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NUMERO 15 - 18/07/2018

 A Comparative Overview of the Canadian Senate and the British House of Lords

The purpose of this overview is to highlight the role which is played by the Canadian Senate and the British House of Lords in their constitutional legal systems, and to attempt to underline what similarities or differences can be identified in relation to their composition and functions. This paper will analyse whether they have an actual representative capacity and if they are able to perform the typical functions which are normally allocated to the upper chambers, functioning as a “sober second thought” and a house of check on the majority expressed in the lower chamber, usually connected to the Cabinet. The contribution of these chambers to parliamentary systems of government will also be considered. Bicameralism is an important legislative tradition in Western nations and it forms a relevant part of the checks and balances within a democratic government. A dual legislative system can guarantee the representation of distinct interests, both in a federal and unitary State and it can improve stability and quality assurance. Second chambers can also contribute to the protection of individuals and minorities against abuse and have the influential task of looking at legislative proposals with fresh eyes and underlining difficulties which have gone unnoticed in the lower chamber. Attention is drawn to the delay necessary for a fresh review and to the greater opportunity that it creates for public debate. The choice of these two chambers is due to the peculiarities of their compositions, both non elective, but which have a common parliamentary tradition, despite some differences. In fact, the Canadian form of government is based on the Westminster model, but it must be noted that Canada was the first democracy to apply the Westminster parliamentary model to a federal state. So, in the Canadian federation, as in other parliamentary systems, there is a fusion of powers in which the federal cabinet is chosen from the federal assembly and is accountable to it. This fact is very relevant because in a parliamentary federal system the upper chamber’s role could be more limited than in a presidential federal one. Watts argued that when the legislative and executive government are separate, the two federal houses usually have equal powers, on the other hand, where there is a parliamentary system the chamber which is linked by a vote of confidence to the executive, usually the lower chamber and always of an elective character, has more power than the upper one.  Also of note is the different role which may be played by a house of review based on the British model and a house of states which follows the US model. While the English bicameral system is founded on the division of the population into classes, the nobility and commoners, in the US system the bicameral system is justified on the equality in sovereignty between states.  This paper will analyse which model has influenced the Canadian system to a greater extent. It must be added that the Canadian Senate is the only one in the western world whose members are all appointed; furthermore, the composition and the selection of the senators are an exception in comparison to other federal practices. In order to better understand the role and the functioning of the Canadian Senate it seems worthwhile to make some remarks on the history and evolution of this chamber. Then the paper will focus on the peculiarities of the Senate and the British House of Lords with regards to their composition and their relationship with the lower chamber and the Executive… (segue)

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