Tinkering with the senate no easy task, experts say



OTTAWA -- The Conservative government shouldn't expect a carte blanche on reforming the scandal-plagued Senate when Canada's highest court weighs in on the issue, experts say.

Federal government lawyers will assert before the Supreme Court in mid-November that Ottawa has the power to set term limits for senators and implement a democratic process that allows provinces to select senate nominees.

They'll also argue Parliament has the power to abolish the senate without the OK from all provinces and take the position that any makeover can be done without amending the Constitution.

Hogwash, says University of Ottawa professor Errol Mendes.

"These arguments are bound to be rejected," he said Thursday. "What they're trying to do here is do an end run around the Constitution."

Mendes does think the Supreme Court may agree Parliament has the legal power to set term limits for senators but expects it to toss out the government's other assertions.

And both Mendes and Queen's University political science professor Ned Franks believe all provinces would need to be on board in order to abolish the Senate.

They also predict the feds will face real push back from smaller provinces and from Quebec in any attempts to tinker with the upper chamber.

"My prediction is that before we see any significant Senate reform in Canada, the Supreme Court will have made some ruling and that a fairly major amount of provincial consent will be required," Franks said.

In February, the feds asked the Supreme Court to consider the constitutionality of Senate reform and abolition. The court could take 10 to 24 months to render its opinion after the hearing on Nov. 12-14.

The Quebec Court of Appeal will also look into the matter in September.

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