The announcement of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s appointment of Jane MacAdam and Iris Petten as independent Senators has once again brought into question the relevance of the Canadian Senate. Although the Senate claims to be independent, bills are still passed or killed among party lines, indicating that partisanship remains a significant factor in the Senate’s decision-making process. This raises questions about the need for an unelected Canadian Senate and its redundancy.
Jane MacAdam, a Chartered Professional Accountant with over 40 years of experience in legislative auditing, including serving as Auditor General of Prince Edward Island, and Iris Petten, an entrepreneur, community volunteer, and senior executive with over 35 years of experience in the fishing industry, was recommended by the Independent Advisory Board for Senate Appointments, and chosen using a merit-based process open to all Canadians. This process ensures that senators are independent, reflect Canada’s diversity, and can tackle the country’s broad range of challenges and opportunities.
The Senate is the Upper House in Canada’s parliamentary democracy, and its role is to scrutinize and revise legislation passed by the House of Commons, which requires Senate approval before becoming law. In theory, the Senate provides an important function in the legislative process by providing a check on the power of the House of Commons. However, in practice, the Senate’s effectiveness in fulfilling this role has been questioned due to its members’ unelected nature and partisan nature.
The Senate was created to counterbalance representation by population in the House of Commons, not only to defend regional interests but also to create space for the voices of historically underrepresented groups like Indigenous Peoples, racialized communities, and women. However, the Senate’s continued existence has been debated, with some arguing that it is a redundant institution that is not accountable to the people.
The selection process for senators was opened to all Canadians in 2016, with candidate submissions reviewed by the Independent Advisory Board for Senate Appointments, which provides recommendations to the Prime Minister. The Board is guided by public, transparent, non-partisan, and merit-based criteria to identify highly qualified candidates. Once appointed by the Governor General, new senators join their peers to examine and revise legislation, investigate national issues, and represent regional, provincial, territorial, and minority interests – important functions in a modern democracy.
While the appointment of Jane MacAdam and Iris Petten as independent senators may reflect Canada’s diversity and merit-based process, questions about the relevance and necessity of the Senate as an unelected institution with partisan affiliations continue to be debated. As the Senate continues to play a role in Canada’s legislative process, it remains to be seen whether its existence will be justified in the eyes of Canadians.
Photo credit: “Canadian Senate Chamber” © Saffron Blaze – Via Wikimedia Commons.