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Canada: Government Proposes to Set Term-Limits for Senators

(Apr. 8, 2010) The Government of Canada has recently introduced a bill that would limit persons appointed to the Senate after its enforcement date to one term of eight years. (An Act to Amend the Constitution Act (Senate Term Limits, Bill C-10, 40th Parl. 3d Sess., http://
(last visited Apr. 7, 2010).) In introducing this bill, the Minister of State (Democratic Reform) stated, “our Government believes that setting term limits is an important first step in increasing the democratic legitimacy of the Senate” and “Canadians are rightly questioning how senators with no democratic mandate can serve terms for up to 45 years.” (Press Release, Government of Canada, Democratic Reform, Harper Government Drives Senate Reform Agenda (Mar. 29, 2010), available at http://

Canada's Senators were appointed for life until a mandatory retirement age of 75 was adopted in 1965. (The Constitution Act, 1867, s. 29(2), Department of Justice Canada website http://
(last visited Apr. 7, 2010.) Although the Senate is Canada's upper chamber, it generally serves as a body that reviews bills passed by the House of Commons before approving them for Royal Assent. However, the Senate has on occasion defeated bills approved by the House of Commons. Such defeats have sometimes forced Prime Ministers to call elections; however, after being reelected, they always have been able to secure Senate approval for the previously defeated legislative initiatives.

Senate reform has long been a major goal of Conservative governments. One of the reasons for this is that the Constitution assigns seats in the Senate on a regional basis. The Conservatives are traditionally strongest in the western provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba, but with their grand total of 24 out of 105 places in the Senate, the western provinces are substantially underrepresented, particularly in contrast to the maritime provinces of Nova Scotia, Prime Edward Island, New Brunswick, and the merged province of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Bill C-10 would not achieve greater proportional representation. It would, however, prevent Senators appointed by one party from continuing to hold the majority of the 105 seats for many years after the party that appointed them had ceased to hold the largest number of seats in the House of Commons. That situation results in the two chambers being controlled by different parties.