For the past two years, most Canadians have consistently called for the opportunity to choose the members of the country’s upper house, a new Toronto Star / Angus Reid Public Opinion poll has found.

The online survey of a representative national sample of 1,009 Canadians also shows that a third of Canadians believe the country will never have an elected Senate.

The Status Quo

Slightly less than half of respondents (44%) believe Canada needs a Senate, but Canadians should be allowed to take part in the process to choose senators. This position is particularly popular in British Columbia (54%), Atlantic Canada (53%) and Ontario (49%).

About three-in-ten respondents (28%) believe Canada does not need a Senate, but would prefer to have all legislation reviewed and authorized by the House of Commons. Quebecers (42%) are particularly fond of this notion.

Only one-in-twenty Canadians (5%) endorse the status quo, and think that Canada needs a Senate, and that the current guidelines that call for appointed senators should not be modified.

Reforming the Senate

Across the country, three-in-five respondents (63%) support holding a nationwide referendum to decide the future of the Senate of Canada, including three-in-four Albertans (74%).

A sizeable majority of Canadians (63%) believe Canadian senators should be limited to eight-year terms. About a third of respondents (35%) endorse the idea of creating a panel distinguished Canadians to choose senators, instead of the Prime Minister. Three-in-ten Canadians (30%) are ready to abolish the Senate of Canada altogether, including 43 per cent of Quebecers.

However, the most popular idea continues to be allowing Canadians to directly elect their senators. Two thirds of respondents (69%) would like to see this happen, including 78 per cent of British Columbians.

The Prime Minister

Since July, when Prime Minister Stephen Harper appointed Salma Ataullahjan to the Senate, the Conservatives control 52 seats in the upper house, followed by the Liberals with 49 members and four independent senators—two of whom sit as Progressive Conservatives.

As was the case earlier this year, three-in-five Canadians (61%) claim Harper is being hypocritical because he has appointed senators despite his long-standing opposition to the Senate in its current form. Conversely, 39 per cent of respondents believe that the Prime Minister is not being hypocritical because he has appointed senators who agree with his views on Senate reform.

The Future

In another finding that has remained consistent throughout 2010, 35 per cent of respondents believe that Canadians will never be able to directly elect their senators, while 31 per cent expect this to happen in the next five years.

Analysis

Earlier this month, the Senate voted 43-32 to defeat the Climate Accountability Act, which had been passed in May by the House of Commons in a 149-136 vote. The outcome of the vote in the unelected upper house was criticized by opposition parties, and has reignited debate over the future of the Senate.

A sizeable majority of Canadians have consistently demanded a chance to elect their Senators for the past two years. Only one-in-twenty is satisfied with the status quo, but the idea of abolishing the upper house altogether remains at or near the 30 per cent mark.

Senate elections are attractive for a large proportion of respondents in Western Canada, Atlantic Canada and Ontario, but Quebecers are more likely to choose doing away with the upper house. Albertans are more likely to voice support for a nationwide referendum to settle the issue, and are vehemently opposed to the notion of a panel choosing senators instead of the Prime Minister—more so than respondents in any other region.

In the end, a third of Canadians continue to predict that they will never have a chance to vote for their senators, despite the fact that, for two straight years, two thirds of respondents have called for the opportunity to do so.

Our previous surveys on the Senate can be accessed here: February 2010 / July 2010

Full Report, Detailed Tables and Methodology (PDF)

CONTACT:

Jaideep Mukerji, Vice President, Public Affairs
+514 409 0462
jaideep.mukerji@angus-reid.com

Methodology: From November 19 to November 20, 2010, Angus Reid Public Opinion conducted an online survey among 1,009 randomly selected Canadian adults who are Angus Reid Forum panelists. The margin of error—which measures sampling variability—is +/- 3.1%. The results have been statistically weighted according to the most current education, age, gender and region Census data to ensure samples representative of the entire adult population of Canada. Discrepancies in or between totals are due to rounding.