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Abolishing the Senate would see Canadians better represented, NDP leader says

An image of NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh taken on Oct. 11, 2019.
An image of NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh taken on Oct. 11, 2019. Global News

Abolishing the Senate would give Canadians better representation, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said on Tuesday, doubling down on his party’s long-standing pledge to ditch Parliament’s chamber of sober second thought.

During a campaign stop in the Toronto riding former NDP leader Jack Layton once held, Singh said senators represent the interests of the political parties that appointed them, not Canadians.

“The reality is the Senate doesn’t really represent people,” he told reporters.

“They represent the Liberal party, they represent the Conservative party. They don’t represent the people and their interests. They’re more interested in being a mouthpiece for the political parties that appointed them.”

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Federal Election 2019: Liberals ‘talk progressive but govern conservative’: Singh

Singh’s pledge to abolish the Senate, though, would be no easy constitutional feat.

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The Supreme Court of Canada has said abolishing the Senate requires the unanimous consent of the country’s provinces.

A landmark ruling from the court in 2014 also said other reforms like electing senators or imposing term limits, proposed by the previous Conservative government, would require agreement from at least seven provinces representing half the national population.

“The Senate is one of Canada’s foundational political institutions,” said the ruling, which was attributed to the court as a whole. “It lies at the heart of the agreements that gave birth to the Canadian federation.”

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The New Democrats propose working with the provinces to get rid of the institution, which the party labels as undemocratic and unaccountable.

Following a drawn-out scandal over Senate spending, provinces had mixed reaction to calls to scrap the Senate.

Leaders of the Atlantic provinces, in particular, raised concern that killing the upper chamber would mean fewer voices in Parliament for a region of the country that often feels ignored and taken for granted, and raised concerns about what fewer regional senators would mean for each province’s allotment of seats in the House of Commons.

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The Constitution assures no province can have fewer seats in the House of Commons than it has in the Senate.

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Singh didn’t say how he would address this concerns in provincial talks, but said doesn’t believe the answer to those concerns is maintaining the Senate.

Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government introduced reforms with an aim to make the Senate more independent by allowing Canadians to apply for Senate openings and having an advisory group recommended nominees for the prime minister to select for seats in the upper chamber.

But some critics say it remains a partisan body.

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NDP leader Jagmeet Singh walks back coalition talk

Conservative Senate whip Don Plett told The Canadian Press in June that he felt it was a “ridiculous sham” to suggest the Senate under Trudeau’s reforms is any different from upper chambers in the past.

He accused Independent senators of being partisan Liberals, in spirit if not in name, because all were appointed by Trudeau, who also had a say in who sat on the advisory body that made recommendations.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has said he would resume making partisan appointments, although he has also supported the idea of elected senators in the past.

READ MORE: Scheer stands by vow to return to partisan Senate, make patronage appointments

Singh linked the push to abolish the Senate with his party’s proposal to reform Canada’s voting system.

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The NDP proposes immediately adopting a system of mixed-member proportional representation, which advocates argue better reflects the will of voters in the popular vote, followed by a referendum on the matter after two election cycles.

“I believe people should have real representation, somebody who’s going to fight for them. I also believe, to give people true representation, making sure that everyone’s vote counts, and that’s why I believe in proportional representation,” Singh said.

“That’s what I want to make happen.”

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Singh was scheduled to spend the day campaigning in Canada’s biggest city, targeting two ridings the NDP lost in 2015 to the Liberals, including Layton’s old riding of Toronto—Danforth, that the party hopes to take back on Oct. 21.