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Ten: Reconcilable Differences

A decade ago, the Carleton University school of journalism asked 1,300 voting age persons across the country, "Where does your first loyalty lie -- with Canada or with the province in which you live?" Approximately 74 percent of them said Canada, while 26 percent chose their province. The percentages for the Atlantic region were 66/34; for Québec, 53/47; for Ontario, 90/10; and for Western Canada 80/20. Roger Gibbins, a University of Calgary professor, conducted a national survey on the same topic in April, 1983. Nationally, 73 percent of the respondents said that they thought of themselves first as Canadians; 17 percent first as provincial residents. Eight percent refused to choose or stated an equal preference, and two percent did not have an opinion.

Again in late 1989 a Decima/Maclean’s magazine survey of 1,500 adults in all provinces on whether they considered themselves first as Canadians or as citizens of their province, gave the following results:

Percentage of respondents who indicated first loyalty to:




All Canada



British Columbia


















New Brunswick



Nova Scotia






Few Outer Canadians would be surprised that Ontarians were the most loyal to their country; many would say that Ottawa’s close and continuous attention to Ontarian interests since 1867 is responsible for this attitude. An equally plausible interpretation of the Carleton survey, of course, is that Ontarians make no real distinction between their province and the country as a whole. This might explain why they have the strongest sense of being Canadians and have little sensitivity to inter-regional tensions.

On the other hand, the reply of Québec and Newfoundland residents alike suggested a greater loyalty to their province than to their country. Sixty per cent of the Quebeckers surveyed thought it likely that their province would choose to separate if the Meech Lake accord failed to be accepted. With its collapse on June 23, 1990, there are increasing indications that French-speaking Québeckers see themselves as rejected by "English Canada" as a federal partner.

Being attached to one’s province or region need not reduce allegiance to Canada; dual loyalties should be complementary; never should there be conflict. Québeckers and Newfoundlanders unfortunately now appear for various historical, cultural, linguistic and constitutional reasons to have exceptional provincial loyalties not typical of other Canadians. In my experience, Canadians who are the most sensitive to provincial, multicultural and language diversity often hold the strongest sense of being Canadian.

Canada is among the world’s longest practitioners of federalism. A unitary form of government would never meet the needs of a country as geographically, linguistically and culturally diversified as ours. Yet, regional differences and priorities require much better public expression in Parliament if the central institution of our national government is to reflect all parts of the country. Regional voices are frequently suffocated by rigid party discipline and the entrenched habit of all three national caucuses to maintain a close eye on what opinion leaders in Toronto-Ottawa-Montréal regard as the national interest on any issue. The constant priority of most MPs in our House of Commons is to defend or attack the government of the day. Therefore, regional concerns usually fail to be expressed because it might fracture the unity each party wants to project during the partisan wars waged daily in the House. Nor can one consider the Senate in its present form as a forum where legitimate regional interests can be voiced. No one in the Senate, except Stanley Waters, today represents anyone except him or herself. In practice, the loyalty of most senators today is to the prime minister and political party through which they gained virtually life-time membership in the best-paid club on earth.

Neither chamber of the Canadian Parliament today encourages the articulate expression of regional concerns that the national legislature of a federation must provide. Accordingly provincial governments years ago assumed the task of defending regional aspirations, not only on areas of provincial constitutional responsibility but in relation to matters such as interest rates, federal procurement policy and tariffs, which are squarely within Ottawa’s jurisdiction. In doing so, the provincial governments discharge no constitutional responsibility: they are elected to deal with problems within the provincial jurisdiction, not to be regional voices in the formulation of national policy. This function should be provided in the Parliament of Canada, probably most effectively by a reformed upper chamber.

In the United States a host of factors, including economic diversification in most regions, an enormous mobility of population, and a gradual weakening of the financial and legislative powers of state governments, have "nationalized" the thinking of most Americans. Conversely, regionalism is an enduring, and probably now ascendant, fact of Canadian life. Opinion leaders in Inner Canada who say that Canadians should stop being so attached to their province or local communities misread the nature of Canada. They thereby probably contribute to a significant degree to the reduction of national cohesion across Outer Canada. Our country is far more than Joe Clark’s "community of communities," but trivializing provincial attachments doesn’t enhance the building of a stronger national unity.

Federal System

Our federal system, to the regret of many Inner Canadians and of some Outer Canadians as well, evolved in the opposite direction from that of our southern neighbour. In 1867, the northern model was intended by its founders to be a blend of the British and American models with a very strong tilt in favour of Ottawa dominating the provinces. Most Fathers of Confederation, including John A. Macdonald, saw a strong central government as necessary for political and economic survival. As the Toronto political scientist, Donald Smiley, has pointed out, "the provinces were to be in precisely the same constitutional relation to the federal government as the individual colonies of British North America had been to the Imperial authorities." The BNA Act rejected the earlier American constitutional model with its emphasis on a comparatively weak national government and stress on the rights of individual states. Without the determination of earlier Québeckers, for example, provincial legislators might not even have gained jurisdiction over education, language and property rights.

The re-shaping of Canadian federalism distinctly away from the preferences of its architects began with the successful campaign for greater provincial rights waged by Oliver Mowat, Liberal Premier of Ontario between 1872 and 1896, and continued with the election in 1896 of the Liberal party led by Wilfrid Laurier on a policy of provincial rights. Until his defeat in 1911, Laurier enjoyed a harmony in his relations with provincial governments that has probably never existed before or since. Subsequently, during both World Wars and the Great Depression, Ottawa massively reasserted its dominance. After 1945, it began using its unlimited spending power to encroach at will on areas of provincial jurisdiction. An exception was the case of Québec: for many years, Premier Maurice Duplessis refused to allow provincial universities to accept Ottawa funds for post-secondary education. Canada’s federalism in these decades closely paralleled what was happening in the United States, but by the 1960s, in the words of Roger Gibbins, Canada’s "national government, unlike its American counterpart, was in rapid retreat across a broad jurisdictional field, as provincial governments began to remake the face of Canadian federalism."

Macdonald’s dream of a triumphant Ottawa government began to unravel due to a series of decisions taken by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in Britain. Until 1949, the Judicial Committee was Canada’s final court of appeal in civil matters. It took the view that the undoubted intention of Canada’s founders to form a national Parliament and government dealing with subordinate provinces was irrelevant. The late constitutional expert Frank Scott detected twenty-one additional provincial powers created after 1867 by judicial decision. Ottawa’s constitutional right to regulate trade and commerce (which in the U.S. was inflated by federal courts to the point of swamping state legislative authority) was eventually divested of substance. Most federal social legislation passed by Parliament during 1935 in the spirit of the New Deal was also struck down by the Judicial Committee. Since 1949, under the influence of centralizing personalities like Chief Justice Bora Laskin, the Supreme Court of Canada, now having the final constitutional word, moved briskly to strengthen the remaining federal authority. By then, however, the die was cast in favour of strong provincial prerogatives.

A second influence favouring the strengthening of our provincial legislatures and governments resulted from another factor: a great number of extra-constitutional practices have developed outside the reach of our Supreme Court, most notably in the realm of federal-provincial tax spending arrangements. In the fiscal year 1989-90, federal transfer payments to provincial territorial and municipal governments exceeded $34.4 billion, including $7.3 billion in equalization payments or transfers from wealthier to poorer provinces, and more than $19 billion for provincial health care and post-secondary education, $4.8 billion for the Canada Assistance Plan under which provincial and municipal governments assist needy persons for certain welfare and health services, and $10.5 billion in unconditional tax grants. Since most shared-cost programs fall in areas within provincial jurisdiction, Ottawa’s ability to have a say over them has been limited. Due to differing provincial priorities, there is a considerable variety in the nature and cost of these programs.

In 1964 the government of Jean Lesage, determined to reinforce provincial authority as part of Québec’s "Quiet Revolution," mounted major pressure to exclude Ottawa from spending money in areas within provincial jurisdiction. The first Québec-Canada agreement permitting the province to opt out of such programs with compensation was signed in the mid-1960s.

A different situation arose in Québec in 1976: the Parti Québécois took office with an overwhelming majority, determined to withdraw the province from Confederation. For more than a century, most Québec premiers had sought vigorously to defend their provincial autonomy, particularly in the areas of language and culture, by protecting from Ottawa encroachment any powers assigned by the BNA Act to the provincial jurisdiction. This status quo vanished with the advent of René Levesque as premier. Overnight, the colonial constitutional model of 1867 had fewer supporters amongst Outer Canadians, who felt that the national government functioned primarily by and for Inner Canadians. In the face of a mounting provincial resurgence, Ottawa’s legislative and financial power was waning again in something of an uneven retreat. In the mid- 1970s, Ottawa was making large fiscal transfers to the provinces without any conditions attached. The best known exception to this federal retreat was the National Energy Program of late 1980 which evoked little enthusiasm among Western Canadians for the restoration of a strong central government in Ottawa.

Another reason for the decreasing support among Outer Canadians for a strongly centralized national government was the insensitivity of our federal institutions to regional interests. Most notably the House of Commons and the Senate have not provided effective regional representation to Outer Canadians. The American federal system developed towards centralization partly because its Senate took to heart the interests of residents of smaller states. With two senators from Alaska (with approximately 534,000 residents) and two from California (with 29.3 million residents), the American Senate is seen as providing political clout to states that lack weight in the House of Representatives. There the large states dominate because its composition is based merely on population. Not so in the Senate: long-serving Senator Quinten Burdick from tiny North Dakota, for example, is chairman of an important legislative committee and is seen as someone who fights effectively for his voters every day of the year. It is also important to note that on issues involving inter-state rights, U.S. senators promote the interests of their voters, not those of their state’s governments.

Components of the CF-18 aircraft are reportedly manufactured in 42 of the 50 states. The resulting American perception of regional fair play is understandable. Similarly, Washington’s mammoth Super-Collider project was awarded last year to a community in rural Texas. No Canadian anywhere would believe that the Mulroney government would award a project of comparable importance to a location outside the Toronto-Ottawa-Montréal triangle. Every Outer Canadian knows that the Mulroney cabinet awarded the CF- 18 maintenance contract to Canadair of Montréal despite a better and lower bid by Winnipeg’s Bristol Aerospace. It has also postponed both the polar ice-breaker contract for Vancouver and the promised construction of a natural gas pipeline to Victoria.


Congressmen, representing single member geographical districts after 1842, became important vehicles for injecting local interests into their national government in both its administrative and legislative branches. The first loyalty of every congressman is to his or her district just as that of senators is to their state. In the words of one political analyst, "The first concern of every congressman seems to be how to get as much as he can out of the nation for his own state." Such an assertion could hardly be made of Canadian Members of Parliament.

In turn, successful American presidents, being elected by voters everywhere, seek to reflect in their person the diversity of their entire nation by shaking off all personal regional colouration. In our own country, there is a serious question today as to whether a resident of other than our three officially favoured cities, Toronto, Montréal and Ottawa, could lead any political party to a majority in a general election.

The constitutional separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches and the weakness of party discipline in congressional voting behaviour greatly enhance effective regional representation in Washington. Presidents and congressmen are elected for fixed terms and none resign if a particular measure is voted down in the Senate or House of Representatives. The congressional system also provides the freedom for effective territorial representation when an issue has clear state implications. Congressmen depart frequently from party lines to represent state interests; elected persons in the American capital don’t hesitate to place their state or district interests ahead of their respective party line when voting.

Even the definition of ‘a party unity vote’ in The Congressional Quarterly is astonishing to Canadian Members of Parliament: "when at least 51 per cent of the members of one party vote against more than 51 per cent of the other." Between the years 1975 to 1982, during much of which the Democrats controlled the White House and both Houses of Congress, the Quarterly notes that party unity votes occurred in only 44.2 per cent of all recorded Senate votes and in only 39.8 percent of votes in the House of Representatives. Weak party discipline in Washington enhances the continuing importance of regional influences in the American capital.

My own experience with our House of Commons since 1979 is that MPs from all three parties vote in solid blocs on almost every issue. Government members do so from fear that a lost vote on a measure will be deemed by their prime minister as a loss of confidence. This stems from the early to mid-nineteenth century British concept that a government falls if it loses the support of a majority in the Commons on any vote. It has now been largely abandoned in the UK and other Commonwealth countries.

Canadian MPs have represented, on average, about 87,000 individuals since the 1988 election. In practice, few of them have any real opportunity to put their constituents’ interests first in votes in the House of Commons. Real power is concentrated in the hands of the three party leaderships. Canadian democracy itself would benefit substantially if we put our present mind-numbing party discipline where it belongs -- in the history books.

Another feature of the congressional system in the U.S. that fosters effective regional input in national policy making is territorial bloc-voting -- something quite unknown in Canada’s House of Commons. The weakness of party discipline in Congress is one of several factors encouraging the formation of regional voting blocs that cross party lines. Thus legislation detrimental to regional interests can be opposed without fear of the government being defeated, and an early election being called. Representatives from the two political parties of the Mountain states, Sun Belt states, New England states and others vote en bloc or work together in committees to advance common constituency interests.

A good example of how regional representatives can influence the geographic location of federal government procurement, which affects the geographic distribution of the manufacturing sector, is the Southern congressional influence. It played a major role in the post-war concentration of federal military and space expenditures in the South and in the general economic revival and growth of the Sun Belt. If bloc-voting occurred in our House of Commons, possibly through the enactment of a fixed four year term in office, we might see some measures detrimental to Outer Canadians voted down when MPs would cross party lines to put the interests of their regions first.

A related feature of the congressional system in the U.S. is the committee system. Congressional committees and their investigative staffs, together with congressional control over departmental programs and budgets allow Congressmen to fulfil their responsibility of supervising the executive branch with a vigour that is virtually unknown in Canada. Canadian parliamentary committees are, in practice, mostly still dominated by party whips and the committee chairmen mostly government-chosen for their obedience rather than for any ability or special knowledge as independent policy-makers. Approximately 300 American House, Senate and Joint House-Senate committees and sub-committees provide real clout to their members.

It is really at committee meetings rather than on the floor of the House or Senate that American legislators play major political roles. Full regional representation is also provided directly in the composition of committees because on the House side almost 40 per cent of committee seats are reserved for members of specific states. In the discharge of their important oversight role over the executive branch, Congressmen and Senators have numerous tools -- some say too many -- to promote regional and local causes, including large personal staffs and large numbers of investigative personnel who work directly for committees. American public officials can be summoned to committees on short notice -- and in practice must reply to most questions. Their federal counterparts in Canada can be called through subpoena, but are still not compelled to provide information which came to them in their official capacity. In theory, at least, a Canadian Deputy Minister can still refuse to say anything of substance to a Commons or Senate committee.

The American oversight function, which has opened up the national administration to territorial representation, is really only effective because individual congressmen have weight in their own right. Some American analysts, Roger Gibbins notes, have concluded "that federal agencies are, if anything, too sensitive to state desires rather than not sensitive enough. No such charge could be levelled at federal agencies in Canada." Again, one remedy for the Canadian disease in this area might be fixed term parliaments for, say, four years. A reformed and elected Senate is also vital here. Its elected members could attack and defend the government on grounds other than party loyalty if they were not under the thumbs of party whips. If the Canadian cabinet were not responsible to a reformed Senate this would also boost Senate independence.

House of Commons

The House of Commons in Ottawa correctly reflects the nation’s majority will on a representation by population basis. Yet few Members of Parliament have provided effective regional voices in it since the dawn of the twentieth century when voting in party blocs became de rigeur for all MPs. In our present political culture, if a government or opposition MP’s loyalty to his province clashes with the instructions of his party whip, putting constituents’ or regional considerations first in his way of voting implies considerable risk to his prospects for party advancement. Regional or state cross-party voting, as exists in the American Congress, is virtually non-existent in our House of Commons. The situation is only a little better in House committees because they are too weak and too much lacking in publicity to have any real impact on policy. That the committees are essentially impotent in policy-making is illustrated by the fact that, since 1969 to the best of my knowledge, only one $10,000 item of proposed Ottawa spending has ever been deleted by any of numerous committees considering the annual budgetary estimates. The sum in issue had reportedly already been spent when the committee rejected it.

In short, Canadian MPs, in Leon Epstein’s devastating phrase, today "function in effect as members of an electoral college that is in more or less continuous session between general elections." The respective party leaders require only the brute votes of their MPs; in consequence they are essentially passive observers in the formulation and administration of most national policy. Backbench MPs in Canada are far less able to represent regional interests effectively than are their counterparts in Washington where the congressional system provides the freedom for effective regional representation when an issue has clear regional implications. The heretical but serious question is whether a model closer to the congressional one would not serve Canadians generally better at the end of the twentieth century. Defenders of "British Parliamentary Democracy" have been numerous over the years: suggestions that the model itself might be part of the problems of Outer Canada have rarely even been made.

There are, of course, major flaws in American Congressional government, including unnecessary log-rolling, mammoth delays in committees, and vast costs associated with enhancing interregional harmony. The best solution to problems of representative democracy in Canada might be to adopt attractive features from various systems. In Britain, the matter of Parliament itself has evolved significantly away from some of its earlier twentieth century practices still followed slavishly in Canada. As the Regina political scientist, John Courtney, points out, backbench government members since the mid- l960s have shown an increasing willingness to defy their party whips. Between 1974 and 1978, for example, the government of the day was defeated 123 times on its own legislation, an average of one defeat per government bill. Courtney attributes this trend to a changed sociological mix in the British Parliamentary parties. "The older, largely subservient backbenchers of the past have gradually been replaced by younger, more independent-minded MPs... The goals and political ambitions of these new members in the parliamentary system were soon matched by their frustrations with Parliament, and they have defied their party’s leadership in increasing numbers. The change has been welcomed because it introduced a healthy tension into British parliamentary politics and gave new credibility to the role of the parliamentary backbencher."

Senate Reform

Many Outer Canadians regard reform of our upper house as an issue whose time has finally come after 123 years of Confederation. An Angus Reid-Southam poll completed in the spring of 1990 found that Senate reform was a constitutional priority to 53 per cent of British Columbians, 64 per cent of Albertans, 62 per cent of residents of Saskatchewan! Manitoba, and 46 per cent of Atlantic Canadians. Among Ontarians and Québeckers surveyed in the same poll, however, only 43 per cent of the first and 37 per cent of the second held the same view.

All premiers of the outer eight provinces now appear to support the concept of a Triple E Senate. Since the death of the Meech Lake accord, moreover, the Vander Zalm government, taking the view that its ability to have input on Senate appointments is now gone, has introduced legislation to fill future senate vacancies from British Columbia by elections. There is also pressure on the Getty government to proceed once again to the election of an Alberta candidate to fill the next senate vacancy anticipated in Alberta.

The case for a Triple-E Senate is especially strong because our country has a large concentration of population in two provinces. Following the 1980 federal election which returned Pierre Trudeau as prime minister, Western Canadians knew that none of Ottawa’s important institutions --the House of Commons, the Senate, the prime minister and the cabinet-- would take their side on any issue. Similarly, since the 1988 election many Atlantic Canadians consider they have been abandoned by the Mulroney government. As to Northerners, they have the feeling of having been neglected by every single government in Ottawa.

The legitimate interests of the eight smaller provinces and territories are rarely afforded much attention by the institutions of our present national government. Arguably, they continue to demonstrate less sensitivity to regional perspectives on issues than is the case for any other democratic federation on earth. This is probably why federal politicians from Inner Canada have successfully blocked substantial change in Ottawa’s institutions continuously since 1867.

Virtually all other federal democracies entrench legislative protection for smaller provinces through an upper house. Ours was fatally flawed from the beginning. It is unelected and therefore illegitimate in democratic terms. A second defect was its being unequal in the representation from each province. Any role for the Canadian Senate as an effective legislative voice of Outer Canada thus quickly atrophied. During the l980s, setting the Ottawa agenda on a host of issues -- patriation of the constitution, wage and price controls, the Charter of Rights, the National Energy Program, free trade with the U.S. -- became the exclusive preserve of the House of Commons, dominated both numerically and psychologically by MPs from Ontario and Québec. Representation according to population is essential for the Commons, but our long national experience persistently calls for equal representation from each province in an upper house that is urgently in need of reform.

In the American government system, the Senate was established as the primary vehicle for regional representation in the national government. When conflicts occur between Washington and the states, senators defend the interests of their states, playing the role they were elected to perform. In a more recent development, many U.S. Senators have become national political figures, probably at the expense of defending their respective state interests as was traditionally the case. Our political system still provides no mechanism for effective representation from Outer Canada. Canadian senators provide no effective representation from a regional perspective because most attempt to represent the "national view" of the country by transcending provincial and regional interests. More than a century of appointments by Prime Ministers of mostly party war-horses, hacks and fund raisers from both major political parties has cumulatively delivered a mortal blow to our Senate as an institution.

Since Senate reform is above all designed to minimize the obvious centre-periphery cleavage in Canadian politics, it has increasingly become an Outer Canadian cause. It was an important part of the Alberta government’s package of constitutional reforms in 1987. Premier Don Getty has so consistently promoted the concept that it is now perceived by the public as a Western issue. Despite numerous studies and an estimated twenty-four different proposals since 1967, Senate reform remains a pipe dream, itself probably the clearest indication of the essential impotence of Outer Canadians among Ottawa policy circles. The Prime Minister’s promise of a fresh set of public hearings by a House Committee if the Meech Lake accord had passed was only another indication of how little he understood or cared about the issue.

The Saskatchewan-raised Gordon Robertson, a fellow-in-residence at Ottawa’s Institute for Research on Public Policy, has a Western perspective on reform of the upper chamber. "If it was important, as it was in 1968, to recognize that the federal arrangements and balance of 1867 were no longer acceptable to Québec and French Canada, it is equally important now to recognize that the failure of the BNA Act to give proper weight and representation to the West in our national Parliament is no longer acceptable to that region. As I see it, it is not simply a matter of equity and justice, although those are both important. It is also the fact that, until we remedy this defect, our national governments -- no matter what their party basis may be from time to time -- will have to govern in a climate of western discontent and against the pressures of western governments that speak for that discontent."

It is also important in a post-Meech Canada to deal with Western, Atlantic and Northern causes of discontent with our federal balance and to listen to the grievances of Outer Canadians everywhere. In a supplement to the report of the Macdonald Commission in 1985, Albert Breton of Québec advanced a theory that he calls competitive federalism. In politics, as well as in economics, competition maximizes the well-being of citizens, he argued. The so-called executive federalism with its intergovernmental partnership might not be an adequate prescription for Canadians in meeting the challenges of the future. According to Breton, "responsible government plus federalism is extended democracy simply because there is more competition," and a reformed Senate will work as a natural "monitor" of this federal-provincial competition.

The major role of the reformed Senate would be to give prominence to the regional dimensions of public policies. It would primarily have a "monitoring" function, not only a representative role. If the competition over resources and policies in the national government is to be efficient, it is essential that provincial interests be competing with each other on an equal footing. It is no longer enough that provincial interests be represented appropriately in national debates. "They must be able," argued Breton, "to vie with each other on a basis of ‘competitive equality’. Otherwise, the checks and balances that characterize national politics will be biased against the weaker provinces, even if their points of view are represented. A capacity to compete is more than a capacity to talk; it is also, and radically, a capacity to exert a real influence on decisions. That is the real meaning underlying the notion of ‘monitored’ competition." The Senate can only play this monitoring role if it has legitimacy; therefore, it must be elected. With Breton, I favour such a monitoring function for a Senate constituted of equal numbers of senators for each province elected at fixed intervals and for fixed periods.

Australian Model

The Australian Triple-E Senate provides a good model for Canada today partly because, like Canada, about two-thirds of Australia’s population live in two of its six states. We also share a tradition of parliamentary rather than representative democracy. The founding fathers from Australia’s four smaller states refused during the 1890s any form of federal union unless it included a second house representing all states equally. Initially in 1901, the Australian Senate had six senators from each state, all elected by statewide ballots. Since 1906, half of them take their seats on fixed dates every three years. It still holds equal powers with the lower chamber, the House of Representatives, except for some limitations on money bills. Changes in its legislative authority, but not the numbers of senators from each state, can only be made by a referendum which produces an overall majority of votes cast nationally and majorities in any four of the six states.

Between 1901 and 1949, however, the Australian Senate did not effectively advance the interests of the smaller states, overtaken as it was by the national political parties. Typically, these were far more interested in achieving cabinet dominance over the business in both houses than in advancing regional interests. The pressure for obedience grew after 1900 with the rise of the Australian Labour party and its stress on party discipline for its members of parliament. In response, two new parties emerged: the Liberal party in 1946, and its rural ally, the National party in 1948. Eventually the presence in the senate of a large majority of senators from the two party alliances and their respective whips ensured that party loyalty overrode loyalty to one’s states in most Senate votes. In consequence of this and other factors, the upper chamber had by the 1940s become a refuge for party hacks and was widely seen as a failure.

In 1948, a Labour government, quite unaware of the radical consequences to follow, introduced proportional voting to elect senators with grouping by parties on the ballots. In essence, the new system, like the old, required voters to rank candidates according to preference. The preferences were then added by a complex arithmetical rule. Successful candidates had to obtain enough votes so that a party’s share of the votes cast corresponded with its share of the seats won. For example, the quota for election to the Senate at a half-Senate election is 17 per cent of the votes cast.

As a startling result, the defects inherent in plurality were reduced. (Electoral systems such as Canada’s first-past-the-post-wins model could also benefit from it.) Minor party and independent senators suddenly found themselves benefiting from the flow of voters’ second or third preferences on the ballots. By 1955, a relatively even split in Senate seats between the two major groupings gave independent and minor party senators the balance of power for the first time. No government has had a majority in the Senate except from 1975 to 1978. It is clearly abnormal to have a majority in both houses. By 1970, the new coalition of political forces allowed the creation of a Senate committee system with real clout.

By the mid-1970s, the Australian Senate had developed enough confidence to attempt to force the lower house into an election. When the Governor General, Sir John Kerr, dismissed the Whitlam Labour government in 1975, the authority of the Senate soared dramatically because it had successfully affirmed its right to refuse the spending of money even to the point of bringing down the cabinet. In 1975 it refused to pass the appropriations unless Whitlam first agreed to call a national election. When he refused, Kerr dissolved both the House and the Senate in a double dissolution. Since 1975, the Senate has been an autonomous body in the sense that because minor parties hold the balance of power the old line parties cannot control its daily agenda.

This means, in practice, that Australia’s national Parliament does not practice responsible government in the way Canada and other parliamentary democracies have done since enacting reform bills at different dates during the nineteenth century. It is a hybrid which, to many Australians, is a better system than responsible government in the usual sense. When, to take a recent example, a majority in the House of Representatives prepared to introduce identity cards for Australians, a majority in Senate rejected the measure with no immediate consequences for the government of Robert Hawke.

An increasing number of Australians vote for one of the major parties in the lower house but also for one of a number of minor parties in their Senate. The presence of state-wide electoral contests enhances voter support for independent and minor party candidates, albeit more in some states than others. The Australian Democrats are strong in South Australia and Victoria states. Western Australia has become a fertile ground for senators concerned with single issues, including the environment, and Queensland tends to support the National party. Tasmania has a long tradition of electing independent Senators. In short, the Senate electoral system in place since 1949 has accommodated both regional and partisan diversity well.

Another advantage of proportional voting in terms of regional effectiveness is in the recruitment of candidates. The 1949 model has tended to create two safe Senate seats in each state for the candidates at the top of each major party list at each half-Senate election. Accordingly, vigorous competition for these top spots on the ballot lists has produced increasingly good candidates for party endorsement, further enhancing the Senate as a major player in the governing process. Because the state branches of the major parties, rather than the leaders of national parties, control their candidate selection process, prominent men and women from the various states have entered the national Parliament. Today, there are always talented and forceful representatives of state interests in the Senate -- at least from the parties other than Labour -- even if the Australian Senate is not a states house in the sense intended by Australia’s founders.

The most important role of the Australian Senate today is to balance the executive branch. As in Canada, it appears that party discipline has subordinated most activities in the Australian lower house to the wishes of cabinets. The Australian Senate, however, being powerful in its own right, can effectively check a cabinet when it is not controlled by the party in office. Even more importantly, it ensures close scrutiny of proposed legislation and provides hearings to groups otherwise ignored by the government. All too often, a cabinet tends to establish a club-type relationship with favoured interest groups. Assuming the Senate is not controlled by the political party that forms the government, the cabinet has to sway some senators of a different political complexion or its proposed legislation is doomed to fail. Another area of key Senate activity is the free-wheeling investigations of issues of public interest -- often on matters which ministries would prefer to be ignored -- in a manner free of government manipulation or control. Australia’s national government and democratic spirit have both improved significantly because of this interplay.

The leaderships of both major Australian political groupings resent bitterly the loss of control over the Senate because they each want to monopolize the entire legislative process. Cabinet attempts to undermine the role of the Senate have been numerous. They first attempted to limit its co-equal legislative powers. This was blocked because of the need to have all constitutional amendments approved by a referendum which gain both an overall national majority of votes and majorities in four of the six states. A second campaign sought to remove the fixed terms of senators and to ensure that the elections for both houses occur simultaneously (in order to reduce the likelihood of minor party successes) and to have all elections at the time of a government’s choosing. Four constitutional proposals to this end were defeated by Australian voters, most recently during 1988. A third attempt lay in recasting the number of senators from ten to twelve with the hope that calculations of new quotas would work against minor party candidates. In the election of March 1990, the number of minor party and independent senators stayed at ten in a Senate of 76 members.

There is a constant attack on the legitimacy of the Senate in thwarting governments of the day, employing essentially nonsensical rhetoric about British parliamentary democracy to deny any role for legislators except to pass all government proposals. Senators reply in terms of constitutionalism, checks and balances, the need for a division of powers to offset the absolute control of the lower house by the majority of the day, and the importance of compromise and consensus.

There are numerous lessons here for Senate reform in Canada. From Outer Canada’s perspective, the first is the increased responsiveness coming from an institutional check on the present prime ministerial domination of our House of Commons. In the words of Campbell Sherman, a western Australian political scientist, this "invigorates the legislature and greatly increases the effectiveness of parliamentary scrutiny of government administration. It counters the distortions of the policy process that flow from the executive’s attempts to reduce the influences of rival views of the national interest, to smother informed debate of its policies in the legislature, and to avoid the necessity of compromise once a measure has partisan endorsement." In other words, effectiveness is a key part of reforming the Canadian upper house. Apologists for the status quo say that an effective Senate would collide with our long-established concept of responsible government. Canada is not tiny Britain in the earlier part of the nineteenth century. An effective Senate works well in Australia and we should adapt it to our conditions in the interest of a more responsive democracy.

I agree with Sherman’s view that for the Senate to be effective and politically self-confident it has to result from the direct election of senators. With him, I anticipate that a Canadian Senate based on equal representation from all provinces and elected through a proportional voting system would frequently hold a non-government majority. Two major obstacles for Canadians to overcome are our longstanding political culture, with its increasingly anomalous notion of letting governments govern without restraint, and our fear of an effective upper chamber.

In the aftermath of the Meech Lake failure, it appears particularly important to many Outer Canadians that the Mulroney government not attempt to confirm the present Senate by filling the vacancies with his party faithful. Until Senate reform is dealt with properly, good faith demands that vacancies either be filled by elections or left vacant. Outer Canadians will be watching Brian Mulroney very carefully on this issue, for many believe he and most of his cabinet and caucus like the Senate just as it is, provided it is henceforth dominated by a Conservative majority.

National Interests vs. Regional Concerns

Canada’s national government should in both theory and practice represent the national interest as distinct from provincial interests. However, as "national interest" concepts are usually elusive, successive federal governments in pursuing this concept often act in ways in accord with the wishes of one particular region while forsaking all the others.

David Elton and Peter McCormick, professors of political science from the West and prominent advocates of Western issues, offer an Outer Canadian view on "national policies": "There seems to be a strange convention of federal political language that when a program is labelled ‘western,’ it means the benefits are distributed fairly evenly across the country, and when it is called ‘national,’ it means the benefits go disproportionately to Central Canada. The pattern is clearly exemplified by the statement of the Prime Minister in the House of Commons, in which he explicitly equated a long-term fighter aircraft maintenance contract (in the ‘national’ interest) with aid to farmers as a ‘western’ policy. The comparison overlooks the fact that the aid is for farmers as such, not just those farmers who live in the West, and approximately 20 per cent of the funds made available will go to farmers in Central Canada, while the jobs protected and created by the CF-18 decision will overwhelmingly be found in Central Canada."

Discussions of regionalism in Canada invariably boil down to arguments over which should prevail: regional interests or "the national interest." Nobody argues that national interest should take precedence when it reflects the aspirations of a larger number of citizens. However, by choosing a federal system of government, Canadians rejected the notion that the national majority should always prevail. Federalism means that on some issues, at least occasionally, the will of the population majority will be frustrated. If the biggest battalions of voters were to prevail over smaller ones under any circumstances, we should drop the charade that we have a federal system of government that respects minorities in times of stress. The notion that the national majority will prevail has resulted in much regional discontent and accompanying feelings of regional irrelevancy.

In an increasingly interdependent world, Canada must imaginatively create or alter existing institutions in order that they represent the interests of both Inner and Outer Canadians effectively. Unless we move away from the notion that "the national interest" is merely a code-phrase for the most populous region dominating all corners of the country, frictions between Inner and Outer Canada will probably worsen.

Renewed Federalism

The year 1989 witnessed spectacular developments in Eastern Europe. After forty-five years of totalitarian rule, new governments, inspired by democratic principles and impulses, redrafted their constitutions and introduced sweeping changes affecting almost every aspect of daily life. Why has Canada, a country fortunate to have been governed since its beginnings by democratically-elected governments, taken so long to initiate an effective process of reforms? They would not lead to such revolutionary changes as in Eastern Europe, yet they are of comparable importance to many Canadians, especially to the residents of the outer regions of the country.

Outer Canadians need to know that however far from Toronto-Ottawa-Montréal they live, they matter in Ottawa as much as their compatriots in Inner Canada. National policies and institutions must begin to reflect their needs and be targeted to meet their requirements and aspirations as well. They need to know that they will in future be effectively represented during the process of national policy-making by those elected to defend the interests of their communities, provinces or regions. This role can no longer be subordinated to other political considerations. In order for this notion to become a reality, we need as a people to renew our federalism. We need to do so now as badly, or perhaps more so, as when Prime Minister Trudeau promised "renewed federalism" to Québec during the 1980 referendum campaign.

The first initiative should be Senate reform, combined with improved regional representation in many federal government institutions, agencies and wherever policy-making affects certain regions. There is also a need for fair and generous financial assistance and federal government procurement funds that might show a bias this time towards disadvantaged regions of the country. The ongoing nation-wide debates on Senate reform and the repercussions of the failure of the Meech Lake accord have already started the process of renewing Canadian federalism. The impulse is gaining momentum and cannot be stopped. Nor should we wish it to be averted. However, if it is lost now, future generations of Canadians will blame their parents for losing possibly the last opportunity to strengthen our sense of common purpose and unity.

In 1867, the Fathers of Confederation laid down Canada’s national objectives as "peace, order and good government." Principles chosen by reform movements or revolutions are somehow often expressed in threes. The American Declaration of Independence set them out as, "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." Revolutionary France put the objectives as "liberté, égalité, fraternité." Proponents of our reformed Senate want it to be, "Equal, Elected, Effective." A new national credo for Canada would be difficult to define in three catchy words. Descriptive phrases might help express the principles towards which our federal system should be evolving: effective regional representation and fairness; inter-cultural acceptance and respect; equal economic opportunity for all Canadians.


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