WATCH: Harper announces that his government is continuing a moratorium on Senate appointments, at a press conference in Saskatchewan Friday
Stephen Harper’s approach to Senate reform appears to be death by attrition. The Prime Minister has announced that he will make no further appointments to the Senate, so that its vacancies slowly increase over time.
This approach will save money, he said, as well as eventually force the provinces to come up with a plan for Senate reform.
Harper said his policy has always been clear: “The Senate must be reformed and if it cannot be reformed, it should be abolished.” While the provinces might be divided on whether the Senate should be reformed, he said, the Canadian people are not divided on their opposition to the status quo.
“There are 22 vacancies now,” he said. “How many people are noticing?”
WATCH: Harper says argument that Senate offers greater weight in Parliament for some provinces is untrue
This Senate discussion comes ahead of the October federal election where Senate reform and Senator Mike Duffy’s trial are at the forefront of Canadians’ minds.
READ MORE: Mike Duffy trial set to resume in August
WATCH: ‘Better late than never’ says Mulcair on Harper’s senate announcement
Wall has been the most vocal of the premiers in calling for the scandal-plagued upper chamber to be abolished.
The prime minister threw in the towel last year on his three-decade crusade for an elected Senate after the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that reforming the chamber would require a constitutional amendment approved by at least seven provinces with 50 per cent of the population (the so-called 7/50 amending formula).
The top court set the bar even higher for abolition, Harper’s fallback position should reform prove impossible. Getting rid of the Senate altogether, the court advised, would require unanimous provincial consent.
At the time, Harper said the court had essentially pronounced “that significant reform and abolition are off the table.”
“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.”
When asked about Harper’s upcoming announcement earlier on Friday, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair said “Canadians do deserve better.”
“Stephen Harper’s had 10 years to get this done,” he said. “I think that we’re looking at someone who got elected on Senate abolition, did nothing for 10 years and now expects Canadians to believe all of a sudden he’s going to get the job done.”
A year earlier, as the Senate was engulfed in scandal over allegedly improperly claimed living and travel expenses, Harper stopped appointing senators. There are now 22 vacancies, which the prime minister has shown no inclination to fill any time soon – almost certainly not before the Oct. 19 federal election.
However, the Supreme Court has also made it clear that allowing vacancies to pile up can’t go on indefinitely since it would amount to abolition by stealth.
Section 42 of the Constitution specifies that the powers of the Senate and the number of senators for each province are among those things that can be changed only by a 7/50 amendment, the court noted in its 2014 landmark ruling.
That section “presupposes the continuing existence of a Senate and makes no room for an indirect abolition of the Senate,” the court said. “It is outside the scope of s. 42 to altogether strip the Senate of its powers and reduce the number of senators to zero.”
As the election looms and the Senate scandal continues to go from bad to worse in the wake of a devastating audit that flagged inappropriate expense claims by 30 more senators, Harper’s inaction has become increasingly untenable.
With files from Global News.