Senate reform can happen without reopening Constitution: government
Minister of State for Democratic Reform Pierre Poilievre speaks during a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, July 31, 2013. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick)
Terry Pedwell, The Canadian Press
Published Wednesday, July 31, 2013 4:07PM EDT
OTTAWA -- The Harper Conservatives say they should be able to reform the Senate without reopening the Constitution.
The government has submitted legal arguments to the Supreme Court of Canada in a reference it sent to the court earlier this year on proposed Senate reform legislation, Bill C-7.
Pierre Poilievre, minister of state for democratic reform, says the government will argue that its proposed changes to the Senate do not require consent of the provinces.
The government asked the Supreme Court in February to clarify its powers to reform or abolish the Senate.
The government introduced the Senate Reform Act in June 2011, and has blamed the opposition for delaying passage of the legislation.
But senators and some provinces have resisted the Harper government's proposals.
There are also questions about whether a majority of provinces have to be on side with reforms, or whether all of them have to agree.
Bill C-7 would limit senators' terms to nine years and allow the provinces to hold elections to choose senators-in-waiting.
The prime minister would then recommend that senators who win the provincial elections be appointed by the Governor General.
As well, the Conservatives want to change the rules that require senators to own property of a certain value to be appointed to the chamber.
Under the Constitution Act of 1867, a senator must possess land worth at least $4,000 in the province for which he or she is appointed.
The property qualifications were originally put in place to ensure that the Senate represented Canada's wealthy class and social elite.
The government wants the high court to say whether its proposed reforms are constitutional.
They are, Poilievre submitted Tuesday.
"The Senate Reform Act does not require the amending formula of the Constitution to be applied," he told an Ottawa news conference.
"We can amend the term limits of senators, the property requirements and we can provide a democratic vote to recommend senators to the upper chamber, all without an amending formula to the Constitution."
The reference also asks the court whether the Senate can be abolished, and if so, by what method.
Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall has been pushing for abolition, although most of his provincial counterparts prefer reforms, and some, including Quebec and Ontario, have said they oppose getting rid of the red chamber entirely.
The NDP also wants the Senate abolished.
Calls to reform or abolish the upper chamber became pronounced in the spring as a controversy unfolded over the expense claims of a handful of senators.
Poilievre defended Sen. Mike Duffy in the Commons in the spring amid allegations that Duffy made improper housing expense claims. Duffy eventually resigned from the Conservative caucus.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper's chief of staff Nigel Wright also resigned his position after writing Duffy a personal cheque for $90,000 to reimburse his expenses.
Questions have also been raised about the expense claims of Senator Pamela Wallin, who also left Tory caucus, Liberal Mac Harb and former Conservative Patrick Brazeau, who was kicked out of the Tory caucus over a criminal investigation unrelated to his expenses.