Prime Minister Stephen Harper plans to pressure the provinces to get rid of the Senate by doing nothing, essentially formalizing the current position to not appoint any new senators.
Early reports indicated that Harper might use his meeting Friday with Premier Brad Wall to announce plans to abolish the Senate. In November 2013, Wall led the Saskatchewan government to pass a motion to support the abolition of the Senate.
During a news conference at the Saskatchewan legislature, the Prime Minister stopped short of announcing plans to abolish the Senate but did clarify his position.
“The government is not going to take any actions going forward that would do anything to further entrench that unelected, unaccountable Senate,” Harper said.
The prime minister has not appointed any senators for the past two and a half years, leaving 22 vacant seats in the Upper house. He said that has measure has reduced expenses by $6 billion. Now he says there will be a moratorium on further Senate appointments. Such a moratorium would not be passed into law because that would require a constitutional change, but Harper says he does have the authority to not appoint Senators.
With the exception of Saskatchewan and Alberta, provincial governments have fought against reforms like electing Senators for fixed terms. Harper says it’s now up to the provinces to get behind a plan to either abolish or reform the Senate.
“In the meantime the membership in the Senate is going to continue to shrink and Canadians are going to ask the question, if you don’t have a program for reform, and we’re not missing the senators, then why not just abolish it? I think that’s the pressure that is going to rise.”
A ruling by the Supreme Court in 2014 stated that it would take support from seven out of 10 provinces with 50 per cent of the population to reform the Senate. But it would take unanimous support from all provinces to get rid of it.
During the shared news conference, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall continued to champion the cause of abolishing the Senate entirely. He said he has completely given up on the hope for a triple-E Senate – elected, equal and effective for all provinces.
“I myself was one who advocated for a triple-E reform and many others who have are moving off that because they see no prospect of that ever being achieved. Rather they’re left with the reality that what we’ll have is a triple-U reality for the foreseeable future – unelected, unaccountable and under investigation.”
Wall says he believes all Canadians will eventually reach out to their provincial leaders to say if we can’t fix it, let’s move on.
He says if the provinces can’t agree on Senate reform then they should at least be able to agree that it doesn’t make sense to allow an appointed body to make decisions in a modern democracy.