New Brunswick’s plan to elect senators hasn’t rippled beyond its borders, as sentiment in the rest of Atlantic Canada ranges from indifferent to opposed.
Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island have some interest in an elected Senate, but cost is the big concern.
A spokeswoman for Newfoundland Premier Kathy Dunderdale said there are two things that would kill her province’s support for Senate reform — a reduction of seats and downloading of Senate election costs to the provinces.
That might take Newfoundland out of the running, as the federal government has not offered to pick up the tab for provincial senate elections.
P.E.I. Premier Robert Ghiz says he doesn’t spend much time thinking about Senate reform. He’s in favour of the “Triple E” Senate — elected, equal, and effective — but also doesn’t like the idea of paying for it.
“I’d be interested in having discussions on it. I would have issues around cost as well, considering this is a federal role,” said Ghiz.
“The cost would definitely be an issue, but I’m open-minded.”
Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s plan is to give provinces the power to elect senators if they want it.
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Under Bill C-7, if provinces pass proper legislation and hold Senate elections, the prime minister would have to approve those results.
Because Harper is voluntarily giving up this power, the hope is it will allow him to dodge the contentious issue of amending the Constitution.
More direct Senate reform would require the approval of seven of 10 provinces.
Nova Scotia’s objections run much more deeply than Newfoundland and P.E.I.’s.
NDP Premier Darrell Dexter stands by his party’s position that the time has come to do away with the Senate altogether. He has little to no interest in going along with Harper’s current reform plans.
“If you’re asking whether or not we’re going to hold elections for the Senate, that’s not something that I would be inclined to take part in,” he said.
Dexter says any changes to the Senate should be done through a constitutional amendment with the support of the provinces.
Though it may seem strange for a prime minister to voluntarily give away power and a
premier to refuse it, Dexter said you can’t have
it both ways — you can’t go along with Harper’s plan and still call for change to be done a different way.
“I mean, it is his responsibility. It is his job,” Dexter said of appointing senators.
“The people, when they elected him, handed him this office with all of the rights and responsibilities that go with it. One of the responsibilities happens to be the appointment of members of the Senate.”
Dexter said he doesn’t spend much energy on Senate reform plans because it has minimal impact on the lives of Nova Scotians. However, he said he worries having an elected Senate could embolden senators to block bills passed by the House of Commons and cause legislative gridlock.
He points to the United States, where laws often get stalled when the Congress and Senate disagree.
“Once you elect them, then don’t you increase the chance of that happening?” he asked.