Canada, House of Commons Debates, “Independence of the Senate”, 1st Parl, 4th Sess (27 March 1871)
By: Dominion of Canada (Parliament)
Citation: Dominion of Canada, House of Commons Debates, 1st Parl, 4th Sess, 1871 at 273-275.
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INDEPENDENCE OF THE SENATE
Mr. BLAKE moved the second reading of the Act securing the independence of the Senate. He said that he considered the present position of the Senate very undesirable. That body was called upon to perform a most important part in the Government of the country, and there was no reason that it should not be as carefully guarded against Government influence as the ‘‘Commons.’’ The terms on which the members of the Senate held their exalted position rather
led to the conclusion that peculiar care should be taken that Government temptations should in no measure affect their usefulness. He would be the last to interfere with the constitution in the smallest matter and to avoid that difficulty he did not propose that anyone should be ineligible to be appointed to the Senate, but a Senator should not be eligible for any office of emolument. No one who cared for the usefulness of the Senate would desire that it should become the mere refuge of the worn out members of the House of Commons, and some Senators themselves would be the last to permit such a thing, although there were cases in which persons who had changed their views had received their reward in a seat in that Chamber. It was obviously wrong to say that members of the House of Commons could not do their duty to the people and be in receipt of pay, but that, when placed in the Senate, they still could receive pay and do their duty to the people. He implored the House, therefore, to consider the matter and aid him in the effort he was making to secure the independence of the Upper House. He knew that in answer to his arguments, he would be referred to the House of Lords, but he held that the House of Lords was by no means a parallel case, and he was quite sure that it was utterly impossible that the Senate could retain that hold on the public confidence that it ought to possess, unless its independence was guarded in the most jealous way possible.
Hon. Sir GEORGE-É. CARTIER said the hon. member in the latter portion of remarks had shown that he had no confidence in the principle of the measure he was advocating—he had said that he knew what arguments would be urged against him. Senators were appointed by the Crown for life, and no one could expect them to relinquish any of the privileges that the Crown might bestow on them. If any measure were originated in the House of Commons in England, providing that no Government employment should be granted to a member of the House of Lords, it would be considered an attempt against the usefulness and independence of that body. If that argument was good in England it was good here. The body might be called the House of Lords, the Senate, or the Legislative Council, but the principle was the same, and the same rule ought to
It was all very well for the House to pass a measure securing its own independence, and providing that its members should not be exposed to any corruption or undue influence, but it should not extend the measure to the other branch. This rule had been maintained in the old Province of Canada. So long as the Legislative Council was appointed by the Crown, there was no interference with it on the part of the other House, but so soon as it was subjected to the electoral system, the laws affecting the one House were applied to the other. The measure proposed that a Senator should relinquish all privileges the Crown might bestow on him, and it was surely too much to ask the concurrence of the other House to such a measure—was it right, was it prudent that any degree of antagonism should be introduced between the two Houses? Surely it was not proper that a measure affecting the privileges of the one House should originate in the other. If such a measure was passed in the Senate and referred to the Commons that might give it their consideration, but constitutional etiquette required that they should not originate the measure. It was not necessary to discuss the principles of the measure, for he was sure the House would feel that if it were to be considered at all, it should originate with the Senate.
Mr. BODWELL supported the proposed Bill. He objected to the vicious principle which would place worn out politicians in such responsible positions as the Upper House. Inasmuch as the Senators were not responsible to the people, they should be placed beyond the possibility of having their independence undermined. They were only human and could not be supposed to be less exposed to danger from temptation than other men.
Mr. MACKENZIE said the hon. member opposite seemed to think that in all matters affecting the Senate, this House should take for its model the House of Lords of England. But the cases were not analogous. During the Confederation debate he had expressed an opinion in favour of a nominated Senate, but he confessed that the manifestations of human faults both on the part of the Government and the individual members of the Senate, had caused him to alter his opinion. He had listened carefully to the arguments of the hon. Minister of Militia, and had heard no good valid reason for rejecting this Bill excepting the one that it should have originated in the Senate. If he (Mr. Mackenzie) regarded this Bill as displaying any discourtesy to the Senate, he would not give it his support, but he did not believe that it would be so regarded by the Upper House. The two bodies were constituted with co-ordinate powers, and the Senate had a right to originate a measure affecting this House at any time they might think fit to do so.
Mr. MILLS had always been opposed to nominating the Senate. He believed it was an anomaly in our constitution that one of the branches of the Legislation should owe its existence to the Government of the day. Under the present system, the Government, when not wishing to oppose a measure in this House, could have it defeated by their followers in the Senate. He did not believe that the Senate should be converted into a Magdelene asylum for prostituted politicans seduced by the Government of the day. (Hear, hear.)
Mr. BLAKE replied to the argument of the Minister of Militia that there was anything disrespectful in this Bill towards the Senate. In order that that body should have its full weight in the legislation, it was necessary that its independence should be preserved. Besides, the independence of the Senate was a matter relating to the well-being of the whole Legislature.
The motion was then put and lost.
McDougall (Lanark North)
McDougall (Renfrew South)
Morison (Victoria North)
Ross (Prince Edward)
Ross (Wellington Centre)
White (Hastings East)
Cartier (Sir George-É.)
Hincks (Sir Francis)
McDonald (Middlesex West)
Ryan (Montreal West)