While much of the world’s attention on Canadian politics has been focused on the bizarre scenes that have been unfolding in Toronto, the Senate scandal that dominated headlines prior to the Mayor’s crack admission has continued apace. Much as in Toronto, the scandal has elicited popular hue and cry for something – anything! – by way of legislative reform to ensure that it never happens again. However, unlike Toronto, where a fix would be a relatively easy (if not politically palatable) amendment to the City of Toronto Act (or some other quick fix), in the case of the Senate, reform or, as many are calling for, outright abolition, would be very messy indeed. It should be no surprise, then, that the government has asked the Supreme Court to weigh in with a reference.
What is somewhat surprising is the fact that Senate reform has been something discussed almost as long as the body itself has existed. A simple keyword search in our catalogue for “senate reform” for yields eighty hits, with the oldest being from 1899 and 1909. There is, admittedly, a significant jump between 1909 and the next oldest hits from 1983, when a Special Joint Committee on Senate Reform was struck, which resulted in a report in January of 1984. The issue has never really gone away since, with a wealth of material available from the past thirty years. Since it is an issue that has elicited particularly partisan fervour, it is a subject that requires a particularly critical eye when reviewing the material, which is often heavily imbued with the political leanings of the author and/or the think tank (the Fraser Insitute has long adopted senate reform as a pet cause).