Feds not out of options on Senate reform, Senator Segal says

Above: Conservative Senator Hugh Segal says the government should not give up on its quest to change the Senate.  He explains what options are left.

OTTAWA — Although the Harper government seemed to shrug its shoulders and move on following the Supreme Court’s recent ruling on the Senate, it is by no means out of options, said one Conservative senator.

“I would … make the case that there are still changes that could be made,” Senator Hugh Segal said in an interview on The West Block with Tom Clark. “There could be a new approach to how you appoint, on a consultative basis.”

On Friday, the Supreme Court shot down Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s plans to reform the upper chamber, which has been plagued with scandal.

In a historic, unanimous decision, the top court advised that the prime minister’s proposals to impose term limits on senators and create a “consultative election” process to choose nominees cannot be done by the federal government alone.

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Instead, the court ruled, those reforms would require constitutional amendments signed off by at least seven provinces representing 50 per cent of the nation’s population. That, however, would set the country down a path peppered with political landmines — a route Harper was hoping to avoid.

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The court went even further on the idea of abolishing the Senate, deciding that move, which Harper said he would take should he be unable to reform the upper chamber, would require unanimous consent of all 10 provinces.

So as the Conservative government sees it, its hands are tied.

WATCH: Democratic Reform Minister Pierre Poilievre says the government is out of options when it comes to reforming the Senate, and explains why the government decided to make amendments to the Fair Elections Act.

“The court has made Senate reform by Parliament impossible,” Democratic Reform Minister Pierre Poilievre said in an interview Sunday. “So at this point we’re going to do what we can to limit the cost and maximize the accountability of the Senate within the existing constitutional framework that the court has laid out.”

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Senate reform has long been a priority for the Conservatives. But with last week’s ruling, it seems they’re prepared to move on.

Poilievre dismissed the notion of the government sitting down with the provincial premiers to see if they could get on board with the proposed reforms.

“I just think this time, the Canadian people are focussed on the economy,” he said when asked whether that was an option. “Our government is focused on jobs growth and lower taxes, and we don’t want to distract from that agenda by having a complicated constitutional wrangling with politicians at other levels of government.”

Senator Segal credited the government for respecting the Supreme Court’s decision, but argued there still are options.

He gave the example of the British House of Lords, upon which the Senate is based, where no government has a working majority.

“The mix of people appointed from the various political parties and as crossbenchers who come because they bring a particular expertise and science, or technology, or the military, or the church, or whatever, is such that the body can never be controlled by any one political party,” Segal said. “These are changes that could be made and require no constitutional revision at all.”

– With files from The Canadian Press


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