Forum on Canadian Senate reform today seeks to ignite national debate

The York Centre for Public Policy & Law and the Canada West Foundation will hold a joint forum on Senate reform today.

The forum is a response to the federal government’s initiative to reform the Senate through legislation rather than by constitutional amendment.

Panellists in Toronto, Calgary, Quebec and Atlantic Canada will explore whether a consensus can be reached as to the purpose of a reformed Canadian Senate. Panels will take place simultaneously in Toronto at York University and in Calgary through the Canada West Foundation. The locations will be joined by video conference and available for viewing via Webcast.

Right: The Canadian Senate Chamber on Parliament Hill

“We’re trying to spark a national debate on this issue, and it’s important that we do this now, before the government begins to implement its Senate reform agenda announced in the recent throne speech,” says event co-organizer Ian Greene, professor in York’s School of Public Policy & Administration in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies.

Featured speakers are:

  • Peter Russell, University Professor Emeritus, University of Toronto, and one of Canada’s leading constitutional experts.
  • Ian Brodie, former chief of staff, Prime Minster’s Office (PMO).
  • Roger Gibbins, president & CEO, Canada West Foundation, and former head of the University of Calgary’s Political Science Department.
  • Matthew Mendelsohn, founding director of the Mowat Centre for Policy Innovation at the University of Toronto and a former senior public servant,
  • Robert Roach, director of the Canada West Foundation’s The West in Canada Project. 
  • Lisa Young, professor of political science and associate dean of the Faculty of Graduate Studies at the University of Calgary, and a leading expert on political participation.
  • Jennifer Smith, a professor in the Department of Political Science at Dalhousie University and an expert on comparative federalism.
  • André Blais, professor of political science and Canada Research Chair on Electoral Studies at l’Université de Montréal and a leading political scientist and prominent figure in Canadian elections studies. 
  • Casey Vander Ploeg, senior policy analyst, Canada West Foundation, who has worked with Stan Waters and Bert Brown, two of Canada’s first elected senators.
  • Lorna Marsden, former senator and president emerita of York University, past president of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women.
  • Dan Hays, chair and partner at Macleod Dixon LLP, and a former senator.
  • Les Jacobs, a professor in the Department of Political Science in York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies and director of the York Centre for Public Policy & Law, and one of Canada’s leading professors in the field of law and society.

The forum will use a discussion paper published by the Canada West Foundation as a jumping-off point. The paper, “A New Senate for a More Democratic Canada”, can be viewed here. It details how Senate reform might lead to improved policy, better representation of the diversity of Canadians, a balancing of power between Parliament and the PMO, and strengthened federalism.

“This is the kind of discussion we need to mobilize public interest in proposals for Senate reform,” says Gibbins. “Canadians need to understand why reform is back on the table. Focusing on issues like the appointment process and term limits is not likely to capture the imagination of Canadians. We run a serious risk of becoming prematurely bogged down in the details of reform without first convincing Canadians there is a need for it.”

Greene also hopes that the forum will help generate ideas to advance the quality of the debate around Senate reform.

Left: Ian Greene

“The debate has become far too mired in politics. We want to drill down to the issues that matter for Canadians: Why does a reformed Senate make sense, and what purpose would it serve? In the past, debates about Senate reform have tended to occur primarily in Western Canada. We need a national debate if we’re going to get Senate reform right,” Greene says.

The first panel will begin at 10am. For a full schedule of panels and topics, and to watch the Webcast, click here. The Toronto portion of the forum will be held on York’s Keele campus, in 120E Stedman Lecture Halls.