Provinces should propose Senate reforms 'forthwith,' Harper says
Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks during question period in the House of Commons on Tuesday, April 29, 2014.
Andrea Janus, CTVNews.ca
Published Tuesday, April 29, 2014 3:31PM EDT
The provinces should come forward with proposals to reform or abolish the Senate “forthwith,” says Prime Minister Stephen Harper following a Supreme Court ruling last week that said the federal government cannot unilaterally make changes to the Upper Chamber.
During question period Tuesday, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair asked the prime minister whether his long-held resolve to reform or abolish the Senate “has vanished” following the top court’s ruling.
Harper, back in question period for the first time since the SCC’s decision came down, responded that the ruling tied the government’s hands.
“The Supreme Court has ruled in its wisdom that the federal government can neither abolish the Senate nor, in fact, can the federal government actually propose reforms -- significant reforms -- to the Senate,” Harper said in the House.
“That is all now, according to the Supreme Court of Canada, within the purview of the provinces. So my position has not changed. If the provinces believe as I do that there should be reform, they should bring forward those reforms forthwith. If they don’t believe that, they should bring forward amendments to abolish the Senate.”
Mulcair followed up by accusing Harper of “waving the white flag” and “admitting defeat” over the Senate.
“Why? Because he would have to speak with the provinces and for him that would be much too difficult,” Mulcair said. “Is it the prime minister who is now the new championing of the status quo in the Senate?”
Harper replied again that he “would encourage the provinces” to “make amendments through their legislatures” on Senate reform. He added that Canadians don’t want a constitutional debate over the issue.
Last Friday, the Supreme Court issued a decision on a reference from the federal government on what powers it has regarding Senate reform.
In a unanimous decision, the court said that any reforms to the Senate would require constitutional amendments approved by seven provinces totalling 50 per cent of Canada’s population. On the question of abolition, the court said the federal government would need the consent of all 10 provinces.
Hours after the ruling came down, Harper told a southern Ontario business audience that he has no intention of reopening the constitution for Senate reform.
"We know that there is no consensus among the provinces on reform, no consensus on abolition and no desire of anyone to reopen the Constitution and have a bunch of constitutional negotiations,” Harper said.
The decision, he said, means that "we're essentially stuck with the status quo for the time being and that significant reform and abolition are off the table."
Harper said he was “disappointed,” but that he would “respect that decision.”
For his part, Mulcair said last week that his party would continue its fight to abolish the Senate. Should the NDP win the next federal election, he said, it would work to get the provinces on side to scrap the Upper Chamber.