Reform of the Senate of Canada has been one of the most contentious issues in Canadian politics. While the motivations for reform proposals often have been directed at specific political goals (such as the enhanced political representation of regions of the country that have been perceived as being generally underrepresented or marginalized), the subject has a wider significance. The legislative upper house has a special and, frequently, ambiguous role within parliamentary systems, especially as it relates to the Westminster model that Canada has adopted. It also is subject to conflicting and, often, confused understandings of parliamentary democracy in general, as well as other political themes that are strongly relevant to Canada, such as intrastate federalism, pluralism, multicultural inclusion, and institutional analysis.
This workshop will address the subject of Senate reform, not simply in terms of specific policy and constitutional options but, also, in terms of these broader themes. Critical discussions will take place concerning the political theory of parliamentary upper houses in general, the nature and proper expression of parliamentary democracy and other liberal democratic traditions, the historical context of the upper house within the evolution of the Westminster model, and the broad political and social aspirations of Canada in terms of national identity, bilingualism, multiculturalism, executive and legislative government, and federalism. Those discussions will be followed by applied exercises in public policy options concerning practical proposals for both constitutional and non-constitutional reform of this often-criticized and even more frequently under-appreciated institution of the Canadian political system and Canadian society.