MPs vote against NDP motion to abolish Senate

Members of Parliament voted 186 –101 against an NDP motion to abolish the Senate, in a series of votes that began after 6 p.m. on Wednesday.
MPs voted Wednesday against an NDP motion to abolish the Senate. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

Members of Parliament voted 186 –101 against an NDP motion to abolish the Senate, in a series of votes that began after 6 p.m. on Wednesday.

Conservatives and Liberals combined to defeat the motion. The Bloc Quebecois joined the NDP in voting in favour.

New Democrat MP Craig Scott, who put the motion forward, said the Senate is "useless" and senators appear in the upper chamber an average of 56 days a year.

While the Conservatives have committed to reforming the Senate, including having elected senators, the Opposition New Democrats are in favour of abolishing the upper Red Chamber.

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, during question period on Wednesday, accused the Conservatives of not being serious about Senate reform.

"They are in their eighth year in power, yet their moribund, weak-kneed legislation on reform hasn't even been called in over a year," Mulcair said.

Stephen Harper, who was elected on a platform of accountability and Senate reform, said he wouldn't name anyone to cabinet or the Senate who was not elected.

"This government has made it very clear, we favour reforming the Senate, including having elected senators, something I've named whenever I've had the opportunity," the prime minister replied.

Harper has named 58 senators since being elected in 2006, including Bert Brown, Betty Unger and Doug Black, who were nominated through Senate elections in Alberta.

The prime minister accused the New Democrats of wanting to preserve the power to appoint senators should they take office one day.

The leader of the Opposition "knows full well the provinces aren't going to abolish the Senate," Harper said.

Mulcair fired back, "will the prime minister have the decency to admit that the real reason that he doesn't join us in starting the process to abolish the Senate is because, unlike what he's always claimed, he likes to reward his friends."

In February, amid a series of Senate controversies, Harper referred his plan for Senate reform to the Supreme Court to answer questions about the government's power to reform or abolish the Senate.

The federal government's Senate reform legislation, Bill C-7, would limit senators' terms to nine years and allow the provinces to hold elections to choose senators.

The Governor General would then, on the advice of the prime minister, appoint senators who had been selected through provincial elections.

It's unlikely Parliament would make any changes to the Senate before the Supreme Court rules on the government's ability to do so.

Motions are non-binding on the government even if the majority of MPs vote in favour.

The motion comes as external auditors look at the travel and living expenses of four senators, Patrick Brazeau, Mike Duffy, Mac Harb and Pamela Wallin.

Members of Parliament also voted to reject a private member's bill initiated by the Bloc Québécois to repeal the Clarity Act.