Harper’s Senate reforms superficial, says P.E.I. premier

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By Teresa Wright: The Guardian—Charlottetown

The House of Commons in the Centre Block on Parliament Hill, is framed by the wrought iron gate along Wellington Ave. — Photo by The Canadian Press

P.E.I. Premier Robert Ghiz says he would like to see equal representation for every province in the Senate if reform is truly on the table.

But Ghiz said he believes what the Harper government has proposed in Bill C-7 to reform the Senate is superficial.

“What you don’t want is just making changes for the sake of making changes to appease some whiners out there in the general public who say, ‘These senators do nothing.’ If you’re going to go and make fundamental changes to our Senate, do it so that it will benefit our country,” Ghiz said in an interview.

“If you’re going to make any fundamental changes, I’d rather see an equal Senate.”

The Senate Reform Act, introduced last June, proposes a system for provinces and territories to elect senators. The prime minister and governor general would have to consider those elected, but would not be bound to appoint them when Senate vacancies arise. The bill also proposes to limit senators to a single nine-year term.

Alberta has said it will hold elections for Senate nominees during its next provincial election, and British Columbia and Saskatchewan have also made moves in this direction.

New Brunswick Premier David Alward announced last year he would introduce Senate elections as well. At the time, it was believed the other Atlantic provinces would follow suit, but so far none have shown much interest.

Ghiz said it is at the bottom of his priority list for Prince Edward Island.

“Senate elections, to tell you the truth, I don’t really spend an ounce of time worrying about them,” he said.

He added he’s not against an elected Senate, but doesn’t want the province to be forced to shoulder election costs.

“We’re dealing with our own financial situation in the province, but having said that, I’ll watch what happens in New Brunswick and I think our next Senate opening is in 2014 … so that gives me a little time to look and see what happens in the other provinces.”

Ghiz is not alone in wanting to see more changes made to the Senate than the reforms that have been proposed.

Shawn Murphy, a retired MP for the riding of Charlottetown, said he believes the Senate needs a major overhaul because it is not fulfilling its intended role.

“The original role of the Senate was to act on behalf of the regions, and the senators are doing their best, but I don’t believe it’s fulfilling that role,” Murphy said.

“You have a situation now where the Senate really is controlled by the party in power — and perhaps it didn’t start with this government, but we’re not seeing the regional voices heard in the Senate discussions.”

He believes any changes to the Senate would require a change to the Constitution and that a more meaningful discussion should be held to gauge the public’s desire for Senate reform.

“I think you’ll see a lot of people agree with the general thrust (of Senate reform), but once you get into the discussion of constitutional change, you’re going to see a lot of reluctance because it is a very complicated issue,” Murphy said.

“I think that any change in the mandate or the structure has to reflect that overriding responsibility that senators have to represent the regions, and I’m not seeing it right now. So I think that has to be the discussion.”


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