Harper promises bill to elect senators

The federal government plans to introduce a bill this fall that would allow Canadian voters to directly elect senators, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Thursday.

The federal government plans tointroduce a bill this fall that would allow Canadian voters to directly elect senators, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Thursday.

"Fulfilling our commitment to make the Senate more effective and more democratic, the government hopefully this fall will introduce a bill in the House to create a process to choose elected senators," Harper said as hebecame the first prime minister to appear before a Senate committee.

"This bill will further demonstrate how seriously the government takes the issue of serious Senate reform."

Harpercame to the committee to push forpassage of another Senate-relatedbill, which would set term limits for senators.

That bill, which was introduced last spring, would set eight-year termlimits for senators, who are appointed by the government of the day andcan serve until they are 75 years old.

"The government isn't looking for another report. We are seeking action," Harper said.

"The Senate must change and we intend to make it happen."

'Antiquated criteria of age'

Harper said he's flexible on details of the bill, noting the term limits could range from six to nine years.

However, he added that his Conservative government isseeking limitsthat are not based on the "antiquated criteria of age."

The fact that senators can be appointed for terms of 15, 30, or even 45 years is not "acceptable to the broad mainstream of the Canadian community," he said.

Although there have been some calls to abolishthe Senate, Harpersaid he believes "in the ideas behind an upper house."

"Canada needs an upper house that provides sober and effective second thought. Canada needs an upper house that gives voice to our diverse regions. Canada needs an upper house with democratic legitimacy, and I hope we can work together to move towards that enhanced democratic legitimacy," Harper said.

He said the passage of the proposed bill would be a "modest but positive" reform of the senate.

Accountability Act remains at issue

The Senate legislation ispart of Harper's government reform package, which also includes the proposed Accountability Act.

Harper has criticized the Liberal-dominated Senate amid speculation that it mayblock or hold uppassage ofthat act. The Conservatives have threatened to call an election if the upper chamber stalls passage of the bill.

But Liberal senators have said they will not be bullied by the Tory government into making a hasty review.

Liberal Senator Jim Munson questioned Harper about the possibility that he would "fight an election on the backs of the Senate."

"Well, don't give me the opportunity," Harper replied. He said there would be political consequences if Canadians become convinced that any kind of Senate reform became impossible.

Munson said Harper sounded like Pierre Trudeau when the former prime minister uttered the line: "Just watch me," in regards todealing with the FLQ during the October Crisis.

Munson also questioned if Harper's proposals would lead to the "Americanization" of the Senate, which is elected in the United States.

"I don't think the Americans have particular monopoly on democracy," Harper said.