Harper appointee turns on PM's dream of elected Senate
Richard Neufeld speaks during a press conference in Vancouver, Thursday July 27, 2006. (Chuck Stoody / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Published Thursday, July 8, 2010 7:14AM EDT
OTTAWA - One of Stephen Harper's appointees to the Senate has bitten the hand that picked him.
Richard Neufeld stunned colleagues in the chamber of sober second thought Wednesday by announcing he's had, well, second thoughts about the prime minister's cherished dream of creating an elected Senate.
Neufeld said he did support Senate elections when Harper chose him to sit in the upper chamber 18 months ago, although he admitted he'd not given the matter much thought.
But since seeing the Senate in action, he's changed his mind.
"Before I came here, I only thought about it when it was brought up in newspaper articles, or someone was ranting and raving about the Senate when they talked about elections. But I thought we should have an elected Senate," Neufeld said.
"However, since I've been here, I am not sure that an elected Senate is the way to go."
Indeed, Neufeld has become a big booster of the current unelected Senate.
"It is time to quit kicking the Senate. It is time to start talking about the good things we do," he told fellow senators.
Neufeld is the second Conservative senator in as many months to oppose Harper's third attempt at creating an elected Senate, which has generated significant opposition in some provinces.
The latest bill would give provinces the option of electing Senate nominees who would then be appointed by the prime minister to fill vacancies in the red chamber.
Pierre Claude Nolin last month predicted an elected Senate would compete for democratic legitimacy and popularity with the House of Commons, creating parliamentary gridlock and "havoc."
However, unlike Neufeld, Nolin at least is not one of Harper's hand-picked senators. He was appointed in 1993 by Brian Mulroney.
All of Harper's appointees to the Senate were supposed to support two of the prime minister's most cherished initiatives -- to create an elected upper house and impose eight-year term limits on senators.
Neufeld said he supports term limits but the Senate election bill is "neither workable nor effective."
By contrast, he said: "The appointment process is quick and cheap. You can have regional representation and do all kinds of things. You can get a cross-section of the people that you want in this place."
Neufeld's newfound appreciation for appointments was jeered by some of his fellow Tories.
"(Former Soviet leader Nikita) Khrushchev said the same thing," taunted Hugh Segal.
Neufeld was undeterred, rhyming off a litany of potential problems with Senate elections.
He said he's the first senator ever to hail from northern British Columbia. If he'd had to seek election for the job, he doubted he'd have garnered many votes in Vancouver and the populous southern portion of the province.
Furthermore, he noted that the bill contemplates holding Senate elections at the same time as provincial or municipal elections. He said that would be confusing to voters, particularly in British Columbia where there is no Conservative party provincially.
He said it would also be unfair to stick provincial governments with the bill for federally mandated Senate elections.
In any event, Neufeld said he agrees with some provinces, including Quebec and Ontario, which maintain electing senators would require a constitutional amendment approved by at least seven provinces.
"If Canadians actually want to have an elected Senate, they need to be told both sides of the story," he said.
"I do not think you can just continue to rant about how terrible the Senate is without telling people what the Senate does, what is has done and the good work that it does."
Unlike the House of Commons, which broke for a three-month summer break three weeks ago, the Senate is still sitting, hearing testimony on the massive budget bill and debating other legislation.
After listening to Neufeld on Wednesday, Liberal Senator Jim Munson remarked: "It was worth it to stay the summer."