OTTAWA — Prime Minister Stephen Harper put his efforts to reform or abolish the Senate on hold "for the time being" after the Supreme Court said both options would require a constitutional amendment.
Harper says there’s no appetite for constitutional negotiations and no provincial consensus on change.
"Given the Supreme Court has said we’re essentially stuck with the status quo for the time being, and that significant reform and abolition are off the table, I think it’s a decision that I’m disappointed with, that a vast majority of Canadians will be very disappointed with," Harper said in Kitchener, Ont.
See below a timeline of the recent Senate expense scandal.
The Supreme Court issued a unanimous opinion Friday on whether Parliament could change the way senators are appointed and how long they serve, without altering the Constitution.
"We conclude that Parliament cannot unilaterally achieve most of the proposed changes to the Senate," the justices said.
Right now, senators are appointed on the advice of the prime minister and can sit in the Red Chamber until age 75.
The Conservatives wanted to limit senators to a nine-year term, with the prime minister appointing only those who win a Senate election in the province they’d represent.
Those efforts stalled, so the government asked the Supreme Court to give its opinion on the constitutional requirements for those reforms, as well as for scrapping the Senate altogether.
The Supreme Court says Senate elections would require a constitutional amendment because they would give senators "a popular mandate which is inconsistent with the Senate’s role as a complimentary legislative chamber of sober second thought."
The court also considers limiting senators’ terms of office a huge change.
"(Fixed terms) imply a finite time in office and necessarily offer a lesser degree of protection from the potential consequences of freely speaking one’s mind on the legislative proposals of the House of Commons," the Court said.
So, both of those changes would mean a constitutional amendment, needing the approval of Parliament and at least seven provincial legislatures, representing at least half the country’s population.
The feds, though, can drop the antiquated requirement that potential senators must own $4,000 net worth to qualify, as well as the requirement of at least $4,000 in land — except in Quebec, where it would need provincial approval.
Abolishing the Senate, however, is such a fundamental change it would need a constitutional amendment approved by the Commons, Senate and all 10 provincial legislatures, the court said.
NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair says his party still backs Senate abolition and would make it a "priority" to get all provinces on board.
He also said Harper shouldn’t be surprised by the court’s conclusions.
"Mr. Harper has known for years that it required a constitutional amendment for any of these major changes," Mulcair said in Kingston, Ont., Friday.
The Liberals, who oppose Senate abolition, elections and term limits, considered the Supreme Court’s opinion a victory.
"We now see that his measures to try to be cute by half have failed," said Grit MP Scott Simms.
– with files from Ian MacAlpine