Senate fight regarding constitution ignoring veto law
OTTAWA—An important piece of Canada’s constitutional puzzle is being ignored by federal and provincial governments as they argue over the correct amending procedure needed to reform or abolish the disgraced Senate.
Conspicuously missing from the hundreds of pages of legal arguments submitted by governments to the Supreme Court of Canada is any mention of Bill C-110—a 1996 law that made the already-daunting rules for changing the Constitution even more challenging.
On the other hand, the failure of Quebec and other provinces to acknowledge the law’s existence suggests they might not even notice if it was struck from the books.
British Columbia, which was granted an extension until tomorrow for filing its Senate reform submission to the top court, may yet raise the 1996 law.
But so far, the only intervener to mention it is Serge Joyal, a Liberal senator.
The 1996 law—introduced by then-prime minister Jean Chrétien in the wake of the nail-bitingly close referendum on Quebec independence the previous year—was intended to mollify that province’s long-standing demand for a veto over constitutional changes.
The general amending formula prescribed by the Constitution requires the approval of Parliament plus seven unspecified provinces, representing at least 50 percent of the population.
Chrétien’s law effectively changed that formula by stipulating the federal government would not ask Parliament to approve any constitutional change that did not have the consent of five regions: Ontario, Quebec, and British Columbia, as well as two Prairie provinces and two Atlantic provinces, representing at least 50 percent of their regions’ populations.
The federal government argues Parliament alone can unilaterally impose term limits on senators and create a process for electing senators, in which case the regional veto law would not apply.
But Ottawa maintains the so-called 7/50 formula would be necessary to abolish the Senate, which would trigger the regional veto law—unless it was repealed or otherwise bypassed.
Most provinces maintain the reforms would require 7/50 approval and that abolition would require the unanimous consent.