Decision on Justice Nadon’s nomination suggests positive ruling on Senate reform
The Supreme Court of Canada voted 6-1 last week to reject the nomination of Quebec Justice Marc Nadon to the nation’s highest court, a stunning rebuke for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, but a decision that perhaps contains good news for P.E.I. How are the two related, one might ask? Well, the ruling on Justice Nadon clearly states that rules must be followed in appointments to the Supreme Court and cannot be circumvented no matter the wishes of the federal government to achieve its own agenda. The court has now enshrined in law that its fundamental characteristics contained in the Supreme Court Act cannot be changed by the government of the day.
To take this ruling one step further, one could deduce the court is leaning on the side of most provinces on Senate reform - that the Constitution and provincial rights cannot be trampled on by Ottawa. Arguments were heard last fall on what procedures must be followed to reform or abolish the Senate. The federal government has asked for guidance and the Supreme Court looks ready to rule in favour of the stand favored by most provinces, including Prince Edward Island. This province has long argued in favour of retaining the Senate and keeping our number of senators at four. P.E.I.’s longstanding position as an advocate for Senate reform is Triple-E: elected, effective and equal.
P.E.I. argued before the court that the Senate is too fundamental to the functioning of the federation to allow reform without significant provincial approval, or abolition without unanimous consent. The federal government argued that its Senate reform proposals could be achieved unilaterally. The top court could take months before ruling, or it could pull another surprise, and decide before the April 7 Quebec election.
Comments by Justice Minister Peter MacKay following the Nadon ruling were surprising. He suggested the court has inserted itself into the Quebec provincial election. Why isn’t he pleased the ruling at least shows Quebecers that federalism works, as all Quebec political parties welcomed the court’s ruling. Why is that a bad thing, Mr. MacKay?
The court wants any proposed federal-provincial changes to be transparent, well discussed and that every provincial legislature signs off on them. Again, this bodes well for this province on the pending federal ruling on Senate reform. The judiciary has ceased to be a puppet in the hands of the federal government and has become an independent arbiter, the way it should be.
The Constitution guarantees P.E.I. four senators and an equal number of MPs. Changes to the Senate could mean fewer MPs and a loss of Island influence in Ottawa. A decision by the government majority in the Senate resulted in a two-year suspension of three senators last fall, including P.E.I. Senator Mike Duffy. The government can just as easily force the continued suspensions of the three senators following the end of the Commons session next November, leaving P.E.I. under-represented.
The vote could be seen as a breach of P.E.I.’s constitutional rights, guaranteeing it four active senators not three senators and one suspended senator. It’s unfortunate that Mr. Duffy has put the Senate into such disrepute and it would be best for his “native” province that he resign and allow for the appointment of a fourth active senator.
Quebec has been without its third judge for a year, while P.E.I. has been without its fourth senator since last fall. Both issues deserve immediate attention.