Prime Minister Stephen Harper sued by B.C. lawyer for not filling senate seats
Lawsuit claims prime minister is violating the constitution by refusing to fill seats
Beset by allegations of corruption, greed and downright uselessness, senators aren't the most popular breed of politician these days.
But Vancouver lawyer Aniz Alani says that doesn't mean Prime Minister Stephen Harper can bury his head in the sand and refuse to fill empty senate seats.
Aniz Alani has filed a federal court application trying to force the issue and made his argument in court in Vancouver on Thursday.
He pointed to Section 32 of the Constitution Act, which states, "when a vacancy happens in the Senate by resignation, death, or otherwise, the Governor General shall by summons to a fit and qualified person fill the vacancy."
Although the Governor General has the legal power to appoint senators, by convention the prime minister picks the person and the Governor General then rubber stamps the appointment.
There are currently 19 vacancies and no new senators have been appointed in over two years. As a percentage, Manitoba is the biggest loser, with three of its six positions vacant.
With reform of the upper house stalled, Harper has indicated he doesn't intend to appoint unelected senators.
"Prime Minister Harper is not the first prime minister to allow these vacancies to accumulate, but he appears to be the first prime minister to actually say that he doesn't plan to appoint any."
Alani launched this court action at his own expense, and says he isn't tied to any political party or organization.
"I just didn't see of any way of getting this resolved. That's why I brought it to the courts."
Federal government lawyer Jan Brongers, who represented the prime minister and governor general in court, argued this application should be tossed out at this early stage and not get a full hearing.
He told Federal Court Justice Sean Harrington the appointment of senators is purely a political matter and the courts have no jurisdiction in the matter.
Justice Harrington appeared intrigued by several of the arguments presented and asked questions of both lawyers.
He wanted to know, for example, what would happen if the prime minister refused to appoint new Justices to the Supreme Court of Canada and wouldn't that effectively paralyze the top court? He also asked if the same argument could be made about the Senate?
Harrington reserved judgement on the matter after hearing the arguments.