Senate reform is probably the biggest unfinished business in Canadian politics. Very few countries which are considered to be liberal democracies in the world still have an upper house which is so undemocratic and unaccountable. Is it supposed to be a chamber of review, yet in 2013, the Senate debates are not even televised. Very few people care what is going on in the senate and very few senators (except a few exceptions) are people known to the general public or to anybody other than political geeks.
Of course, not all senators in the Canadian Senate are bad people, many of these people have done great things in their career before being nominated as senators. But unlike the House of Lords in the United Kingdom, many senators are more noted for being patronage appointment (or were former candidates or MP for the party in power in an election who are senators as a consolation prize) than being household names in their domain of expertise. They »serve » time with a good salary until they turn 75 unlike the House of Lords where peers don’t have a fixed salary. This is why many Canadians (of all parties) are seeing the Senate as a country club for the well connected and advantaging friends of parties who are (or were) in power whatever their colour. It’s of course an interesting job and a way to put people of minorities into a political post, but it’s not a symbol of accountability.
So, how to reform (or abolish) the Senate? No easy solution is possible at the moment. The Atlantic provincial governments would never want to abolish an institution which they had such an high weight in term of seats. Even if all provinces accept any Senate reform or abolition, very few federal politicians (of all colours) are keen on having any sort of national referendum. Having a national referendum had become a quasi-taboo in Canadian politics. The bad taste of the 1992 national referendum on constitutional reform (which was a failure for all mainstream political actors at the time), is still alive among many politicians in Canada.
Add also that federal and provincial wings of a giving party are divided on senate reform. Even if the federal NDP wants to abolish the Senate, I am not sure that the Nova Scotia provincial wing of the NDP don’t want anything else than the status quo.
However, some mini-reforms could be possible.
The first one is having senators elected by convention as a gentlemen agreement where big electors or legislative assemblies (in a sort of electoral college like in the French case) could elect senators (after each provincial or territorial general election) while having a non-official term limit. For example, if senators are also provincial legislators, this while being elected by their peers in the legislative assembly, there will be a »unofficial » term limit. This will also makes that the Canadian Senate will become a Chamber of Provinces and it will bring an outlook which goes further than the Montreal-Ottawa-Toronto triangle.
But a more radical reform will be having elected senators with a four year mandate. The twist will be that they will chosen like for jury duty with one four years term limit. However, the problem is that I cannot see how it would be good in any in a liberal democracy to force people having a given position by law. And if you give exceptions to certain people, a sortition-based senate will not be very representative of the population.
In conclusion, there is no easy path to senate reform. The best case for senate reform was during the 1992 referendum, but alas, right now, any reform will have to be minimalist for the moment. Even an outright abolition will be close to impossible right now.