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STATEMENT - Symposium on the Constitutionality of Several Senate Reform Proposals. University of Ottawa

 

Hon. Serge Joyal: Honourable senators, tomorrow, Wednesday, January 28, the law faculty of the University of Ottawa will host a special symposium - in fact, quite a unique one - on the essential elements involved in the future renewal of the Senate of Canada.

This symposium is organized at the suggestion of some senators, as was mentioned this morning by the Speaker in his address. The symposium follows the important ruling made by the Supreme Court last spring on the constitutional status of the Senate, after a reference to the court by the Canadian government and a unanimous decision of the Quebec Court of Appeal on the same issue.

The symposium will be the occasion for five leading Canadian scholars to share their analysis and reflections on the implications of the Supreme Court ruling for the understanding of the nature of the Senate as an essential institution of Parliament with a unique role in the legislative process and a composition that is well defined in the Constitution.

The Supreme Court in particular recognized the Senate as an essential component of the full legislative process. It specified that the Senate is a complementary legislative body to the House of Commons. What is more, it underscored that the Senate must exercise its responsibilities independently by expressing the point of view of the various regions of the country, including the point of view of minorities, and that the Senate therefore embodies, in its essence, the federal principle that characterizes our system of government.

The group of five noted scholars includes Professor Don Desserud from the Faculty of Political Science of the University of Prince Edward Island.

Professor Stéphane Beaulac, professor of law at the Université de Montréal.

Professor Errol Mendes, professor of law at the University of Ottawa; Professor Paul Thomas, professor emeritus of political science from the University of Manitoba; and Professor David Smith, professor emeritus of political science from the University of Saskatchewan.

This symposium, which will take place at the Gowlings Moot Court of the University of Ottawa, will offer to senators in attendance, after the presentation of the scholars, the opportunity to express their views with the scholars in the form of questions or comments. However, this symposium will be a participatory exercise of reflection that will produce a result. It will not be only a salon discussion that entertains academic views and adjourn without a result.

In fact, the objective of the symposium is first to pick up on the professional experience of seasoned Canadian scholars to get the comprehensive analysis of the implication of the ruling of the Supreme Court on the Senate, first, for a refined understanding of the nature of the institution of the Senate, and second, which aspects of the operation and composition of the chamber could be improved and enhanced by any avenues but without having to reopen the Constitution.

Once that first step of the exercise has been completed, a summary report of the various contributions should be published later, before spring, and then widely circulated among MPs, senators, MLAs and also former senators - for instance, Senators Lowell Murray, Sharon Carstairs, Noël Kinsella and Dan Hays - and of course the wider university community and even political party representatives. Once that broader consultation is completed, the refined report will be published and shared amongst senators and parliamentarians, for initiatives of renewal of the Senate to be taken after a consensus is formed among senators on the priorities to be addressed.

I cannot but stress the appropriateness of the invitation from the Faculty of Law of the University of Ottawa to all senators to attend, express their views and contribute to the renewal of the role of the Senate in addressing the needs of all Canadians in a contemporary Parliament. All senators will certainly be warmly welcomed tomorrow morning.