Premier David Alward may be using his support for elected senators as a bargaining chip for future federal-provincial negotiations, according to a political scientist.
Alward told a crowd at the Progressive Conservative Party’s annual general meeting in Fredericton over the weekend that he’d like New Brunswick to host a Senate election.
Tom Bateman, a political scientist at St. Thomas University, said Alward’s commitment to reforming Canada’s upper chamber could also speak to the premier’s desire to cozy up to Stephen Harper’s federal government.
"Perhaps this will incline the government to do the province some other favour down the pike," Bateman said.
Bateman said those favours could include maintaining funding to the provincial government by way of transfer payments.
But he said there might be other benefits too. Bateman said support for Senate reform is growing in some provinces that are hoping to be better represented.
But he said others don't want too many different elected people speaking for the province.
"For some provinces, this is a perilous confusion of a provincial voice at the centre," he said.
The Harper government is again trying to change the way the Senate is picked. Senators are selected by the prime minister.
However, the Harper government’s Senate Reform Act would see nine-year, non-renewable terms imposed and it would allow provinces to elect senators.
New Brunswick has 10 senators but there are no current vacancies. Senator Rose-Marie Losier-Cool will reach the mandatory retirement age of 75 on June 18, 2012.
There are municipal elections slated for next May, which could give the provincial government enough time to set up a Senate election.
Alberta politician Stan Waters became Canada's first elected senator in 1990.
Senator Bert Brown was named to the Senate in 2007, making him the first elected senator appointed by Harper.
N.B. supported elected Senate in 2006
Alward’s weekend endorsement of a Senate election is not unprecedented.
In 2006, former premier Bernard Lord also floated the idea of New Brunswick hosting a Senate election that would coincide with the 2008 municipal election.
However, Lord’s Tories lost the 2006 election campaign to Shawn Graham’s Liberals.
The Liberals were opposed to the idea of electing senators, which ultimately scuttled the idea of running the vote with the municipal election.
Other provinces have threatened legal action against the idea of electing the Senate.
Quebec and Ontario have commited they would take the plan 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.
The Graham government had said New Brunswick would consider legal action against the Senate reform plan.