Government tables Senate reform bill
Published Tuesday, June 21, 2011 9:44PM EDT
The government introduced Senate reform legislation in the House of Commons Tuesday that would limit Senators to nine-year terms, but not apply to those appointed before 2008.
The Senate Reform Act, which sets the term limit for Senators as well as a means for voters to have a say in their appointment, was tabled in the House of Commons Tuesday morning.
"Canadians want a Senate that's more accountable to Canadians, Minister of State (Democratic Reform) Tim Uppal told CTV's Power Play on Tuesday.
"The senate itself suffers with legitimacy because it doesn't have a mandate from Canadians. And Senators now can serve up to 45 years. So Canadians have given us a mandate to reform that, and we have strong support in our caucus."
Throughout his rise to the prime minister's office, Harper has often repeated his commitment to overhauling the Senate. And, given the addition of his newly elected Commons majority to the Conservative-dominated upper chamber, it seemed as though now would be a perfect time to pass his hotly contested reforms.
But when the issue was raised last week, there were rumblings of disagreement from within his own caucus highlighted in a letter written by the only elected Senator, Conservative Bert Brown.
In an apparent concession to those dissenting voices, the proposed single, nine-year term limit -- which will only start when the law takes effect -- is one year longer than originally floated.
That it will only apply to Senators appointed after the October 2008 election also suggests only those Conservative Senators appointed since then agreed to Harper's conditions.
"We felt that eight years would allow a two-term prime minister to appoint the whole Senate, nine years is just outside of that," Uppal told Power Play. "Nine years would allow a senator to gain the experience necessary, but also refresh the Senate in a meaningful time and bring new ideas into perspective."
The legislation is still being introduced in the lower chamber, bolstering the widespread belief that the prime minister wants to avoid the potential embarrassment of trying to pass it in the Senate first.
The current rules stipulate that Senators, appointed exclusively on the advice of the prime minister, can serve from the age of 30 until they are 75 years old.
That 75-year age limit will remain in place, and any Senator whose term is interrupted can be recalled to serve again for whatever balance of the nine-year term remains, according to background information on the legislation released Tuesday.
The legislation tabled Tuesday will not change the appointment process, but does aim to institutionalize the Conservative Government's existing policy of encouraging provinces and territories to seek voter input on potential additions to the upper chamber.
It would not force the provinces to implement a democratic process, however, opting instead to "strongly encourage them to do so."
Whatever the result of provincial consultations, the background document states they will not be "binding on the Prime Minister or the Governor General when making appointments to the Senate. However, it would require the Prime Minister to consider the recommended names from a list of elected Senate nominees when recommending Senate appointments."
Later Tuesday, Uppal suggested to Power Play that the prime minister "has made the commitment, will appoint whoever wins those elections."
When he was asked to comment on the prospect of the legislation during CTV's Question Period on Sunday, NDP democratic reform critic David Christopherson said the whole notion of Senate reform should be put to Canadians.
"We think the first thing we ought to do is have a straight-up referendum across the country," he said, suggesting Canadians should decide whether or not they want to overhaul the Senate.
"If they say no, then we can eliminate all this side-show stuff about term limits and electing in the provinces and all that and just get ready with a mandate to move towards abolishing the senate."