Call a referendum and abolish the Senate, Maxime Bernier says

Conservative MP Maxime Bernier rises during question period in the House of Commons Tuesday March 19, 2013 in Ottawa.
Conservative MP Maxime Bernier rises during question period in the House of Commons Tuesday March 19, 2013 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

OTTAWA – Conservative minister Maxime Bernier says his government should call a referendum and try to abolish the Senate.

The junior Quebec cabinet minister renewed his call for a referendum following Friday’s Supreme Court ruling.

The idea, however, was quickly batted down by Pierre Poilievre, the minister of state for democratic reform.

“We have no plan for a referendum,” Poilievre said in French while speaking to reporters at a press conference in Ottawa.

“We’ll continue to work to minimize the cost and maximize the accountability of the institution without opening the Constitution.”

Bernier, the MP for Beauce, said the court’s decision essentially means reform is a lost cause, and the government should call a referendum “as soon as possible” on what Canadians want from the upper chamber.

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“The only option we have is to try to abolish the Senate,” said Bernier, the minister of state for small business, tourism and agriculture.

“We must do a referendum to have the legitimacy to abolish the Senate.”

READ MORE: Top court shoots down Stephen Harper’s Senate reform plans

The Supreme Court on Friday concluded that the Harper government could not impose term limits on senators or create an election process without the support of seven provinces representing 50 per cent of the population.

The top court also said abolition would not be possible without support from Parliament and all ten provinces.

WATCH: Global’s Vassy Kapelos explains what the Supreme Court’s ruling means for those who wish to reform – or abolish – the Senate

But Prime Minister Stephen Harper gave no indication Friday he would move on a referendum or attempt to negotiate with provinces.

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He said the Supreme Court essentially said that decisions on Senate reform and abolition can only be made by the provinces.

“We know that there is no consensus among the provinces on reform, no consensus on abolition, and no desire of anyone to reopen the Constitution and have a bunch of Constitutional negotiations,” Harper said before speaking to the Greater Kitchener Waterloo and the Cambridge Chambers of Commerce.

“Essentially this is a decision for the status quo, a status quo that is supported by virtually no Canadian.”

Harper added he was “disappointed” in the court’s decision, but he would respect it.

Bernier argues that a majority of the provinces has already signalled they don’t want Senate reform, and so abolition is the only option.

“Canadians know that I am for the abolition, and the way to do that is to ask Canadians,” he said.

WATCH: Federal Director of the Canadian Taxpayer’s Federation Gregory Thomas wants to see a national referendum called on the issue of Senate abolition.

Bernier said a referendum would need a majority from each province and without it, the status quo would remain.

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“If they decide to abolish it, we won’t reopen the Constitution, we will just ask provinces to pass a motion in their legislature, like Saskatchewan did already.”

He noted some countries, such as Ireland, have held similar votes on the future of the Senate. (Ireland voted against abolition.)

“I’m saying to my government if you want to do the abolition, we must do a referendum, and like that you won’t reopen the Constitutional debate. And you will ask provinces to respect the point of view of their citizens,” he said.

Bernier said ridding of the upper chamber would help lower taxes for all Canadians, because it costs about $100 million a year to run the institution of sober second thought.

“It’s a win-win, if Canadians want to have abolition….then we’ll abolish it. If they don’t want, that’s it that’s all, we will have the status quo.”

When asked when the government should call such a vote, Bernier said “as soon as possible.”

WATCH: Democratic Reform Minister says Conservatives won’t open up Constitution to reform senate

Poilievre noted that since the Conservatives took office, they’ve required “more financial transparency” from senators, and invited the Auditor General to comb over each senators’ expenses. The audit is due sometime later this year or early next.

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“That, along with other ideas that we can consider in the future, will minimize the cost, maximize the accountability of the upper chamber,” he said.

When asked what those ideas are, Poilievre said: “We just got the court ruling, so we’re going to examine it carefully and I’ve given you the best answer I can on a few hours notice.”

Meanwhile, the NDP repeated its vow to abolish the Senate after consultations with Canadians and the provinces.

The Liberals called on Harper to follow leader Justin Trudeau’s lead and make Senators “independent of political parties and end partisanship in the Senate.”