Bill to bring back Senate elections introduced in Alberta Legislature

The last Senate elections in Alberta were held in 2012 when Conservative Sen. Scott Tannas was selected. He was appointed to the Senate a year later.

Premier Jason Kenney wants Senate vote to take place in October 2021

A man is shown wearing a suit and tie.
Conservative Alberta Sen. Scott Tannas was elected in the last Senate election in 2012 and was appointed a year later. (Hallie Cotnam/CBC)

The Alberta government has introduced legislation to bring Senate elections back to the province, one year earlier than originally planned. 

"This is not some kind of political symbol, this isn't just a gesture, this is an effort to revive democracy in the heart of our Parliament," Premier Jason Kenney said Wednesday.

Kenney said his United Conservative government wasn't planning to bring in the bill until 2020, but the results of last week's Senate vote on bills C-48 and C-69 changed his mind.

Kenney is focusing his wrath on three senators appointed by Liberal prime ministers: Senators Grant Mitchell, Paula Simons and Patti Laboucane-Benson.

Mitchell, Simons and Laboucane-Benson voted in favour of an amended Bill C-69, which changes how energy projects are approved in Canada. Only Mitchell voted for Bill C-48, the oil tanker ban.

Kenney said senators who were appointed after being elected by Albertans voted against the bills. He offered that as proof that having elected senators is the best way to ensure Alberta's interests are represented in the upper chamber.

"Senators (Doug) Black and (Scott) Tannas know that their ultimate bosses are the people of Alberta, not Justin Trudeau," Kenney said. "They know that they are ultimately accountable to the Alberta voters who chose them, who hired them and who sent them there to do a job." 

Senate election in 2021

Bill 13 revives the Senatorial Selection Act, which the NDP government let expire in 2016.

Senate elections were held in Alberta between 1989 and 2012. Ten senators were elected; half were named to the Senate. 

Conservative Sen. Scott Tannas was elected as senator-in-waiting in 2012 and appointed to the Senate by former prime minister Stephen Harper in 2013. 

Kenney said the next Senate election will take place on Oct. 18, 2021, when Albertans go to the polls in province-wide municipal elections.

Under the bill, Albertans would choose three Senate nominees in votes coinciding with provincial or municipal elections, a referendum or a stand-alone vote.

As in the past, the government submits the names of the top three choices to Ottawa to fill future Senate vacancies. However, the prime minister is under no obligation to choose from these senators-in-waiting. 

Former premier Rachel Notley, now the leader of the NDP Official Opposition, said Tuesday she was opposed to spending millions of public dollars on elections to the Senate, which overrules democratic decisions of Parliament and under-represents Alberta. 

"Doesn't make sense," Notley said. "Not a good use of our money. It undermines our democracy. It's retreaded old 1980s politics." 

Bill 13 changes the previous bill by putting limits on donations to senatorial candidates and capping campaign spending to $500,000. Also, candidates would need only 500 signatures, rather than 1,500, to get on the ballot. 

Senate nominee candidates are also required under the bill to affiliate themselves with a federal party. 

NDP democracy and ethics critic Heather Sweet said the bill has loopholes to get around stricter election financing rules.

Provincial parties can spend $100,000 on each candidate. Sweet said the law doesn't limit how many candidates can run. 

"That's a pretty large sum of money that could be potentially used based on how many senators run on a slate," she said.