Senate reform has healthy support in Ontario, not just West
Date: Thursday, March 18 2004
Topic: Canadian Politics
Senate reform, long extolled as one solution to western alienation, had significant support in Ontario, one of the provinces that could be most disadvantaged by it, suggests a study released Wednesday.
The Canada West Foundation report, based on a telephone survey earlier this year, found that eight of 10 respondents from the four western provinces either strongly agreed or somewhat agreed that the existing upper house should be replaced with elected senators in equal numbers from each province.
But the unexpected finding was the high level of support in Canada's most populous province. Forty-five per cent of Ontario respondents strongly agreed with the notion of an equal, elected Senate, and another 27 per cent somewhat agreed. Less than 10 per cent strongly disagreed.
"Quite frankly, we weren't expecting to see tremendously high agreement coming out of Ontario," said report author Loleen Berdahl, director of research at the Calgary-based think tank.
"Given that Senate reform has typically been portrayed as being a very western Canadian issue, the fact that we had this very high level of support coming out of Ontario was particularly interesting. The reason, I think . . . is that people in Ontario, like people across Canada, are very interested in democratic reform and making sure that democratic structures are working as well, as representatively, as possible."
In the current 105-seat Senate, members are appointed by the prime minister and serve until age 75. Twenty-four are appointed from Ontario compared with six from each of the four western provinces. There are also 24 from the Maritime provinces, 24 from Quebec, six from Newfoundland and Labrador and one from each northern territory.
Critics have complained the formula means the fast-growing West is underrepresented in the Senate while the Maritimes have more than their fair share of the seats.
Berdahl cautioned against reading too much into the Ontario results, however, since the survey asked only two questions on Senate reform: whether people favoured replacing the Senate with an elected body with equal representation from each province and whether they'd favour Senate reform if it meant changing the Constitution.
"I would read these data as saying that people are dissatisfied with the Senate and would like to see some change," she said. "My suspicion is that if we had survey questions that gave people a range of different Senate reform ideas, that there would probably be a fair bit of diversity of opinion on that front.
The survey was the third in a series by the foundation to analyse western Canadian attitudes toward federalism. But unlike previous ones in 2001 and 2003, the 2004 survey included people in Ontario. Berdahl said the survey was expanded this year so researchers could get an idea of whether feelings of discontent with federalism were unique to the West or shared elsewhere in Canada.
The survey was conducted by telephone between Jan. 7 and Feb. 5 among 4,000 respondents, 800 from each of the western provinces and Ontario. Berdahl said it was reliable within 3.46 percentage points in each province, 95 times out of 100.
The survey also found that Ontario respondents expressed significantly greater satisfaction generally with the federal government than did western Canadians, but the author was quick to note that it had been conducted before the federal sponsorship scandal broke into the news. If the same questions were asked today, she said, researchers would probably see a spike in the level of dissatisfaction with federalism.
One apparent quirk in the results was that those respondents under the age of 30 generally expressed lower levels of dissatisfaction with government and lower levels of regional discontent.
There could be many reasons for that, said Berdahl, including plain old apathy. Elections Canada figures show that only 22 per cent of those aged 18 to 25 voted in the last federal election, compared with 63 per cent of the general voting population.
Source: Lorraine Turchansky | Canadian Press