Yukon Senator Dan Lang defends Senate in wake of Harper announcement

Dan Lang, Yukon's lone senator, responded to Prime Minister Stephen Harper's announcement that he would not appoint any new Senators until reforms are made by emphasizing the Senate's importance to the northern territories.

Senators help give smaller provinces and territories a voice in Ottawa, says Dan Lang

Yukon senator Dan Lang won't say if he'll retire before age 75, but adds it's important for the territory to be represented in the Senate. (Paul Tukker/CBC)

Yukon Senator Dan Lang says that it's "very important" that a Senate position be maintained for the territory, as he responded to an announcement by Prime Minister Stephen Harper saying he would not name any new senators until reforms were made in Canada's upper house

Harper made his announcement with an election looming and the Senate swirling in controversy following the release of a spending report by the Auditor General that flagged 30 former or current senators for questionable expense claims. Currently, 22 of 105 Senate positions remain vacant. 

During his announcement, Harper said that he hoped his moratorium on appointments will put pressure on the provinces to figure out a plan to update the institution, and that "the government is not going to take any actions going forward that would do anything to further entrench that unelected, unaccountable Senate."

Speaking to CBC North's Sandi Coleman on A New Day, Senator Lang said that he understands Harper's attempts to overhaul the Senate, saying that "it shouldn't come as any surprise" and that "the Prime Minister has always been looking for changes to the Senate."

However, Lang also argued the importance of maintaining the Senate for smaller jurisdictions across Canada, such as the Yukon, which is only represented in the House of Commons by a single member of Parliament.

"I think it's very important, from Yukon's perspective, that we maintain the Senate position for Yukon," said Lang. "We only have, at present time, two political voices in Ottawa, and if you removed the Senate position we would only have one.

"I say that not just because of my political persuasion. I say that from the point of view that we need a Yukon voice, no matter what that political persuasion is. Someone who knows where Dawson City is, someone who knows that we're three time zones away from Ottawa."

Lang was one of 18 senators appointed by Prime Minister Harper in 2008. At that time, the group of 18 agreed to support eight-year term limits, as well as work on Senate reform.

When asked how this work had progressed during his seven years in the position, Lang said that while he has spent "some time" on Senate reform, other responsibilities got in the way.

"The first number of years we were there we were a minority government," said Lang. "So we were serving on three to four committees.

"And quite frankly, you just strictly arrive there, and all of a sudden you're on these committees, and you're dealing with the legislative package of what's being presented either through the Senate or through the Parliament. So that aspect took all our time."

Lang added that in the last "number of years" the Senate had undergone a number of administrative changes "that most of the public's not aware, and we're going through further changes in the administration as we move ahead.

"We're doing a lot of internal work in respect to what could be done in the actual running of the Senate," said Lang. "Will there be changes further in the Senate? I believe there will be."

Decision on future will be made 'in the best interests of the Yukon'

When he was appointed in 2008, Lang and his fellow senators agreed voluntarily to unofficial eight-year term limits, a move intended to push forward Senate reform. Those "limits" were later extended due to years-long commitments on various committees.

However, when asked if he would honour his commitment to step down from the Senate before his fixed retirement at age 75 (Lang is currently 67), even if Prime Minister Harper will not appoint a new senator for the Yukon in his place, Lang said that he will make his decision "in the best interests of the Yukon.

"That's a decision I'd have to make," said Lang. "I have my health. I have the capability, still, to do the job I was asked to do."

As for the future of the Senate, Lang admitted that the public image of the institution took a hit during the recent controversies, stating that "some of these people have not conducted themselves in the manner they should have, and that doesn't reflect well on anyone."

However, he stated that changes are coming, and will continue to come to the Senate, and reiterated its importance to the Yukon.

"From the Yukon's perspective, and from the experience that I've garnered over the last 6 years...  the Senate as a body, and as an institution is very important for Canada," he said. "We did not become the country we are today in spite of our political institutions. We became the country we are today because of our political institutions."


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