Using the analogy of an old rundown house, Preston Manning invited the public to vote on a website about what to do with the Senate.
The former Reform Party leader and head of the Manning Foundation, a right-of-centre charitable institute dedicated to education about democracy, urged people to go to reformorabolish.ca and vote on six options about the future of the Senate.
The options range from tear it down (as if it were an old house), to major or minor renos, deferred demotion and housekeeping. One option is to keep the status quo.
Appearing at the national press theatre in Ottawa, Manning was accompanied by Ted Morton, a former provincial finance minister in Alberta. In 1998, Morton was elected a senator-in-waiting for his province, but has not been appointed to the Senate.
Manning remarked he has been involved in the cause of Senate reform for 40 years, picking up from where his father, Ernest Manning, a former Alberta premier, had advocated for Senate change.
How Manning and Morton voted
Asked how he voted on his own website, Manning, who founded the Reform Party in 1987, said he opted for a minor renovation, which is the government's Senate reform bill, Bill C-7.
The bill is now before the Supreme Court of Canada for a reference to determine if the government can unilaterally change senators' terms as well as how they are chosen.
Morton said he voted for the first option, a tear-down, or abolition of the Senate.
Manning was asked why it has taken the Harper government so long to come up with a Senate reform bill. "The provinces have said they will take it to court, if you do pass it," he replied.
One of the bedrocks of Reform Party policy was a triple-E Senate, meaning "equal, elected and effective." Bill C-7 does not address the "equal" provision, that is, whether each province should have the same number of senators
Manning added that he hopes the Supreme Court of Canada takes a "living tree" approach and not interpret the Constitution too rigidly about how the Senate can be reformed without a constitutional amendment.
If the top court throws out the government's reform bill, Manning said, "I think they [the Harper Conservatives] are edging more and more towards abolition as the real option," pointing out that abolition had not initially been the position of the Conservative Party.
Manning 'tore a strip off' the Senate
Manning also related how he made the longest speech in parliamentary history on Senate reform in 1998 in the House of Commons when he was a Reform MP.
He "tore a strip off the Senate," he said, referring to a parade of Senate abuses, "expenses, holidays, people flying all over the place, living in places they didn't represent.
"Nothing was done about it," he said. "I couldn't go down the east end of the Senate block for six months afterwards."
People visiting the website can choose two of the six options. Votes will be counted immediately, and a running total of the percentages for each option will display on the page.