDT
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By Randall Palmer

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada's Supreme Court ruled on Friday that Parliament cannot enact major reforms to the Senate on its own, effectively killing off Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper's efforts to make the unelected upper house more democratic.

The court said Harper's Plan B -- to abolish the Senate if reform proved impossible -- must win the approval of the legislatures of all 10 provinces, not just an outright majority.

Parliament has two chambers, the elected House of Commons and the Senate, whose members are named by prime ministers over the years and which rarely blocks House legislation.

Before pushing through legislation that the top court might later strike down, the Conservatives had asked the top court to pronounce ahead of time what power Parliament has to make changes.

The court severely diminished the prospect of Senate reform by requiring constitutional amendments. In reaction, Harper threw in the towel, saying people knew full well there was no consensus among the provinces and no desire to reopen the Constitution.

"The Supreme Court has said we're essentially stuck with the status quo for the time being and...significant reform and abolition are off the table," he said at a business event in Kitchener, Ontario.

"I think it's a decision that the vast majority of Canadians will be very disappointed with, but obviously we'll respect that decision."

In its unanimous decision, the court declared: "We conclude that Parliament cannot unilaterally achieve most of the proposed changes to the Senate, which require the consent of at least seven provinces representing, in the aggregate, at least half of the population of all the provinces."   Continued...

A cyclist passes the Supreme Court of Canada Ottawa April 24, 2014. REUTERS/Chris Wattie