The federal government Thursday put its proposals for Senate reform to the Supreme Court to rule on its constitutionality.

Under the Senate Reform Act, provinces would be allowed to hold elections to choose prospective senators, and their terms would be limited to nine years.

The bill has stalled since it was first introduced in the House of Commons in June 2011, and Quebec has launched a challenge in the province’s appeal court arguing that such changes require a constitutional amendment.

However, the Tories insist the changes are minor and only need the approval of parliament.

"Our government believes that the Senate must change in order to reach its full potential as a democratic institution serving Canadians," Minister of State for Democratic Reform Tim Uppal said in a statement released Thursday.

"The Harper government received a strong mandate to pursue Senate reform, and today we are taking action to further our goal of a more democratic, effective and representative Senate."

Cons. delaying senate reform: critics

Some opposition members criticized the government’s motive for referring the matter to the Supreme Court, while Senate reform has been proposed for years.

“The Conservatives repeatedly say that they are in favour of Senate reform, but their actions are not consistent with the rhetoric,” Liberal Sean Casey said on CTV’s Power Play.

“There’s some sort of strategic dragging of the puck going on for some reason. It seems to me quite clear that they don’t want this dealt with before the next election.”

NDP democratic reform critic Craig Scott suggested the process has been delayed because Prime Minister Stephen Harper “would quite like, if he loses the next election, to have a majority Conservative Senate based on appointments. I think the current status quo is going to serve him very well.”

Uppal, however, blamed the opposition for the delay.

“We really tried to move Senate reform forward through comprehensive debate in the House of Commons. Unfortunately, time after time the opposition has tried to delay Senate reform and it has been stuck in the House of Commons,” Uppal told Power Play.

“We feel the best way to move forward, to accelerate Senate reform, is to make this reference to the Supreme Court.”

Among the issues the government is asking the justices to consider is the question of abolishing the Senate altogether.

“This is the first time in a generation that the Supreme Court will actually consider these conditions and these questions,” Uppal said.

The government plans to push the reform act through for a second reading in the House if the Supreme Court delivers a favourable opinion.

Uppal said that based on previous references to the court, a decision could be released in 10 to 24 months from now.

With files from The Canadian Press