Beginning and End of the Terms of United States Senators Chosen to Fill Senate Vacancies

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Although senators are technically appointed to represent a region, they have also tended to sit as members of political parties, either government or opposition, depending on whether their party held power in the Commons.

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As a result the Senate has operated for much of its history as a partisan political body — its members following instructions from their party leaders in the Commons — rather than as originally intended, as an independent voice for regional interests. This has also fuelled demands that it be reformed or abolished. Despite its regional focus, the Senate was not set up to represent provincial governments or legislatures, or to protect the provinces against federal invasion of their powers.

The courts protect provincial powers , and the protection of provincial interests in matters under federal jurisdiction sometimes falls to the ministers from each province in the federal Cabinet. Canada's first Cabinet had five senators out of a total of 13 ministers. From to , there were seldom more than two, often only one senator in the Cabinet.

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The Senate was also intended to provide "sober second thought" on legislation introduced in the Commons. One of its most effective functions is the quiet, in-depth study and review of national issues including the hearing of expert witnesses by Senate Committees. Committees go over proposed bills clause by clause and often hear voluminous evidence, sometimes over a period of months. Committees are usually non-partisan and can draw on a vast reservoir of members' knowledge and experience: former federal and provincial ministers, former members of the Commons and provincial assemblies, veteran lawyers and business people, farmers, women and ethnic representatives, and even an occasional trade unionist.

Senate committees have produced careful studies on unemployment , land use, science policy , poverty , aging , the mass media see Communications and Indian affairs. Senate investigations have often led to important changes in government policy or legislation. The Senate has almost the same powers as the House of Commons.

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Bills are read three times in the Commons as well as in the Senate. The Senate can only delay constitutional amendments for days. But no bill can become law without its consent, and it can veto any bill as often as it likes. The Senate cannot initiate money bills taxes or expenditures. Neither House can increase amounts in money bills. The Senate has not vetoed a bill from the Commons since The Senate now very rarely makes amendments of principle.

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The amendments it does make to bills now are almost always related to drafting — to clarify, simplify and tidy proposed legislation. In the Senate temporarily blocked Bill C22 pharmaceutical patents but eventually agreed to amendments. This led Prime Minister Brian Mulroney to use his power to fill eight vacant senate seats, in order to ensure passage of the legislation in The Senate's legally absolute veto was expected to be really no more than a delaying veto because, until the late s, governments were usually short-lived, and none, it seemed, would be able to build up a large enough majority in the Senate to block a successor government of the opposition party.

But most Canadian governments since then have been long-lived, and as appointments are almost invariably partisan. The Senate has often had a large opposition majority, and also, through much of the late 20th Century, a heavy preponderance of Liberals.


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After the election of Stephen Harper 's Conservative government in , however, party power in the Senate shifted. By , there were 42 Conservative senators, 25 Liberals, 21 independents and 17 vacancies.

A traditional objection to the Senate is that too often its members are given seats in the Chamber as a reward for service or loyalty to the party of the prime minister of the day, and that such patronage appointees have no right to a position of authority in a modern democracy. Proposals to make the Senate more representative of regional interests were introduced by the Liberal government in but received little support.

An appointed rather than an elected Upper House, with a legal absolute veto on legislation, has come to seem anomalous, whatever its original purpose.


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  6. A push for Senate reform was resurrected in the constitutional debates of the late s, and widely debated during the struggles over the Meech Lake and Charlottetown Accords. Some provinces proposed that Senate appointments be turned over to the provincial governments. Senators could act as provincial representatives, defending regional interests.

    Critics charged that such a system would run counter to the principles of federalism and representative democracy. In the long negotiations over the Charlottetown Accord, the proposal for a so-called "Triple-E Senate" — elected, effective and equal — championed particularly by Alberta premier Don Getty , became a primary focus of debate.

    Following the collapse of the Meech Lake Accord, Alberta held a provincial election to fill a vacant Senate seat. Although not constitutionally bound to do so, Brian Mulroney appointed the nominee, Stan Waters , to the Senate in Since then Alberta and British Columbia have held further non-binding Senate elections, out of which a list of names is given to Ottawa for consideration, whenever Senate seats from those provinces become vacant.

    Under the present Constitution , turning the Senate into an elected House would require a constitutional amendment and therefore the consent of seven provincial legislatures, representing at least half the population of the 10 provinces. So, too, would any change in the Senate's powers, or in the number of senators from any province. The government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper tried twice since to reform the Senate, each time by submitting legislation through Parliament that sought to avoid a constitutional amendment. Harper's first Senate reform bill was delayed in the then-Liberal dominated upper house, and never became law.

    The bill would have limited Senate terms to nine years, and allowed provinces to elect their senators, if they chose to do so. By the end of , the bill had not been debated in Parliament for many months, but had come under renewed scrutiny because of a high-profile scandal involving the Prime Minister's Office and three Harper-appointed senators accused of filing improper expense claims see below: "Expense Scandal". The Court said the bill's proposals require a formal constitutional amendment, not mere parliamentary legislation, if they are to be enacted.

    The following month the Supreme Court of Canada , acting on a request from the federal government, opened its own hearings into Bill C-7 to determine whether the Senate can be reformed without a constitutional change process — which by its nature would force Ottawa into negotiations with the provinces.

    The federal government also asked the Court for direction on how the Senate could be abolished. The Harper government argued that under the Constitution, abolition only requires the approval of Parliament plus seven provinces representing 50 per cent of Canada's population. Most provinces, however, say abolition requires the formal consent of all 10 provinces. The Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision on the matter on 25 April The Court said creating an elected Senate with nine-year term limits required the consent of seven provinces with 50 per cent of the population. And it said abolishing the Senate required the consent of all 10 provinces.

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    In each case, a constitutional amendment would be necessary. Harper called the ruling "a decision for the status quo.

    This number has been twice increased, in taking effect at the elections to 10, and in taking effect in the election of to The Senate's size also increased after following election of two senators each by the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory. The size of the Senate was 36 from until ; 60 from to ; 64 from to ; and 76 since The places of half of the senators for each state are open to election each three years, under the system of rotation. Electoral arrangements for territory senators are described below. The relevant places of senators become vacant on 30 June.

    This means that the election must occur on or after 1 July of the previous year. The question which arises is whether the whole process of election, commencing with the issue of the writs, must occur within one year of the places becoming vacant, or whether only the polling day or subsequent stages must occur within that period, so that the writs for the election could be issued before 1 July.

    This question has not been definitely decided. In Vardon v O'Loghlin 5 CLR , the question before the High Court was whether, the election of a senator having been found to be void, this created a vacancy which could be filled by the parliament of the relevant state under section 15 of the Constitution. The Court found that this situation did not create a vacancy which could be filled by that means, but that the senator originally returned as elected was never elected. In dismissing this argument, the Court, in the judgment delivered by Chief Justice Samuel Griffith, made the following observation:.

    It is plain, however, that sec. And the election spoken of is the periodical election prescribed to be held in the year at the expiration of which the places of elected senators become vacant.

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    For the purpose of determining his term of service any accidental delay before that election is validly completed is quite immaterial. This part of the judgment has been taken to indicate that, in interpreting the provision in section 13 whereby the periodical Senate election must be made within one year of the relevant places becoming vacant, the Court would hold that the whole process of election, not simply the polling day or subsequent stages, must occur within that period.

    This question, however, has not been distinctly decided. It would still be open to the Court to hold that only the polling day or subsequent stages must occur within the prescribed period, and there are various arguments which could be advanced to support this interpretation. If it were decided, however, to hold a periodical Senate election with only the polling day or subsequent stages occurring within the prescribed period, there would be a risk of the validity of the election being successfully challenged and the election held to be void.

    This would lead to the major consequence that the whole election process would have to start again. It may be doubted whether the Court would favour an interpretation which would bring about this consequence. Section 13 of the Constitution, as has been noted, also provides that the term of service of a senator is taken to begin on the first day of July following the day of the election.

    This is in accordance with the finding in Vardon v O'Loghlin. The day of election is polling day provided that the election is valid; if the election is found to be invalid then no election has occurred and the question of what is the day of election does not arise. The provision for dating a senator's term from 1 July preceding simultaneous general elections for both Houses has been seen to be the source of a problem stemming from the preference of governments, for financial reasons as well as others of party advantage, to avoid separate dates for a general election of the House of Representatives the term of which is governed by the date of the simultaneous dissolution and an ensuing periodical election for half the Senate.

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