March 24, 2016
Honorable Senators, I rise today to speak to my bill, S-221, A bill to amend the Constitution Act of Canada (property requirements for senators). This bill seeks to amend the Constitution by removing the clauses that state senators should have a net worth of $4000 and own property in their region valued at $4000 in order to qualify for appointment. Colleagues, these antiquated and elitist provisions create a barrier for almost half of all Canadian households to fully participate in the governance of this country. They are requirements put in at a time when the landed gentry were given a means to keep the great unwashed in line should their elected officials in the other place become too over zealous in their legislative roles. Clearly, this is inconsistent with modern democratic values. Based on the 2011 National Household Survey, which are the most recent figures available, 31% of Canadian households, or over four million homes, are rentals while a further 13% of owned households are condominiums representing another 1.1 million homes. With condominiums, you do not own the land, only the unit, as the condo corporation owns the lands. Honorable senators, together, the quick math shows that 44% of Canadian households, the residents of roughly 5.2 million homes, do not qualify to become senators. In my home region of Nunavut, that number jumps to a staggering 83%. Add to this number the 55,180 households that are band owned housing on-reserve and the number of on-reserve homeowners whose land is technically considered crown land. This exclusion of otherwise competent, intelligent, and dedicated Canadians from being appointed to the Upper Chamber must end. Colleagues, this is not the first time that a bill like this has been proposed. Our former colleague, the honourable Tommy Banks, tried three times to remove these provisions. Once, the bill was referred to committee but, in all three instances, died on the Order Paper. Former Senator Banks also believed that these provisions were outdated stating:
This bill seeks to redress that shortfall, which I think everyone would agree is antediluvian…The provision made a lot of sense, I suspect, in 1867. Putting aside, however, the purposes for which it was put in place, the amount of real property that is required in this part of the constitution would be inappropriate today if it were intended as a roadblock or as a criterion for membership.
Former senators DiNino and Carstairs as well as Senators Fraser and Tkachuk all voiced their support for the various iterations of then- senator Banks’ bill but the one critique that continually arose was the question of the constitutionality of such legislation. That bill also came at a time when it was yet unclear if broader more sweeping changes could be enacted by Parliament alone. Today, however, Honourable Senators, we have the benefit of the crystal clear April 25, 2014 Supreme Court decision stating:
“We conclude that the net worth requirement can be repealed by Parliament under the unilateral federal amending procedure. However, a full repeal of the real property requirement requires the consent of Quebec’s legislative assembly, under the special arrangements procedure. Indeed, a full repeal of that provision would also constitute an amendment in relation to s. 23(6), which contains a special arrangement applicable only to the province of Quebec.”
My motion deals with the issue of the removal of property requirements related to Quebec and the special arrangements procedure described by the Court and I will be speaking to that later today. But I would draw your attention, honourable senators, to the portion of the ruling that allows an act of Parliament to repeal the net worth requirement for all senators and the real property requirements for all jurisdictions except Quebec. My bill seeks to accomplish exactly that. It is important to note that such changes would not, in any way, affect the requirement that a senator be resident in the region they represent. Colleagues, by supporting the passage of this bill, you are saying that a person’s net worth and ability to own property are not adequate means of determining the fitness of a person to sit as a senator of Canada. You are saying that these elitist provisions have no place in our modern, democratic society. You are voting to end the restrictions placed upon millions of Canadians since 1867.
These are antiquated and elitist measures that have lost their raison d’être in modern society; they are requirements that haven’t changed since the Constitution Act of 1867. Currently, millions of Canadians across the country are not qualified to sit as a senator and fully participate in the governing of Canada solely because they do not own land and/or their net worth is below $4000.
Canadians should not be excluded from participating in the parliamentary process simply because they rent or are an Aboriginal homeowner on-reserve.
I look forward to your support in passing this bill. Thank you.