The Senate’s inconvenient history

The spectacle that has become the Senate of Canada is something to behold, as Stephen Harper gets further caught up in the mess.

What better moment to review why Canada has this corrupted institution in the first place? And what better source than the country’s first Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald.

"We must protect the rights of minorities, and the rich are always fewer in number than the poor."

Macdonald offered up this gem of an argument for an appointed Senate for the landed class back in 1864. He was at the Quebec Conference to discuss Canadian Confederation and the construction of the Senate.

So how do you make sure the rich have a check on the commoners? Insist on a property requirement. They settled on owning land valued at $4,000. That’s peanuts today, but it was a chunk of change back then. You can be sure labourers on the farm wouldn’t qualify.

The current debate swirling around allowable housing claims raises serious questions of abuse and a sense of entitlement. The original motivation for the property requirement, though, wasn’t just to prove residency in a province, but to ensure an upper chamber of a propertied class, modeled on Britain's landed aristocracy. 

Canada didn’t have a proper tradition of hereditary aristocracy to stuff into an upper chamber, so we settled on a compromise for an appointed Senate of those who owned property, and allocated to provinces according to a fixed formula, set out in the Constitutional Act of 1867.

And here we are today.

If you think Canada needs to take a second look at the unelected Senate, click here or on the image below to share it on Facebook:

Sir John A Macdonald

Related Posts

A project of the Broadbent Institute