New Brunswick’s premier backs Harper's Senate reform
New Brunswick Premier David Alward is supporting Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Senate reform agenda and says he hopes to give his province a chance to elect senators as early as next year.
"We believe that it will provide a greater voice," Alward said in an interview from Fredericton, where he made the announcement during a speech Saturday to his Progressive Conservative Party's annual general meeting.
Alward said he would support any term limits in the red chamber set by the prime minister.
In June, the federal government introduced the Senate Reform Act. It proposes to limit the terms of senators from the current maximum of 45 years to one nine-year, non-renewable term.
The other part of the bill provides a framework for provinces interested in starting up Senate elections.
Based on the Alberta model, it sets out the basic parameters for a Senate vote. For example, elections would most likely be linked to municipal or provincial election periods.
Under the proposed legislation, the prime minister would be obliged to consider the elected senators from the provinces, but ultimately would still make the final decision on appointments.
Alward said his government plans to introduce Senate reform legislation for his province this fall or in the spring.
New Brunswick has 10 senators. There are no vacancies.
Alward said it would be his intention to start having elections as senators retire. He could not say whether the province would hold Senate elections in conjunction with provincial or municipal votes, though he appeared warm to that idea.
"One of the positive things for me would be to tie it to other elections from a cost perspective," he said.
As expected, Alward's announcement drew immediate positive reaction from the Harper government.
"Our government believes that Canadians deserve more democratic, effective and accountable institutions, so we applaud this commitment by the New Brunswick government," Tim Uppal, the minister responsible for democratic reform, said in a statement.
"We look forward to working with the province as it moves forward on strengthening the voice of New Brunswickers in the Senate."
Senate reform causes provincial rift
The issue of reforming the upper chamber has caused a rift for provinces.
Some of them say the federal government does not have the authority to unilaterally reform the Senate. Quebec and Ontario have vowed they'll go to the Supreme Court, if necessary, to ensure Harper doesn't change the chamber without the consent of at least seven provinces representing 50 per cent of the population.
But other premiers disagree.
This summer, British Columbia Premier Christy Clark came out to voice her support for Harper's proposed reforms, though she has also said she would prefer the Senate be abolished.
The Liberal premier has expressed concern that B.C. and other western provinces would be under-represented in an elected chamber unless Harper refrained from appointing a full complement of senators from Ontario and Quebec.
In 2009, Saskatchewan passed legislation to elect senators.