Major Upper Chamber reform needed, say Manitoba Senators

A Manitoba Conservative senator says serious Senate reform is needed but now might not be the time to do it.
Senator Don Plett hopes some reforms will be adopted in the senate in the next few days to do with residency requirements expense claims. (Parliament of Canada)

A Manitoba Conservative senator says serious Senate reform is needed but now might not be the time to do it.

"We need to do the Senate reforms when we are not under the gun like we are now and do knee-jerk things," said Don Plett, who welcomes more transparency in how the Senate operates.

"I don't think that benefits any of us. I think we need to do them slowly and deliberately [and] we need to clearly win back the confidence of the Canadian public."

Activities in the Upper Chamber are currently under great scrutiny as several senators are being investigated for improper expense claims.

Senator Pamela Wallin has recused herself from the Conservative caucus while her travel expense claims are under scrutiny.

Senator Mike Duffy is also leaving the Conservative caucus "pending resolution" of questions about expenses.

Senator Mac Harb, whose expenses were also scrutinized by an outside auditor, quit the Liberal caucus after audit results were released and said he would dispute the findings.

A fourth senator whose expenses were subject to scrutiny, Patrick Brazeau, was removed from the Conservative caucus over a separate criminal complaint that is currently before the courts.

Plett, appointed in August 2009 by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, said there are some reforms to do with residency requirements expense claims are going to be implemented as a result of the audit and he hopes they will be adopted in the Senate in the next few days.

"So we're moving in the right direction. I certainly hope that we continue in that direction," he said, adding Senate reform must also look at electing senators rather than having them appointed and how the Senate functions as a whole.

"Senate reforms mean exactly that, changing the structure of the Senate," he said.

Manitoba Liberal Senator Maria Chaput understands Canadians' frustrations and cynicism when it comes to the Senate but doesn't believe the Upper Chamber will become more democratic simply by electing Senators.

"I strongly believe that the Senate is the voice for the smaller groups and the minorities and I strongly believe that because of that we cannot have an elected senate the way the House of Commons is elected," she said.

However, she would like to see term limits put on Senators. Currently, Senators can serve until they reach the age of 75.

Chaput would like to see Senators sit for 10 to 12 years and then step down.

"So many years — you come in, you do the years, you go out and done and somebody else comes in. I believe in that," she said.

Once the controversy involving the expenses of the four Senators is deal with, Chaput is hoping there can be a serious conversation about what to do in terms of reform.