Tory ministers seemingly divided on idea of referendum to abolish Senate
Published Sunday, November 3, 2013 6:26PM EST
Conservative ministers seem to be divided when it comes to the idea of a referendum on abolishing Canada’s senate.
As the spending scandal continues to rock Ottawa, the idea of a nation-wide vote on Senate abolition is floating around after comments made earlier this week by Minister of State for Small Business Maxime Bernier.
In an interview with Quebec-based newspaper La Presse on Friday, Bernier suggested it was time to ask Canadians what to do with the Senate: reform it or abolish it.
Specifically, Bernier said he would like the Conservatives to put forth the question to all Canadians next spring.
But Minister of Employment, Social Development and Multiculturalism Jason Kenney told CTV's Question Period that such a referendum would be a "distraction."
"Frankly, abolition is very difficult to achieve because, with the requirement to get unanimity for the constitutional amendment to abolish the Senate, you need all 10 provinces signing on. And that's a very, very long shot," Kenney said in an interview that aired Sunday morning.
Kenney said that while Senate abolition is a "reasonable point of view," he personally doesn't support the idea.
"I think there's a reason why every democratic federation in the world has an upper chamber," he said. "In Canada, a very diverse country geographically, I think there's a strong argument for that kind of regional representation in the upper house."
Kenney said "fundamental reform" of the Senate would help make the institution more accountable, and pointed to Prime Minister Stephen Harper's push to have senators elected and bring terms limits to the upper chamber.
"I mean this is a prime minister -- the first we've ever had -- ready and willing fundamentally to reform and democratize the Canadian Senate," he said.
Last week, another Tory cabinet minister, Pierre Poilievre, said Senate abolition would be preferable to the status quo.
In remarks made during a Senate reform symposium in Calgary, Poilievre said the government is waiting for word from the Supreme Court to see if it can proceed with its plans to reform the Senate. But he said if the top court rejects the plan, abolition would be the next best step.
The Supreme Court is scheduled to begin hearing the reference case on the matter on Nov. 12.
Meanwhile debate on motions to suspend Senators Pamela Wallin, Mike Duffy and Patrick Brazeau without pay for allegedly filing improper expense claims is set to continue next week.
In his speech to party faithful at the Conservative Convention in Calgary this weekend, Harper came out swinging against Wallin, Duffy and Brazeau.
"These senators have shown little or no remorse for these actions," Harper said. "In private life, you would be fired for doing anything resembling this...and Liberal senators continue to block action. The Senate should to the right thing, now and suspend those Senators without pay."
The expenses of the Wallin, Duffy and Brazeau -- as well as those of former Liberal Sen. Mac Harb -- are currently being investigated by the RCMP.
With files from The Canadian Press