TORONTO — Three provinces are advising Prime Minister Stephen Harper to forget about reforming the Senate and simply abolish it.
Ontario, British Columbia and Nova Scotia say instead of introducing legislation to set term limits for senators and allow for elections, the so-called chamber of sober second thought should be closed forever.
At the same time, Quebec is warning it will go to court if necessary to stop Harper from unilaterally reforming the Senate, but unlike the three other provinces, it does not want the Senate abolished.
“Ontario’s position on Senate reform: abolish the Senate,” Premier Dalton McGuinty said via his Twitter feed Tuesday morning.
Harper is expected to move quickly to introduce two Senate reform bills — one to impose term limits on senators and the other to allow provinces to elect nominees whom Harper would then appoint to the Senate.
However, McGuinty said he’s spoken with other premiers and believes the best option is to simply get rid of the Senate altogether.
“We think the simplest thing to do is abolish it, and I think, frankly, to reform it in any substantive way is just not possible,” McGuinty said. “Based on my discussions with other premiers, based on the formula that’s in place in order to ensure that there is reform, it’s not going to happen.”
On Monday, Quebec Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Pierre Moreau said that the federal government alone cannot reform the Senate, adding it must be done through a constitutional amendment, approved by at least seven provinces.
Also Monday, Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter, who like McGuinty believes the Senate is “not necessary,” said the federal government should not arbitrarily make changes to the upper chamber without first consulting the provinces.
New British Columbia Premier Christy Clark has the same opinion as McGuinty and Dexter, saying the best way to fix the Senate is to abolish it, but admitted that was unlikely to happen, so she believes an elected Senate would “at least be legitimate.”
Harper’s previous attempts to pass the Senate reform bills were thwarted by the opposition parties.
However, the Conservatives now have majorities in both the House of Commons and the Senate thanks to the May 2 election and the prime minister’s move to appoint three defeated Tory candidates as Senators.
Ontario’s New Democrats welcomed McGuinty’s call.
“It’s interesting that the McGuinty Liberals are finally saying what New Democrats have been saying for a long time, which is it’s time to abolish the Senate,” said Leader Andrea Horwath. “Let’s face it, the senators are a bunch of Liberals and Conservatives that are sitting around for lots and lots of money and not doing very much and we really do need to get rid of that upper chamber.”
However, the Progressive Conservatives, who lead the public opinion polls with an Ontario election just over four months away, said the reality is Canada has a Senate, and senators should be elected, not appointed.
“The premier’s position is simply a dodge. He wants to avoid the question,” said Opposition Leader Tim Hudak. “The Senate’s not going to be abolished, I don’t see the provinces agreeing to that, so as long as we do have a Senate, I believe that Ontario should directly elect its senators.”