Patterson wants to make it easier for Nunavummiut to become senators

Nunavut senator’s bill would remove outdated property ownership, net worth requirements for Senate appointment

Sen. Dennis Patterson’s Bill S-228 proposes to scrap a “dated” requirement that Canadian senators own $4,000 in land and personal property. (Photo by Jeff Pelletier)

By Jeff Pelletier

Nunavut Sen. Dennis Patterson says he hopes to make it easier for more Nunavummiut to fill his shoes by modernizing the way Senate members are appointed.

He introduced Bill S-228 last November to end a Confederation-era mandatory property ownership and net worth requirement for senators. It has been debated in the Senate but has been stalled at second reading for months.

Canadian senators are appointed by the governor general on the recommendation of the prime minister. To be eligible, a person must meet requirements in the Constitution such as being a Canadian citizen aged 30 or older.

Patterson’s bill — titled An Act to Amend the Constitution Act, 1867 (property qualifications of Senators) — targets a requirement that Senate appointees must own land and personal property worth at least $4,000.

The bill, though, would not change the requirement that senators maintain residency in the province or territory they represent.

Patterson said that property ownership requirement unfairly disqualifies anyone who doesn’t own land. And it has a more profound impact on Nunavut, where the majority of residents are not property owners, they’re renters.

“There’s people who rent homes in Nunavut who are, no doubt, qualified to be in the Senate,” Patterson said during a recent interview in Iqaluit about his bill. “I think most people agree that it’s a dated provision.”

According to Statistics Canada, in 2016 only 20 per cent of Nunavut residents owned their home — the lowest rate in Canada — compared to a national average of 67.8 per cent.

This isn’t the first time Patterson has attempted to legislate a change in Senate qualification rules.

In 2020, he tabled a similar bill that was moved to second reading before it died on the order paper when the 2021 federal election was called.

If Bill S-228 eventually makes it through the Senate, it would still need approval from the House of Commons before it would become law.

One of the challenges Patterson said he has had with getting the reforms passed involves some region-specific requirements senators from Quebec must meet regarding property ownership.

However, he said, he’s open to amendments that would accommodate Quebec’s rules so the bill can move forward.

“My object is to get it referred to committee, and at the committee, amendments like that could be considered,” he said.

“I’m open to any amendment which will allow the bill to pass in the Senate.”

Patterson is not alone in believing the Senate’s property and net worth requirements are dated.

Luc Juillet, a political scientist and professor at the University of Ottawa, said “elitist” property ownership requirements come from the Senate’s origins as the Canadian equivalent to the British House of Lords.

He noted that while some people may argue property ownership can symbolize a senator’s connection to a region, it doesn’t make them more qualified than someone who doesn’t own property at all.

“It’s hard to think of a single reason why you’d want to keep those property requirements in 2022,” he said.

Juillet also noted the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled Parliament can unilaterally legislate this reform instead of going through the usual constitutional amendment process that requires provincial agreement. With that legal authority, it’s time to make the change, he said.

“It would be a step in the right direction in terms of modernizing our institution and making our Senate a bit more democratic,” he said. “I don’t see why we would not do it.”

Patterson’s office said it’s unlikely S-228 will make any major progress until the fall sitting of Parliament. However, Patterson has a sense of urgency to get the bill passed.

He turned 73 years old at the end of last year. By the end of 2023, he will be 75, the mandatory retirement age for senators.

Patterson said he hopes to get a bill passed ahead of his retirement so when it’s time to choose Nunavut’s next senator, there will be a larger pool of qualified candidates.

“I’m going to reach the compulsory retirement age in less than two years, and I’d really like to get this fixed before I leave so that two-thirds of Nunavut residents can be eligible to be appointed to the Senate,” he said.

 

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(27) Comments:

  1. Posted by 867 on

    “in 2016 only 20 per cent of Nunavut residents owned their home — the lowest rate in Canada”

    Finally, those full time GN workers living in staff housing and those stay-at-home moms living off income support with no education can become Senators!

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    • Posted by eskimo joe on

      You are saying this is for despite, why are we always so negative to our own? You know really will ppl who have not complete grade 12 will not apply…so hateful, putting ppl down. But then again, there are many ppl who have no formal education, unilingual have better heads than what you have on your shoulders it seems.

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  2. Posted by iRoll on

    I expect the comments on this story will be balanced and insightful.

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  3. Posted by Maq-Pat on

    Patterson and this story conflate owning “real property” (land) with owning a home. While there are a few home owners, almost literally no one in Nunavut (including Patterson) own real property… land is almost exclusively long-term leases. Since leases apparently count for “ownership” there is a really easy solution: lease for $1 a tiny patch of land ($4K worth of public property) from any level of government or Inuit org, to the desired appointee. No constitutional amendment required.

    Also, the Inuit of Nunavut, roughly 30K people, own well over 350,000KM of land. Shouldn’t be overly politically difficult to argue that each Inuk “own” the equivalent of more than $4K of land. Especially when they actually own it (instead of leasing it).

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    • Posted by In Reality on

      Either way property ownership as a requirement to serve in the Senate is an anachronism. This amendment is overdue for all Canadians, not only Nunavummiut.

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    • Posted by Tulugak on

      Real property should not be conflated with land. Nobody really “owns land” in Canada. Rather, they own an estate in land, and that estate is the “real property.” They may perhaps own a fee simple estate in land, or they may (as for many homeowners in Nunavut) own a leasehold estate in land. Those types of estates are both “real property.”

      Leases of real property in Nunavut are generally equity leases. A $1 leasehold interest in a parcel of land would be worth $1, not $4000, and the scheme is therefore not an “easy solution.”

      The easy solution is passing legislation to amend the requirements. As the article notes, following the constitutional amending formula is not required.

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      • Posted by Maq-Pat on

        Perhaps our lawyer friends will weight in. But my understanding is the current value of an interest in property, including leases, is set by the market not by what someone originally paid for it.

        If I was looking to sell a 70 yr lease on a small residential lot in Iqaluit, I’d sell it for the going rate $100-150K not the $20-30K I may have paid for it in the 80s.

    • Posted by Kenn Harper on

      Dennis Patterson owns “real property” in Nunavut – i.e. land under fee simple ownership. Your supposed facts are incorrect.

      • Posted by Maq-Pat on

        Always a wealth of knowledge Ken, Thanks! I’d thought he sold that property around 2012-13? I seem to recall it being for sale, but stand corrected.

        • Posted by Maq-Pat on

          Kenn*

  4. Posted by Yup on

    wouldn’t a way around this law be just to buy land for your cabin while still renting? because the housing market is crazy, to make an affordable 3 bedroom in nunavut is around $500,000.00 a small 2 bedroom $350,000.00 maybe more on both prices since the lumber has skyrocketed since the pandemic.

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  5. Posted by change of rules on

    lol so what’s funny about this story is that rather than working to fix the housing crises to ensure that individuals qualify, Nunavut once again lowers it’s standards to fit the problem…
    Frig how dumb can things be?
    This is like my uncle who doesn’t work (for the last 15 years) and bums money from me every week becoming an MLA and making $160,000+ without any education…
    lol gotta love a system that fixes “for the worse” lol!!!

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    • Posted by 982’er on

      When someone who’s resume consists of “carver, hunter, and no high school diploma” becomes an MLA who makes $160,000 per year, you know damn well those tax dollars will be hard at work.

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    • Posted by Why so afraid? on

      Why are you defending this outdated constitutional requirement? What is it about changing this that is causing you so much anxiety?

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      • Posted by Maq-Pat on

        Senators make $165K plus per year. Even if this change is successful it will have cost a truly impressive amount just in Senators’ time alone. Let alone all the support staff’s time. After all this process, all it will do is make the pool bigger for who is eligible for an archaic non-democratic appointment.

        Nunavut should just run a non-binding election for the Senator then gift them the required $4K in property. Patterson can make this happen by resigning after the “election” and committing to in advance (I believe he previously indicated he would anyway) the PM/GG can then either support the stated will of the electorate or face the political consequences.

        Long-term Canada should look to more meaningful senate reform, personally I lean towards reappointing it every election cycle based on the share each political party gets of the national vote.

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        • Posted by Pork Pie on

          I agree that Senators should be elected, but the terms need to be worked out in the spirit of what a Senate is meant to be; a body of sober second thought, a council of elders. A Senate is not meant to be as responsive to the whims and passions of the public as the ‘commons.’ To achieve that they need to be subject to a different kind of electoral schedule.

          Notice Senators in the US serve 6-year terms, while member of the House of Representatives (analogous to our House of Commons) are up for election every 2 years. For better and worse the House is meant to represent the ‘people,’ the Senate is meant to temper the commons with their accumulated wisdom.

          • Posted by Maq-Pat on

            I’d rather look to Australia than the USA

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            • Posted by Pork Pie on

              What is the difference? Under the Australian model State Senators are elected once every 6 years—exactly the same as the US.

              Territorial Senators (and there are only 2 territories), are elected every 3 years. What is desirable about that?

              Or, maybe you like their use proportional representation?

              Sure, that sounds good…

              Once every election cycle, not so good, and frankly antithetical to the point of a Senate (in Australia the US or Canada).

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  6. Posted by Jo on

    1) This senator promised to resign after 8 years of service. He did not do so. He is a liar. He is also unelected, unaccountable, and barely a resident of this territory.

    2) The Senate should be abolished. End point.

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    • Posted by Kenn Harper on

      Dennis Patterson dd not make a blanket promise to resign after 8 years in the Senate. He promised Stephen Harper to do so only if certain conditions regarding Senate reform were met. They were not. And he did not.

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  7. Posted by TGC on

    give an E for the effort and that rarified air in the Senate chamber

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  8. Posted by enosamm on

    The easiest thing Patterson could do to make it easier for Nunavummiut to become senators is resign, then JT will appoint\select\pick name from a hat\search for a Nunavummiut resident. He is the biggest road block at this point of having a Nunavummiut sitting in the senate.

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    • Posted by Kenn Harper on

      There is a Nunavummiut sitting in the Senate. His name is Dennis Patterson.

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  9. Posted by Make Iqaluit Great Again on

    My goodness, why do we care one iota about this old, anachronistic, colonialist and undemocratic institution anyway!?!? Frankly, the Senate has no credibility in anything it does because it’s an unelected body, and people should be embarrassed to be a part of it. If you really think about it, the Senate does not represent anything as an institution that this country should be proud of. It’s history is all about patronage, paying off political friends and finding a home for the likes of Mike Duffy. If Patterson had any credibility at all, he would be fighting to have that place either elected or abolished!! Please, don’t talk to me about the Senate! What a waste!!

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  10. Posted by Atatsiak on

    A demographic Nunavumiut Inuit Senator would be nice.

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    • Posted by Come on dude on

      Please, just say you mean

  11. Posted by Shawn on

    Shawn qaunaq wants to improve public housing to prevent suicide, social problems and many other problems.

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