A day after stunning many Western Conservatives with the appointment of a party organizer to the Senate and then to cabinet, Prime Minister Stephen Harper moved to soothe their feelings, suggesting the Tories may hold Senate elections in conjunction with the next federal vote.
According to caucus sources, Harper said he hopes to be able to fill any remaining vacancies in the Senate the next time voters go to the polls in a federal election — which is likely to happen within the next 18 months.
"The idea is to let Elections Canada run it; there's no need for any constitutional amendment, although there would presumably have to be discussions with the provinces," said a Tory source who was heartened by Harper's pledge.
Harper promised to work toward electing Senators in the recent election campaign, but set no timetable for doing so.
Senate reform is going to be much easier promised than performed.
Stephen Harper has already expressed his preference for appointing Senators who have been elected. But he cannot order the provinces to hold elections for Senate vacancies. Even if such elections could be held without the provinces' consent, Parliament would still have to amend the Constitution Act to fix terms for the Senators or to dissolve the Senate at the same time with the House.
When life appointments were replaced with retirement at age 75 in 1965, previous life appointees were grandfathered to let them stay in the Senate after turning 75: current appointees may demand the same right, and if granted, we'd end up with a Senate where only some of the seats came up for election and others didn't--an awkward situation for any government trying to promote Senate reform.
In the meantime, just as it may be undemocratic for the Prime Minister to appoint the entire Senate, it would be just as irresponsible and undemocratic to let him impede the work of the Senate by allowing vacancies to go unfilled as a means of pressuring the provinces or opposition parties to permit Senate reform.
As long as he has the power of appointment, he should still exercise it.
Source: Toronto Star