Private Member’s Bill
Bill S-221, An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867 (Property qualifications of Senators)
On March 3, 2016, Senator Dennis Patterson, Senator for Nunavut, tabled a notice of motion and bill S-221 that aim to remove the $4000 property requirement and the $4000 net worth requirement currently listed as qualifications for senators in the Constitution.
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, missions 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.
– Senator Dennis Patterson
The Requirement to own property currently excludes 44% of Canadian households from becoming senators including: renters; condominium owners who do not own the land the unit is built on as the land is owned by the condominium corporation; and homeowners on-reserve as the land is considered Crown land. In his March 24, 2016 second reading speech, Senator Patterson noted,
[These] 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 overzealous in their legislative roles.
Clearly, this is inconsistent with modern democratic values.
The bill seeks to amend the Constitution Act and remove the net worth requirement for all provinces and territories. However, while the bill also proposes to remove the requirement that a senator own $4000 worth of property in their territory or province, in accordance with the decision rendered by the Supreme Court of Canada, the bill does not include Quebec in this second measure. Senator Patterson also tabled notice of a motion (Motion No. 73) that would accomplish this for Quebec if adopted by the Seante, the House of Commons, and the Government of Quebec.
These proposed changes would not, however, affect in any way the requirement in the Constitution Act that senators must reside in the region which they represent in the Senate.
Life Cycle of a Bill – Where is S-221 Now?
Bills that start in the Senate need to go through a process in the Senate (red) and the House of Commons (green):
On April 25, 2014, the Supreme Court ruled,
“We conclude that the net worth requirement (s. 23(4) ) can be repealed by Parliament under the unilateral federal amending procedure. However, a full repeal of the real property requirement (s. 23(3) ) 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.”
As per the National Household Survey, 2011
31% of Canadian homes are rented which totals 4,078,225 households
13% of all owned households are condominiums
The amending formula being used by Senator Patterson in the motion is s.43, amendment by proclamation issued by the Governor General when authorized to do so by identical resolutions in the Senate, House of Commons, and legislative assembly of provinces/territories. Examples of precedents include:
Resolutions adopted in 1997 and the proclamation published in the Gazette, Part II on January 14, 1998, respecting religion in schools in Newfoundland – http://publications.gc.ca/gazette/archives/p2/1998/1998-01-14-x/pdf/g2-132×1.pdf
Proclamation published in the Gazette, Part II on December 6, 2001, respecting the change in name for Newfoundland to include Labrador – http://publications.gc.ca/gazette/archives/p2/2001/2001-12-06-x1/pdf/g2-135×6.pdf