Alberta extends terms for senators-in-waiting

Alberta will extend the terms of its three senators-in-waiting rather than hold new elections for Senate nominees from the province.
Proposed Senate reforms would see voters elect candidates from which the prime minister would make his Senate selections. ((Kerry Wall/CBC))

Alberta will extend the terms of its three senators-in-waiting rather than hold new elections for Senate nominees from the province.

Betty Unger, Cliff Breitkreuz and Link Byfield will continue to be Alberta's elected nominees to the Senate until Dec. 2, 2013, Premier Ed Stelmach said Thursday. Their six-year terms were to expire this December.

Since 1998, Alberta has held three votes to fill senate seats. The last one, conducted at the same time as the provincial election in 2004, cost almost $2.9 million.

"The decision to extend the terms of our senators-in-waiting allows for and reaffirms the democratic will of Albertans who voted for them," Stelmach said in a statement. "Our province has shown leadership in holding Senate elections and continually advocated that the will of the people must be reflected in the Senate."

Under the current system, the prime minister selects senators without any public input. His choice is then appointed by the Governor General.

A Senate reform bill, introduced in 2006, proposes that voters elect candidates from which the prime minister would make his selections.

Alberta and B.C. already hold Senate elections but they're not binding.

However, Prime Minister Stephen Harper appointed Bert Brown, a farmer from Kathyrn, Alta., already chosen by voters, to the upper chamber in 2007.

Danielle Smith, leader of the Wildrose Alliance, criticized the extensions as undemocratic.

"We're hoping that they'll change their mind and that they'll hold it in conjunction with the municipal elections in the fall," she said Thursday. "I think people would expect that. It's good for democracy. Alberta risks losing its leadership on this issue if they don't hold it in the fall, and we'll keep pushing for them to commit to that.

The postponement of the Alberta senatorial election is being done by cabinet order and won't be debated in the legislature. Smith called the move further proof that Alberta needs a law for fixed elections dates — which Stelmach has rejected.