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Discovering the Senate's Fundamental Nature: Moving beyond the Supreme Court's 2014 Opinion

  • Gary William O'Brien (a1)


In the 2014 reference, the Supreme Court sought to discover the Senate's “essential nature” in order to determine what reforms parliament could legislate unilaterally. Making use of a classification model found in comparative and historical studies, the Court concluded that the Senate was a “complementary legislative body of sober second thought.” This article re-examines the Court's narrow definition of the Senate's perceived role and presents evidence that its essential characteristics are direct continuations of various pre-Confederation design principles. Limiting a description of its architecture to a single model that eclipses all other roles the Senate may play shifts the debate on Senate reform, which in the recent past has laid emphasis on resolving the conflict among the models embedded in the upper chamber's essential characteristics. The article concludes by reviewing previous constitutional initiatives that aimed at bringing those models more in tune with modern Canada and by making suggestions about how reform proposals could better succeed.

Dans le renvoi de 2014, la Cour suprême a cherché à découvrir la « nature essentielle » du Sénat pour déterminer quelles réformes le Parlement pourrait légiférer unilatéralement. S'inspirant d'un modèle de classification que l'on trouve dans des études comparatives et historiques, la Cour a conclu que le Sénat était un « corps législatif complémentaire de second examen objectif ». Le présent article réexamine la définition étroite que la Cour donne du rôle perçu du Sénat et démontre que ses caractéristiques essentielles sont le prolongement direct de divers principes de conception antérieurs à la Confédération. Limiter la description de son architecture à un modèle unique qui éclipse tous les autres rôles que le Sénat peut jouer déplace le débat sur la réforme du Sénat qui, dans un passé récent, a mis l'accent sur la résolution des conflits entre les modèles intégrés aux caractéristiques essentielles de la Chambre haute. L'article se termine par un examen des initiatives constitutionnelles antérieures qui visaient à harmoniser davantage ces modèles avec le Canada moderne et par des suggestions sur la façon dont les propositions de réforme pourraient mieux réussir.


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