Senate 'reform or abolition has to happen,' industry minister says
Published Monday, October 14, 2013 2:50PM EDT
Last Updated Monday, October 14, 2013 10:35PM EDT
The federal government wants Senate reform “to happen yesterday,” says Industry Minister James Moore, but despite an ongoing expenses scandal plaguing the Upper Chamber, the issue likely won’t appear in the upcoming Throne Speech.
The Conservative government will outline its agenda for the next session of Parliament in the Throne Speech, which Gov.-Gen. David Johnston will read in the Senate chamber on Wednesday at 5 p.m. ET.
The government has promised a consumer-friendly agenda, with measures to rein in credit-card fees, cap domestic cellphone roaming charges, increase competition in the wireless sector and allow consumers to pick and pay for television channels they want.
However, the government will likely make little if any mention of the ongoing Senate expenses scandal, which has dominated the headlines for months.
In an interview with CTV’s Question Period that aired Sunday, Moore said the government wants to move forward on either reforming the Senate, or outright abolishment. But in February, the government referred the issue to the Supreme Court with a series of questions, including whether it can abolish the Senate outright, and with what, if any, provincial support. Other questions included whether it can enact fixed terms for senators, and repeal an outdated property ownership provision.
Moore said the government will wait for the court’s response before determining a course of action “because Canadians will not tolerate the status quo in this country.”
Moore said greater accountability measures are needed after outside audits of four senators found thousands of dollars’ worth of improper expense claims.
“But the greatest element of transparency and accountability in the Senate is the ability of taxpayers to be able to fire senators at election time if they’ve been abusing their position,” Moore told Question Period.
“But if we can’t do that, then the Senate should be abolished. So either elect or abolish, but serious reform or abolition has to happen, and we want it to happen yesterday.”
It is unclear when the Supreme Court will respond, which could put off any reform for months, or even years. Liberal House Leader Dominic LeBlanc told Question Period that the government should have referred the matter to the court “a number of years ago.”
“They waited until the last minute, and now they’re stuck with a Supreme Court process that will drag on,” LeBlanc said.
“At the same time, they may see some of their former senators facing criminal charges, investigations are continuing. It’s a situation that Mr. Harper’s not easily going to be able to get out of.”
In the meantime, when question period resumes in the House of Commons this week, the opposition will continue pressing the issue, particularly about what Prime Minister Stephen Harper knew of the $90,000 cheque his former chief of staff, Nigel Wright, wrote to help Sen. Mike Duffy pay off his ineligible expenses.
“There’s a decent to excellent possibility that the prime minister stood on his feet and lied to Canadians about what he knew and when he knew it,” NDP House Leader Nathan Cullen told Question Period.
“I think the Conservatives needed to be bold and they needed to step forward in this re-set moment for Parliament and for their own governance and say they were going to do something aggressive on the Senate, rather than kicking the can down the road.”